Fruit Tree Pruning

Fruit Tree Pruning

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Pruning your newly planted fruit trees from an early age is vital for their long-term health and productivity. It's like giving them a head start towards a fruitful future! By shaping their structure, pruning creates a solid foundation, boosts fruit production, and keeps their size manageable. Early pruning also fixes any structural issues and makes maintenance a breeze. So grab those pruners and set your fruit trees up for success!


Depending on the age of your tree, pruning techniques will vary to achieve different goals. Whether you're shaping a young tree or maintaining the health and size of a more mature one, proper pruning is essential.

1-3 years old trees

  1. Remove flower buds: Although it may be tempting to allow the tree to bear fruit early on, it is generally recommended to remove flower buds to promote better root and branch development.

  2. Pruning cuts: Make clean cuts just above a bud or lateral branch, ensuring a slight angle away from the bud. Avoid leaving stubs, as they can invite diseases.

  3. Take it easy: Pruning too much in a single season can stress the young tree. Focus on gentle shaping and removal of unwanted branches. Remember, you can always do more pruning in subsequent years.

For a Central leader shape:

  1. Establish a central leader: Most fruit trees benefit from having a central leader, which is a dominant upright branch that forms the tree's main trunk. Choose a well-positioned, strong lateral branch to become the central leader and remove competing branches that may hinder its growth.

  2. Maintain a balanced framework: Aim for an open and balanced structure by selecting 3-5 well-spaced branches to be the primary scaffold branches the first time you prune. These should emerge from different positions along the trunk and have wide angles, which promote strength. Remove any excess or weak branches. Choose more scaffold branches as the tree ages.

  3. Prune into a pyramidal form in the third season: In the spring of the third season, prune the branches to achieve a pyramidal shape. This involves maintaining the central leader and shortening the lateral branches, gradually tapering towards the top.

For an Open central shape:

  1. Establish scaffold branches: Allow your tree to develop 2-3 levels of scaffold branches. These are the lateral branches that form the main structure of the tree.

  2. Choose the strongest scaffold branch: Identify the strongest and most upright scaffold branch that is closest to the top leader of the tree.

  3. Cut back the leader: Cut the central leader back to the height of the chosen scaffold branch. This promotes a balanced structure and prevents the central leader from dominating.

  4. Alternative option: Instead of cutting back the leader, you can gently bend it using weights or ties. This encourages it to grow horizontally and become another scaffold branch.

apple tree pruning

Older trees

Over time, your tree can develop issues like dead branches, overcrowding, and poor structure. By carefully removing and preventing these problems through pruning, we ensure renewed growth, improved airflow and sunlight penetration, and better fruit quality. It's an essential practice to maintain healthy and productive older fruit trees.

  1. Remove damaged and crossing branches: Start by identifying and removing any damaged, diseased, or dead branches. Also, eliminate branches that cross or rub against each other, as they can cause wounds and invite pests.

  2. Prune downward, upward and inward branches: Identify branches growing downward and prune them as they won't support fruit weight effectively. Additionally, trim upward branches to prevent them from damaging other branches. Also, prune any inward-growing branches to avoid rubbing against others.

  3. Decrease height and promote growth: Once the tree is established, if you wish to reduce its height, you can cut back the central leader to a lateral branch. This not only decreases the height but also encourages the growth of another leader to maintain a strong structure.

  4. Prune suckers: Suckers are thin shoots or branches that grow near the base of the trunk. To keep the tree looking neat and prevent competition with desired branches, it's important to prune these suckers. By removing them, you ensure they don't grow below the tree's canopy, maintaining a clean and well-shaped appearance.

  5. Trim Branches: During regular pruning, trim branches back by about one-third of their length. This stimulates thicker stem growth and encourages flower development. Remember to make these cuts just above buds that face outward. This helps guide the branch growth in the desired direction and promotes a balanced and attractive tree shape.

    • Note, this is not suitable for Prunus trees such as Cherry, Plum or Nectarines

  6. Thin fruiting buds: To enhance the quality of your fruit, thin out the fruiting buds on your tree. Aim for a spacing of 4-6 inches between buds. This allows the branches to support the fruit's weight and ensures optimal sugar levels. By thinning the buds, you promote better overall fruit quality, resulting in a more enjoyable harvest.


  • Prune during a dry day

  • Make sure to use sterilized pruning tools to prevent the spread of any potential pathogens.

  • Choose the correct tools:

    • For small branches and twigs, use hand pruners. 

    • For large branches about 1” thick, use loppers. These provide good leverage.

    • For branches about 3” thick and more, use a saw.

  • Prune larger branches carefully to prevent bark tearing and maintain tree health:

    • First, undercut the branch a few inches from the trunk, cutting partially through the bottom. Next, make a full cut further out on the branch to remove it, reducing its weight. Finally, make the last pruning cut from the outside edge of the branch-bark ridge to the outside edge of the collar swelling. This removes the branch without harming the trunk or branch collar.