Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton
Pruning fruit trees is an off-putting task for many home gardeners, especially given the amount of conflicting advice on the subject. When growing a fruit tree at home, the main aim isn't productivity but rather to grow healthy and tasty fruit using simple methods. Read on for our top tips on pruning fruit trees.
- Pome and stone fruit trees
- Summer, autumn and winter pruning
- Pruning methods
Which fruit trees need pruning?
Fruit trees are pruned to encourage healthy fruit production. Both pome fruit trees (such as apple and pear trees) and stone fruit trees (such as peach, apricot, cherry and prune trees) should be pruned. The trees that benefit the most from pruning are apple, pear, peach and apricot trees. Other types of trees can be pruned but this shouldn't make a great deal of difference to fruit production.
Standard and half-standard fruit trees do not need to be pruned in order to produce fruit. Instead, they can be pollarded every 4 to 5 years to help to thin out their branch structure. However, all diseased or awkwardly placed branches should be removed as they grow.
When it comes to young trees (central leader and vase-shaped) and espalier trained trees, you will have to put in more work. In this case, pruning is performed for two main reasons:
- To regulate fruit production with the aim of obtaining a reasonable amount of well-sized fruit. Removing some woody growth will help to encourage fruit production.
- To shape the tree: regular pruning will help to limit top growth which, in turn, will make harvesting easier.
Summer or green pruning
This type of pruning will make your job much easier the next time you prune. It involves reducing the length of new shoots in the summertime so that sap is directed towards your fruit rather than to the leaves. You can green prune young trees and espalier trained apple, pear, peach and apricot trees.
Pruning an apple or pear tree
Green pruning should mainly be carried out on over-vigorous trees. By cutting the ends of your shoots, you will encourage flower bud formation towards the base of the branch.
Count around five leaves from the point it was pruned during the winter and make your cut. A few weeks later, the end bud should transform into a shoot. Cut this shoot after the second leaf. Start the same process again if a new shoot grows. If you have fruit-bearing branches, prune from around two to three leaves after the fruit cluster. This will help to direct sap to the right place.
Thinning some of your fruit as it matures can also be considered a type of green pruning. This technique applies mainly to pome trees and is important as it allows the remaining fruit to grow more effectively. It should be done as the fruit matures once some fruit has naturally fallen to the ground (this should help to make the task easier).
Pruning a stone fruit tree
Green (or summer) pruning is perhaps most important for peach trees. This type of pruning should only be carried out on young or espalier trained trees.
Any fruit-bearing branches should be pruned in May when the fruit is about the size of a nut. Keep just one piece of fruit around each cluster and cut your branches after around the fourth or fifth fruit.
Keep two shoots from the base; these shoots will produce fruit next year. Cut back any shoots emerging near your fruit (just after the third leaf) and cut any other shoots down to their base.
Winter pruning apple and pear trees
Don't prune too early
Winter pruning should be only carried out when the fruit tree is dormant. Wait as long as you can and prune from around mid-February to the end of March when there is no longer any frost but the tree has not yet started to blossom.
Pruning in the middle of winter can lead to bud growth if temperatures start to rise. This will leave your young shoots, flowers and fruit to the mercy of the frost if the weather cools down again. By pruning a little later – just before growth really gets going – you will have time to tell the difference between growth buds and fruit buds so you know what to cut with your secateurs. What's more, your cuts will heal better at this point.
5 steps to winter pruning
- Remove any dead or diseased branches.
- Remove any branches that are growing towards the inside of the tree crown.
- Remove any crossing branches, keeping any growing outwards.
- Cut any shoots that are growing vertically from the base of the tree: these branches are known as suckers and will grow vigorously but won't provide fruit.
- Cut down your shoots from the year before by about a third so that your fruit will grow closer to the main branches and not at the end of longer shoots. Always try to prune above buds pointing towards the outside of the tree to avoid growth towards the inside of the tree.
Autumn pruning a plum or cherry tree
Unlike pome fruit trees, shoots that have produced stone fruits will not do so again and should therefore be cut back. As fruit will only grow on shoots from the previous year, cutting back these branches will stop fruit from growing too far from the centre of the tree.
Your stone fruit tree should be pruned at the end of the summer or in autumn after the sap has descended to the roots of the tree. It's important to prune before the cold sets in as trees that haven't been given the chance to heal in warmer weather will be more vulnerable to pests over the winter.
Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton, 71 guides
Since I was a child, I was always interested in manual and technical works. Always fascinated by woodworking, I took advantage of my first flat as a playground. On the cards: electricity (of course, safety first!) and some partition walls; but also decorating with the help of the missus, made-to-measure furniture and little tricks to optimise the space, all the while remaining as original as possible. When the little one arrived, I started building bits and pieces for him! Lacking space, I have not got a permanent workshop and certain tools I dream about but are not part of my collection. Not to worry, I already know a lot about DIY and I have a high-tech profile that I hope will guide you in your decisions!