Following the fruit tree pruning instructions on this page will allow your trees to establish themselves as fruitful and attractive additions to your garden.
Note that the advice on this page is general in nature. Refinements by fruit can be found in our individual Fruit Growing Guides.
Keeping your fruit trees properly pruned is important for several reasons, including:
Stone fruits such as plums, cherries, peaches and apricots that are up to two or three years old will need slightly later pruning in the spring. You should wait to prune older plants until the summer to discourage diseases like silver leaf infection.
Fruit trees that are trained into espaliers, cordons, fans or other styles (more on this below) also need to be pruned in the summer. Also, wait to prune them until they begin growing to help reduce their growth rate. This is important as the aim is to restrict their available space.
For all fruit trees, be sure to cut out any branches that are diseased or overcrowded so your fruit will all have enough sun to ripen later in the year.
Finally, check your tree’s fruiting habits and prune accordingly. Some trees bear fruit on branches that are year-old shoots whilst others need older wood. If your tree’s fruit requires older wood, be sure to leave the older wood in place!
Espaliered Pear Tree
In the early years of your fruit tree’s growth you’ll be completing formative pruning to create the final shape you are aiming for. You may be doing this to increase fruitfulness or to create forms such as espaliers (see image to the right), fans (like espaliers, except branches grow out from the base to create a fan shape) or stepovers (branches are lowered to extend out horizontally from the base and fastened to a trellis.
If you don’t prune your tree each year (or don’t prune it enough), over time overcrowding will reduce available light to ripen fruit. You’re also putting trees at risk of diseases.
But over-pruning is also easy to do and can put your fruit trees at equal risk.
Using the right techniques starts with having the right tools…
All tools need to be sharp and clean to reduce the chance of diseases and viruses.
There are three basic types of pruning cut.
To choose the right cut, study your tree and look for overcrowded, dead or diseased stems…
If the branch is too thick to cut with shears, use these steps to remove it with a pruning saw. It’s important not to tear the tree bark, and this technique prevents that from happening:
To gain a better understanding, take a look at the following videos...
If you're just starting out, review this entire section. Otherwise, click the year of your fruit tree to jump to that subsection...
There is no video for one year old pruning due to its simplicity. Here's what you need to know when pruning your one year old fruit trees:
In the first video, Felix reviews how to prune a 2 year old stone fruit tree (peach, plum, etc.)...
If you’re a confident gardener or an ambitious beginner, you may want to try a more advanced pruning and training approach. Before applying advanced pruning techniques, you’ll need to pick the shape and location in advance as advanced tree forms are not easily achieved on established fruit trees.
Four issues should be considered for advanced pruning:
Fruit will be more plentiful on branches that grow horizontally which is why espaliers and cordons are popular.
For instance, if you have a wall that is south facing you can create a compact tree that will give you lots of fruit for the small amount of space it takes up. By training the branches along the wall in an espalier, you’re ensuring the fruit gets the maximum sunlight each day to help it grow.
Forms suitable for growing against walls are:
Even if you don’t have a suitable wall or fence to achieve this effect, increasing the number of horizontal, lateral branches should encourage your crops to yield more fruit.
If you’re restricted for space you may want to create one of the following:
Each shape will use the same basic pruning techniques that need to be applied on a regular basis. If trees are left untended, they will revert to a full tree.
Planting a quick-growing variety that is on rootstock to create a large tree will mean lots of work. You’ll need to keep an eye on your trees. Tying branches in and pruning them into the correct shape will need doing every few weeks in the early years of growth.
If you’re growing a dwarf fruit tree and you’re not creating an advanced structure, pruning can be a once-a-year job.
Creating an advanced structure can be a great center piece in your garden. It’s also likely to give you lots of fruit if done properly.
However, it’s a big time commitment from the start, including the winter. Pruning and tying in needs doing when growth is young, before the plant gets woody. You’ll also need to watch out for changes in weather and temperature.
For additional advanced instruction, click here to check out North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service's page on Training & Pruning Fruit Trees.
Consider pruning your tree's roots. You can only do this when the plant is dormant and buds have not begun to form:
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