Pruning Fruit Trees

a person holding a pair of  bypass pruners about to snip off a branch on a fruit tree with the words: Get out there and prune - your fruit tree will thank you on the imageHow to Prune Fruit Trees

Pruning your fruit trees, is the key to success. Pruning allows you to control the size of your tree and ensure the best fruit production. Knowing how to prune fruit trees can seem like a daunting and confusing task, but if you know when to prune fruit trees, and why it needs to be done, it really isn’t complicated or confusing at all. It is also important to take into consideration the variety of fruit tree that you have. Some trees such as an apple tree, apricot tree or plum tree require more maintenance to produce fruit each year, whereas a cherry tree, fig tree, pear tree or persimmon tree requires only light pruning each year.

Why Prune?

Fruit trees require yearly maintenance to guarantee an abundant fruit production for the next year. Pruning will stimulate new fruiting wood, help to remove dead and diseased limbs, allow ample space for fruit to mature, and increase air circulation and sunlight penetration. Pruning is most important during the first three years. Don't be afraid to try your hand at pruning, because there are always several correct decisions when it comes to how to prune fruit trees.

How to Prune Fruit Trees in the First 3 Years:

how to prune a fruit tree the first year in spring, the second year in spring and the third year in springFirst Year:
  • After the initial spring growth (late April/early May) cut the new growth back by half. In late summer (late August to mid-September) cut the subsequent growth back by half.
Second Year:
  • Following the same timeline as the first year, cut back new growth by half in both the spring and late summer. You also want to remove any broken or diseased limbs.

    If you are planting a single tree, prune it with an open center and no central leader(a vase shape). If you are planting several trees, prune to thin out the center which will allow more sunlight into the central group of trees.
Third Year:
  • Set the height of your tree in the third year. Prune your tree so that it does not grow any higher than your desired height. Then, in the late spring/early summer, cut back all new growth by at least half.

    Ensure branches that are less than 3 years old have at least six inches of space all around. When branches begin close together and grow in the same direction, remove one of them.

    Do not allow limbs to cross one another. Remove one (or both) limbs.

    When removing large limbs, first saw part of way through the limb on the underside ahead of your intended cut. Do this so that it won't tear the trunk as it comes off. Also, don't make the final cut even with the trunk branch you are removing it from. Make sure to leave a short stub.

How to Prune - by Variety

Two apples on an apple tree - closeup

Apple Tree

Apples grow on short, stubby spurs that can produce for 20 years. Spurs form near base of new wood. Don’t remove theses spurs, as you can stunt production or even kill the tree. Prune hard to remove weak, dead or poorly spaced branches before the fruit begins to drop to avoid removing spurs. Keep the center of the tree open and remove any suckers. Each year you can prune and remove up to two-thirds of new growth.
Ripe apricots hanging from fruit tree

Apricot Tree

Fruit will grow on 1-year-old shoots, or on 2 to 3 year old wood. Wood is brittle; pruning back to fat wood prevents breakage caused by the heavy fruit weight. It is best to prune right after the tree has fruited, which will most likely be late summer or early fall. Modified Central Leader is the best fruiting style for apricots. May need additional pruning in the summer to control height. Prune 2-3 times in the summer to remove excess growth.
Haas avocados on tree

Avocado Tree

Avocados will grow at the ends of new twigs. Pruning should not be done in early spring or late summer. Thinning improves air circulation and fruit quality, though this may sacrifice some fruit. Avocados do not ripen on the tree. A mature avocado fruit can remain on the tree for several months. Once harvested, let the fruit ripen for 3 to 8 days before enjoying.
Red ripe cherries hanging from fruit tree

Cherry Tree

Requiring little maintenance, cherries need to be pruned only to shape and remove upward growth. To reduce the risk of Silver Leaf disease, prune cherry trees in the summer. Both fruit and flowers form on long-lived spurs.
Lemons growing on a tree

Citrus Tree

Citrus trees only need to be pruned to manage height and improve air circulation. Be careful not to prune off buds and blossoms of future fruit.
Ripening figs on a fig tree

Fig Tree

Fig Trees will produce 2 crops per year. The first crop of fruit will usually grow on the previous year’s wood in June and then a larger crop will come in late summer to early autumn. Prune to remove old, unproductive branches and increase air circulation. Avoid cutting out new productive wood. 
Ripe plums hanging from fruit tree

Plum Tree

Plums grow on wood that is at least 2 years old and can produce fruit for 10 years. Plums need a lot of pruning to control vertical growth. Cut back 1/2 to 2/3 of the new growth every year, keeping the center of the tree open and thinned. The best time to prune is summer to educe the risk of Silver Leaf disease.
Large pears hanging from a pear tree

Pear Tree

Pears grow on spurs of wood that are at least 2 years old. Prune lightly to shape the tree and prevent overcrowding. Prune in late summer after the seasonal growth has ended and the wood has hardened.
Multiple ripe persimmons on the tree

Persimmon Tree

These brittle trees are best pruned when dormant. Prune to develop strong angles. For older trees, prune to thin out branches, remove dead wood & shape your tree.

Large ripe peaches on fruit treeNectarines, Peach and Almond Trees

Stone fruits will benefit from thinning and will produce larger, tastier fruit. Stone fruit trees can handle heavy pruning. Fruit typically buds in the center third of branches, so you will want to thin the top of the tree to allow more light into the center. To prevent breakage from the heavy fruits, prune the outer third of the tree and previous year’s growth or remove 2 out of every 3 branches. Spring is the best time to prune to maximize fruit production.  

Visit your local SummerWinds Nursery today and let our Trusted Garden Advisors assist you further with pruning your specific variety of fruit tree. At SummerWinds Nursery, we guarantee success!