Pruning Young Fruit Trees

I read your article about pruning old apple trees. I have several young semi-dwarf fruit trees (apple, plum, peach, pear) which are 2 to 5 years old. How do I go about training them into good fruit bearing trees?

The most important thing about training fruit trees is to develop lower branches at a height where it is easy to pick them. Ideally the lowest branches will be only 2 to 3 feet above the ground. If your branches are above this height, you can either accept them as they are or prune the main trunk at about 4 feet in height. This will force branch development at the 3 to 4 foot level.

In selecting branches to keep, remember that the most horizontal growth bears fruit the earliest and most. Give preference to small branches if they are more horizontal.3 to 5 branches around the circumference of the tree should be allowed to develop.

Shorten these branches by about 1/3 just above an outward or downward bud. This stimulates development of side branches.

Each year the side branches should be thinned to allow light to reach all the branches. Always keep branches which are growing outward and remove branches which are growing upward and inward. When branches cross or grow into each other, one should be removed.

If additional main branches develop above the 3 to 4 foot level, keep a foot or more of space between them and the lower branches so adequate light can reach the lower branches. If large branches develop above the height where it is convenient for picking, either remove them or shorten back to a side branch which is facing outward.

Apple, pear, plum and cherry trees bear fruit on short twiggy branches called spurs. These spurs will bear fruit for many years if adequate light reaches them. Do not remove them in the pruning process. (You will remove some branches which contain spurs).

Peaches, nectarines and apricots develop fruit mainly on last year’s growth. It is important to remove and shorten some of last year’s growth so adequate light reaches the branches. By limiting the amount of fruiting wood, trees will produce larger fruit size.

As with older trees, the best time to remove rapidly growing upright suckers is in June when they are less than a foot long. Just snap them off


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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