Pruning Established Fruit Trees

Is this a good time to prune my fruit trees? What is the best way to prune them?

Established fruit trees require yearly pruning for best health and maximum fruit production. Regular pruning before new leaf growth will also help keep most of the fruit bearing branches within easy reach for harvesting.

Apple, pear, cherry, apricot and plum trees bear most of their fruit on short, twiggy branches called spurs. These should not be removed unless dead or broken. Of course some spurs will be removed with the excess branches that are removed to create better light conditions for the lower and inner branches.

Part of the fruit on apricots and plums and all of the fruit on peaches and nectarines grows on the previous season’s growth.  Yearly pruning stimulates vegetative growth which becomes the fruiting wood for the next season. If you look closely, you will see that flower buds (which develop into fruit) are larger or fatter than leaf and stem buds.

Trees which have not been pruned adequately each year may need to have some larger branches removed. The largest branches should be removed first because this will reduce later small branch pruning. Vertical branches which are too high to reach for harvesting can be cut back just above an outward facing side branch which is growing more horizontal.

The main pruning job on established fruit trees is to remove some of the extra branches so that more light can reach those which remain. This also reduces the number of fruits somewhat, resulting in larger fruit with better color. Normally, 1/3 to 1/2 of the smaller branches are removed (thinned) back to their origin. Whenever two branches grow into each other or cross, one should be removed.

All of the branches which grow toward the center of the tree should be removed. The center of the tree should have few small branches except spurs. This allows more light for the ripening fruit on the lower branches. Leave horizontal branches because they will bear fruit sooner and more abundantly. Remove vertical branches. Remove or shorten branches which bend downward.

I prune a lot of fruit trees in the Vancouver area. Email me if you would like to schedule an appointment.


Allen Wilson

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

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