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Pruning Fruit Trees Made Easy: Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on December 17, 2023
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Angela, though not a natural green thumb, has studied gardening in order to better care for her yard.

Pear Tree

Pear trees should be pruned in late summer.
Pear trees should be pruned in late summer. | Source

When Do You Prune Fruit Trees?

What Fruit
When
Why
Apple Trees
Late Winter or Early Spring
Trim before new growth grows.
Oranges
Late Fall or Very Early Spring
Prune after chance of sun scalding will occur.
Peaches
In Spring After the Last Frost
Trim after chance of frost has passed.
Pears
Late Summer
Trim after it has hardened and no new growth will grow.
Plum Tree
June - Late Spring or Early Summer
Prune while weather is dry.
Sour and Weeping Cherry Trees
Early spring
Trim while tree is dormant.
Sweet Cherry Trees
August
Trim after common diseases to sweet cherries have passed.

Apple Trees

Apple trees should be trimmed in late winter or early spring, to help new growth be plentiful. The tree will still be dormant and prevents harm to the growing tree.
Apple trees should be trimmed in late winter or early spring, to help new growth be plentiful. The tree will still be dormant and prevents harm to the growing tree. | Source

How Do You Prune Fruit Trees?

Pruning a fruit tree primarily aims to make it healthier, make it easier for branches to breathe, and produce more. The best way to make a tree more productive is by allowing it to be healthier and more breathable.

Use sharp, clean shears to prevent exposure to split diseased branches. Clean your shears with alcohol between each tree. This will help prevent the spread of diseases from one fruit tree to another.

Regardless of the reason for pruning, you want to make a thirty-degree backward angle cut right above a healthy bud. Do not trim below a bud because that will produce stubs. You want to ensure that new growth will grow on your tree wherever you have trimmed.

Cherry Trees

Different cherry trees react differently when being pruned due to what diseases they are most likely to get. Sweet cherries should be pruned in late summer, while willow and sour cherries should be trimmed in the early spring.
Different cherry trees react differently when being pruned due to what diseases they are most likely to get. Sweet cherries should be pruned in late summer, while willow and sour cherries should be trimmed in the early spring. | Source

Should Fruit Trees Be Trimmed?

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Boost Fruit Tree Health

There are two main goals to having an ideal tree. One is to make the current tree healthier, and the other is to create new healthy growth. The first thing you want to prune off your fruit tree is any dead, damaged, or diseased portions of the tree, which alone is the most crucial part of pruning a fruit tree. Dead and diseased portions are easy to find, as they usually are identified by dying, rotten fruit and leaves or blackened branches. Cut right above the closest, healthy bud when trimming off dead or diseased parts.

Damaged portions are less easy to spot. If not taken care of, those portions will die, which causes more of the tree to die. Damaged branches might include cracked or broken limbs. Trim the damaged piece in the same fashion as you would with a dead portion above a healthy bud or leaf.

Improve Airflow: Enhance Breathability of Fruit Tree Branches

Making it so the branches can breathe and grow more efficiently will allow your tree to grow larger, tastier fruit. If left to its own devices, your fruit tree will bear fruit; although plentiful, it will be much smaller. Most fruit will be too small to harvest, and others might become damaged by disease or pests. On the other hand, if you over-prune the trees, the fruit will become too big and flavorless.

A good rule of thumb so that you will not over-prune is never to cut a branch over two inches thick. The branches you want to trim frequently are twigs and branches that point inward or downward. Twigs and downward-facing branches will interfere with the healthy upward growth of the most viable twigs and branches. By eliminating the branches that are not reaching for the sun, the tree can focus, giving nutrients to the parts of the tree that have the most sun exposure and are more likely to produce tasty, sweet fruit.

Peach Trees

Peaches should be pruned in early spring, once the risk of frost has past.
Peaches should be pruned in early spring, once the risk of frost has past. | Source

Tailoring Fruit Tree Trimming By Age

Trimming a fruit tree should be done differently as the tree gets older.

In the First Year

In the first year, you want to focus on limiting any downward-facing branches, which will make it so that the fruit will be less accessible to ground-dwelling animals. It will also give the tree a more appealing appearance. If any long, awkward branches stick further out than the rest of the tree, they must be trimmed. Do not trim them down more than two-thirds of the initial length because a long, awkward branch may put the tree off balance or overpower it many years later. Snow or other heavy pressures could cause breakage later on.

In the Second Year

In the second year, you want to follow the same instructions as in the first year. Fortunately, the tree will continue to grow plentifully and prosperously. The branches you want to encourage are the ones that stick upward or outward. Any branches that are beginning to grow inward can cause overcrowding later on. Trim them to allow your tree to be more breathable.

In the Third Year

In the third year, the edible fruit will still not have been produced on the tree, but the leaves and branches will be plentiful. There should be at least four main shoots. Ensure these four shoots allow the tree to be even and not off-balanced. You can trim the branches down to half their original length. Inward-facing twigs should also be trimmed while encouraging upward and outward-facing growth. If you need to cut awkward growth, trim them so at least four buds are present.

In the Fourth Year

In the fourth year, the fruit will begin to develop. Although the tree is still not completely mature, ensure that the four main shoots are equal without trimming more than a third off the branches. Continue to limit inward-facing growth as in the previous years. This year, there will be much less trimming than in years before.

In the Fifth Year and Beyond

In the fifth year and beyond, your fruit tree will finally mature! Only minor annual pruning will be necessary. It will be easier to maintain as it ages with less work involved. Now it's time to enjoy the fruit.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz

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