Pruning Fruit Trees Made Easy: Step-by-Step Guide
When Do You Prune Fruit Trees?
Late Winter or Early Spring
Trim before new growth grows.
Late Fall or Very Early Spring
Prune after chance of sun scalding will occur.
In Spring After the Last Frost
Trim after chance of frost has passed.
Trim after it has hardened and no new growth will grow.
June - Late Spring or Early Summer
Prune while weather is dry.
Sour and Weeping Cherry Trees
Trim while tree is dormant.
Sweet Cherry Trees
Trim after common diseases to sweet cherries have passed.
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.
Should Fruit Trees Be Trimmed?
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.
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