Pruning Trees + Shrubs Series: Fruit Trees

Pruning fruit trees is different than pruning a shade or ornamental tree.  The goal is to develop the structure of the tree so that it can support the fruit and to open up the center of the tree so sunlight can penetrate to all of the fruit.




– The best time to prune mature fruit trees is in late winter before the tree begins to open its buds.


– After planting a young tree



How to prune a mature tree:


– Start with removing any dead, damaged or diseased limbs.


– Cut any suckers growing from the base of the trunk.


– Remove “watersprouts” straight vertical branches within the tree.


– Prune branches back flush to the larger limb they’re growing from – don’t leave stubs.



Allow light into the tree by:


– Removing any downward growing branches


– Removing any branches that are growing to the center of the tree


– Removing branches that cross paths with another branch


– Stand back and look for places where multiple branches are competing with each other – prune all but the healthiest branch.


– Prune branches back flush to the larger limb they’re growing from – don’t leave stubs.



The last step is to head back your fruit tree.  Cutting off 20-30% of last year’s growth on each branch helps them become shorter and thicker.  The branches need to be strong to carry the weight of the ripening fruit.


These cuts will be made part way up each branch.  Choose to make the cut ¼” above a bud that faces the direction you want a new branch to grow.



How to Prune a newly planted fruit tree:


Unless the tree has been tended and pruned during its lifetime it will be necessary to cut back the young tree when first planted.


Whips (Unbranched Trees)


– Prune the height of the whip to 28-36” tall.


– After the new branches have grown 3-5” select what will become the central leader and the scaffold limbs (the main limbs of the tree) and remove all others.


Young branched trees


– Prune the tree in height by choosing the central leader and cutting it back by 1/3.


– Select the scaffold limbs and trim them in length.


– Remove unwanted limbs back to the trunk.


– Trim selective branches growing on the scaffold limbs so they are not overlapping or growing too closely together.


For a more in-depth description on how to prune specific fruits read The Art of Pruning Fruit Trees from Texas Gardener.

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