Pruning fruit trees
The best time to prune fruit trees and shrubs is in early spring while the tree is still dormant, before growth activity begins. This is when pruning wounds heal best and you can easily see the buds to work around.
Learning how to prune fruit trees may seem difficult at first, but follow the basic guidelines and you'll be on your way to a homegrown and healthy fruit harvest every year!
General Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions
- Always use sharp shears or saws so your cuts are clean. Use pruning shears on young trees and limbs less than 1/2 inch diameter, and lopping shears for your bigger cuts. For mature fruit trees, use a pruning saw.
- Begin by removing dead wood and broken branches. Then cut out any wood that crosses or rubs against any other branches. This opens up the middle so the sun can get to all the fruit.
- Make your cut close to a bud, to a joint in the branch, or to the trunk; never leave a stub. The pruning cut should be just above a bud. Make the cut at a backwards angle of about 30 degrees.
- Prune stems just above a pair of opposing strong shoots or buds. If shoots or buds are staggered, choose a strong one and prune just above it.
- Keep more horizontal branches, and prune more vertical branches.
- Remove suckers (shoots) from around the base of the tree.
- Get rid of all debris which can harbor pests and disease.
- Cut off/out the main leader or central stem at 24-30 inches off the ground and above a strong lateral branch. If there are no laterals branches, make this cut immediately above any bud. If possible, select two other lateral branches with the first one being eight inches below the top lateral and second one sixteen inches below the lateral.
- Select those branches that when you look straight down the center of the tree they form an imaginary circle.
- Cut back these three lateral branches, fifty percent. These branches will form the foundation or scaffold branches of your tree.
- As the tree grows allow only two buds to develop on these branches, one at the tip and the other half down the branch. Rub off any other shoots that may appear on the trunk as suckers.
The first winter after planting:
- There should now be six well developed branches on the young tree.
- Cut back these branches about two-thirds of their length, just above a strong bud or lateral branch.
- Cut the secondary lateral branches one-half their length.
- Your tree is now ready to produce fruit
Second winter and beyond:
General Recommendation for all types of trees:
- Always remove the dead wood.
- Remove all interfering and/or crossing branches, leaving the most desirable branch to the overall shape of the tree
Tools for pruning fruit trees (or any other type tree)
Having the necessary pruning equipment is essential for satisfactory pruning. The choice of which tool to use depends largely on the size of branches to be pruned and the amount of pruning to be done. If possible, test a tool before you buy it to ensure it suits your specific needs and that you are comfortable with it. As with most things, higher quality often equates to a higher cost.
Generally speaking, the smaller a branch is when pruned, the sooner the wound created will heal. Pruning knives are used to prune small branches (fewer than 2.5 cm diameter). To prevent unnecessary tearing or crushing of tissues, it is best to use a by-pass style pruner; left- or right-handed types can be purchased.
Slightly larger branches that cannot be cut with a hand pruner may be cut with small pruning saws (up to 10 cm) or lopping shears (up to 7 cm diameter) with larger cutting surfaces and greater leverage. For branches too large to be cut with a hand pruner or lopping shears, pruning saws must be used. Pruning saws differ greatly in handle styles, the length and shape of the blade, and the layout and type of teeth. Most have tempered metal blades that retain their sharpness for many pruning cuts. Unlike most other saws, pruning saws are often designed to cut on the "pull-stroke."
Chain saws are preferred when pruning branches larger than about 10 cm. Chainsaws should be used only by qualified individuals. To avoid the need to cut branches greater than 10 cm diameter, prune when branches are small.
Pole pruners must be used to cut branches beyond reach. Generally, pruning heads can cut branches up to 4.4 cm diameter and are available in the by-pass and anvil styles. Once again, the by-pass type is preferred. For cutting larger branches, saw blades can be fastened directly to the pruning head, or a separate saw head can be purchased. Because of the danger of electrocution, pole pruners should not be used near utility lines except by qualified utility line clearance personnel.
To ensure that satisfactory cuts are made and to reduce fatigue, keep your pruning tools sharp and in good working condition. Hand pruners, lopping shears, and pole pruners should be periodically sharpened with a sharpening stone. Replacement blades are available for many styles. Pruning saws should be professionally sharpened or periodically replaced. To reduce cost, many styles have replaceable blades.
Tools should be clean and sanitized as well as sharp. Although sanitizing tools may be inconvenient and seldom practiced, doing so may prevent the spread of disease from infected to healthy trees on contaminated tools. Tools become contaminated when they come into contact with fungi, bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that cause disease in trees. Most pathogens need some way of entering the tree to cause disease, and fresh wounds are perfect places for infections to begin. Microorganisms on tool surfaces are easily introduced into susceptible trees when subsequent cuts are made. The need for sanitizing tools can be greatly reduced by pruning during the dormant season.
If sanitizing is necessary it should be practiced as follows: Before each branch is cut, sanitize pruning tools with either 70% denatured alcohol, or with liquid household bleach diluted 1 to 9 with water (1 part