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Fruit Trees

10 Rules for Pruning Fruit Trees

A simple guide highlighting ten rules of how to train your home orchard and which season is the best time to prune fruit trees and bushes.

PRUNING A FRUIT TREE: Most gardeners understand the importance of training fruit trees to grow in a manageable size and pruning a fruit garden of apples and pears to keep the trees small.

The dilemma for most pomologists begins in determining whether to start trimming the bushes in winter, spring time, or wait for a few hazy days in the great British summer.

Simple Rules of When and How to Prune Fruit Trees

So, let's answer the frequently asked question, when is the best time to prune a fruit tree?

1. Prune Fruit Trees When Dormant

The best time for pruning fruit trees is when the bush is dormant and its leaves have fallen off. Apart from making it easier to see where you are cutting, removing dormant buds generally stimulates new growth from remaining growing points.

Pruning fruit trees and bushes in peak summer time should be avoided. A fruit tree without leaves has its flesh exposed to too much sunshine.

Early summer pruning is not uncommon if you need to slow down the growth of excessively vigorous fruit trees and even more effective if you have lost total control of your orchard.

2. Cut Back After New Planting

Newly planted fruit trees should be cut back to a short stick soon after planting. Ideally the fruit tree twig should be no taller than thirty inches from the ground.

Remove the side shoots but leave one or two buds above ground to encourage low branching and an equal system (top and root).

Painting young fruit trees with a white coloured latex paint helps to protect them from borer attacks and sun burning.

3. Young Trees Can Be Pruned Heavily

Heavily prune young trees and bushes showing low vigor, especially for the first three years. Encouraging rapid growth with less fruit for the first few seasons and following the five core rules for pruning apple trees, and other popular shrubbery like pears or apricots, will reward you with much fruiting in later years.

Small horizontal branches should generally be left untouched for later fruit growth. Most experts suggest that young trees that grow vigorously, need significantly less pruning and results in branch bending with earlier fruit crops.

4. Horizontal and Vertical Branching

Upright vertical branches are usually most vigorous and vegetative, whereas, a fruit tree with high numbers of horizontal branches is likely to be more fruitful.

Aim to have a good combination and balance of horizontal and vertical branching. In most cases, this is best achieved with branches which lean at 45 to 60 degree angles to the trunk.

5. Topping and Thinning Branches

6. Remove Diseased or Broken Branches

Perhaps one of the most important of all 10 rules for pruning fruit trees is to remove all diseased or broken branches. Remember also to look for, and cut off, water sprouts, overloaded branches competing upwards into the tree, and suckers. Lop off the lower parts of any low bending branches which are hanging beyond 90 degrees because they will eventually lose strength and produce small fruit.

7. Making the Cut

The simplest rule to understand regarding fruit tree pruning is that new growth appears exactly where you make the cut. Therefore cutting stems and branches affects buds which are only a few inches away from the trim (1 - 8 inches at the most). This means when more buds are cut off the tree - the new shoots will be more vigorous (all other things being equal).

8. Make Clean Cuts

One of the most important ground rules of gardening is how to proerly cut back selective parts of plants, particularly buds and branches. Do not leave stubs any time you are cutting away a dead branch or an overgrown stem. Make sure that all of your cuts are clean and within one centimeter of a plant bud.

9. Removing the Previous Year's Growth

  1. Remove a minimum of 50% of the previous year's growth on trees which fruit grapes, kiwis, peaches, and nectarines.
  2. Remove around 20% of previous year's growth on trees and bushes which fruit apples, apricots, plums, plumcots (pluot), pears, walnuts, fig, olives, chestnuts, almonds, pecan, cherries, feijoa, and persimmon.
  3. Keep the skirts pruned up off the ground for the majority of citrus fruits.

10. Prune Tree Tops to Allow Sunlight

Prune more so in the top of fruit tree to encourage lower branch growth. Bare wood which has been exposed to sunlight remains fruitful producing large fruit. Conversely, shaded branches are slow to produce fruit and they will eventually stop fruiting. It is unlikely shaded branches will produce again unless the tree receives drastic topping.

Pruning Fruit Trees; UK Rules Updated 2017