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Pruning Fruit Trees

by Miguel Mori
Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning Fruit Trees

By Joanne Young

Enjoy your fruit trees for beauty, flower & fruit by using the following instructions provided by the garden experts at Mori Gardens.

Dormant Pruning

Most pruning is done when the trees are dormant, in late winter or early spring.  The safest and best time is just before the buds swell and the riskiest time is very late fall and early winter.  Prune no late than four weeks before frost so that new growth has a chance to harden.

All pruning has a dwarfing effect, but dormant pruning produces the newest growth.  Pruning in summer has the opposite effect.  It can actually retard growth by removing food-generating leaves.  The harder the cutting, the greater is the response in new shoot growth and this response takes place in the area of the tree where the cuts are made.

Early Summer Pruning

Pruning has the greatest dwarfing effect in June and early July.  If you wish to reduce vegetative growth and prevent shoots developing, this is the time to prune.  But remember, early-summer pruning has a very dwarfing effect.  It first dwarfs the root system and then the whole tree.

Midsummer Pruning

Pruning at this time of year has little or no effect on stimulating new vegetative growth.  At the same time, it is not nearly so dwarfing as early-summer pruning.  The root system is dwarfed somewhat but only moderately, as compared with the results of early-summer pruning.  This may be the time to reduce the height and width of your trees by cutting (or breaking) back the new growth.  The amount of cut-back would depend on the growth, vigour and age of the tree.  A well-grown tree with a good crop could have new growth reduced by 1/2 to 2/3.  This will let in more direct sunlight to set and ripen the fruit.  It will also tend to improve flavor, making more sugars available to the developing fruit by stopping vegetative growth.

Fall Pruning

In order to spread the workload over more time, some pruning might be started in early fall.  Start with the oldest trees, and cease all pruning operations at least 4 weeks before frost.  Peach trees should not be pruned in the fall because of the ever-present threat of canker.

Pruning Wide-Angle Branches

Limbs that meet the trunk at angles of less than 45 o are more likely to split under the strain of a heavy load or high wind than those forming larger angles with the trunk. Wide-angled limbs have several other advantages.  They admit more light and air into the centre of a tree, helping to set and ripen fruit, and reducing chances of disease.  Branches that grow at wider angles receive more sunlight and are more productive. The accompanying diagram shows two methods of widening narrow-angle crotches.

A narrow crotch can split under the weight of a heavy crop.  When the tree is young, spread upright branches to 450 or more with a wooden spacer.

If branches are long and willowy, you can widen the angles by tying them to stakes.


Apples: The fruit is borne on long-lived ‘spurs’ on the secondary branches.  Allow only one apple per spur for larger fruit.  Thin out the fruit on the branch mid-way to maturity date leaving 20cm (8 inches) between fruit.  Do not damage the spur when picking, it will bear fruit again next year.  Turn the apple bottom up and lift.  Do not pull down or the spur may pull away.

Pears: Very similar to apples, but need even less pruning.

Cherries: In the first year cut leaders to promote branching.  Most fruit is borne on long-lived spurs, so no thinning is required and the tree can be allowed to bear heavily.  In late summer remove branches that are becoming less fruitful or are growing in the wrong direction.

The best time to prune is right after fruit set when two and three-year-old branches and excess new growth can be removed.
Also, thin the tree if necessary by cutting older shoots back to where year old branches have developed.

Plums: European Plums have long spurs and do not usually need thinning.    Leave 10 cm between fruit.  Japanese Plums have very short spurs and over-bear.  Thin fruit at thumbnail size, leave 10 to 15 cm between fruit.  Cut out crossing branches and prune for horizontal growth.

Apricots: Heavy pruning is needed to keep the Apricot producing.  The best shape is low and wide-spreading with long branches.  Thin and head back every year in winter.  Fruit can be produced on the growth made last season, but the bulk will be on four-year-old spurs.  Encourage new spurs by pinching back laterals when they are about 10 cm long.  To sustain crop levels, trim out older wood.  Always cut downward limbs.

Peaches, Nectarines: The open-centre vase shape is important in allowing sunshine to the lower inside of the tree.  Always cut to outward-facing lateral branches.
Note that fruit is formed only on the branch segments that grew last summer.  New wood grows on beyond the fruit and will produce next year’s crop.  Once harvested, the fruit section will never fruit again, so cut back two-year-old stems to provide new growth.

Training and Pruning a Dwarf Peach Tree In spring when growth buds have appeared on a one-year-old tree planted in very early spring or the previous autumn, cut back the central leader to about 2 feet above the ground.  Cut just above a bud.  Leave the top three or four buds or side shoots below the cut to form the first branches.  Remove all the side shoots lower down the stem.

Do you have additional questions? Want to find out if a fruit tree is right for you. Talk to one of our knowledgeable garden consultants at Mori Gardens by calling 9054687863 or sending your questions below.

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