When To Prune Fruit Trees

Nature’s bounty is plentiful but the question is often asked as to when to prune fruit trees to get the best from them.

The answer depends on what fruit tree you are looking to cut back and what you are aiming to achieve.

The practice involves selectively removing branches to ensure the tree’s health and to boost its productivity. Removing dead, diseased or damaged branches establishes a strong structure for the tree’s growth and allows it to thrive.

When to prune your tree

Fruit trees can be pruned every year to help produce better quality and larger fruit. However, the best time of year to carry out this work depends on what sort of tree you have.

Plum trees, along with cherries, peaches and apricots, are best pruned lightly in summer after fruiting.

For best results, try to cut out the centre of the canopy to create an open goblet shape. The aim is to take out no more than a third of the branches and remove those which are growing inwards towards the centre. Also remove shoots or buds which are growing from the base of the trunk and vigorous shoots near the top of the tree.

This summer pruning encourages the tree to produce a better crop and also stops the tree from becoming too big.

For other trees, such as apple, pear and quince trees, however, it is best to wait until winter. Summer pruning in August can be performed but be careful as severe pruning at this time will weaken the tree.

Pruning for apple and pear trees is best carried out while the tree is dormant after the leaves have fallen and before they start to grow again, usually between November and March.

The aim of winter pruning is to establish an open centred tree with well-spaced branches allowing light to reach all parts of the tree.

Routine winter pruning should remove no more than 30 per cent of the canopy. The more you prune, the stronger the regrowth and if the tree is healthy, pruning too hard will result in mass of vigorous growth.

Care must also be taken not to over prune branches as this may remove the potentially fruiting wood. Focus on the areas which seem most crowded, to reduce young vigorous shoots to two or three buds and remove any weak shoots completely.

On older trees, remove or thin out the spurs, the short stubby shoots with fruit buds, which have become overcrowded.  Avoid the temptation to cut off large branches. Most branches which are pruned should be about 1 to 5cms in diameter and a fully pruned tree might only need ten to 20 pruning cuts in total.

The wounds caused by pruning heal quickly in spring. There is no need to use a pruning paint for cuts on apple or pear trees. However, these are sometimes used on plums, cherries and other members of the Prunus family as these are particularly susceptible to disease through pruning cuts.

If you want advice on pruning your fruit trees then Poplar Nurseries team are always available at our garden centre to support your gardening activities.