Prune Fruit Trees

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Professional Orchard Care

Fruit trees in your garden add beauty and bounty. King Garden Designs' ISA Certified Arborists know when and how to prune your fruiting trees, shrubs and vines: Crab Apple, Apple, Pear, Cherry, Peach, Apricot, Plum, Grapes, Currants, Blueberries, Raspberries, including espalier for optimal fruit production, visual appeal and plant health. We also assist in residential orchard oversight; guiding trees' health, appearance and productivity. We utilize our hand-picked suppliers sourcing specialty fruit tree/espalier, heirloom and many rare varieties for your garden.

As arborist consultants we can restore neglected orchards miraculously with renovation pruning, care and attention.


Fruit Tree Pruning Guidelines - By Variety

Apples bear on long-lived spurs. The fruit forms at the tip of last year’s spur growth, and the spur itself then grows a bit more, off to the side of the fruit. Each spur bears for 10 years or more so don’t tear it off when you pick. Any pruning method will be suitable for standard full-size apple trees (over 20 feet tall) , but vase pruning is the method of choice to train standard apple trees. It will keep these naturally tall trees within bounds. After you have chosen your scaffold branches, cut them back one-third to encourage a strong branch system near the trunk.


In the second and third dormant season, reduce the length of all new growth by one-third and thin out to create a strong, evenly spaced framework of branches. These secondary scaffold branches will develop fruit spurs on their lateral branches. Pruning during this period would always be to a bud on the top of a branch that points outward. This will develop the vase shape.

With semi-dwarf and dwarf apple trees, modified central-leader or vase pruning can be used, but the central-leader system makes these trees stronger and earlier bearing. When planting the bare-root dwarf, cut back all branches, including the top about one-quarter, or about 5 to 10 inches. Make each cut to a strong outside bud.


For the second and third years, repeat the process to train the central leader up and the scaffold branches out, parallel to the ground. Most dwarfs will begin to bear the second and third years and will bear heavily thereafter. It is important to maintain the single upright central leader throughout the life of the dwarf tree. Be sure to remove any fruit that forms on this central leader because fruit formation will stunt the leader and another branch may become dominant.

Appear on the previous season’s shoots and on short-lived spurs on older wood. Pruning is essential to apricot production for several reasons: It stimulates a certain amount of new growth for next year’s crop; it keeps the tree open; and it prevents fruit from growing only high in the tree.

Apricot spurs produce fruit for two to four years and then need to be pruned out and replaced with younger wood. In pruning apricots, you need to head back long new whips by one-half and remove the oldest fruiting wood. Fruit may form in the second year, but don’t expect a heavy crop until the third or fourth year.

Bear on long-lived fruit spurs. Spurs on tree cherries begin to bear along 2-year-old branches and can produce for 10 years and more. Count on the first crops in the third or fourth years after planting. Bush cherries may bear sooner.


Sour cherry trees tend to spread wider and are considerably smaller than sweet cherries. The sour cherry can be pruned in a central-leader shape or, if you prefer to keep the tree smaller, to a vase shape. It’s easy to keep a sour cherry tree under 12 feet with either pruning system. Cherries need no thinning and little pruning after the first two season of growth. Sweet cherries may need heading back the first years to encourage branching. Sweet cherries should be pruned to the central-leader system. Make sure that the leader or upper scaffold branches are not crowded and choked by lower scaffold branches growing upward. After the tree begins to bear, prune out weak branches and those that develop at odd angles or cross other branches. Head back the leader and upright side branches to no more than 12 to 15 feet so the mature tree can be kept at about 20 feet.

Crab Apples fruit on long-lived spurs, generally producing clusters of several fruits on each spur. Because crops are usually heavy, you can cut back new wood without losing anything. Prune young trees to a vase shape with three or four scaffolds. After the second year, you can leave these scaffolds alone or cut them back to maintain size.

Peaches fruit on year-old wood, but once a peach is harvested, the section of branch on which it grew will never fruit again. Encourage new growth for replacement branches by pruning heavily every winter. Peach trees produce the greatest number of flower buds on healthy branches that grew the year before. Keep the branches that are the diameter of a pencil or greater and thin the smaller diameter twigs. You can head back the strong new branches by one-third to one-half if you want to keep the tree small.


Most newly planted young peach trees are pruned to the vase shape. They should be pruned moderately. Your ultimate goal is a wide tree with an open top 12 or 13 feet high. As it grows, cut branches that are growing upward back to laterals that are growing outward. This creates a much wider branching habit.

When the tree is maturing (about 6 to 8 feet tall in the west and Midwest and 10 to 12 feet tall in the east and south), start severely cutting back the new growth on the top of the tree, being sure to maintain the open center that will admit light to the lower inside branches. In general, pruning should be lighter on young bearing trees than on older ones.


Pears bear on long-lived spurs, much as apples do. These spurs last a long time if you’re careful not to damage them when picking fruit. Prune the young pear tree to the central-leader system by selecting five or six scaffold branches over a two-year period.


Since it’s characteristic of pears to grow upright, don’t make too many heading-back cuts, for they will promote too many upright shoots. Also, use wood or wire spreaders to train the tree branches to grow at wider crotch angles.

If you want a small pear tree, buy a dwarf; don’t try to make a standard tree smaller by heavy pruning. The pear is very susceptible to a bacterial disease called fireblight, especially in the soft succulent growth that results from heavy pruning, so be careful about heading back or thinning shoots on mature trees. Once fireblight takes hold, little can be done except to remove infected growth. It is important not to over fertilize pear trees because heavy fertilization will stimulate an abundance of new vigorous growth that is more susceptible to fireblight infection. A pear is as trainable as an apple, and a trained tree can last 75 years. Options to consider are to plant pears as espaliers, train them to 45-degree angles for an informal hedge, or plant them in tubs as a single cordon or on a trellis.

Plums fruit on spurs on older branches with the heaviest production on wood that is two to four years old. The two main plum varieties are European and Japanese. European plums need only occasional thinning and heading once the tree shape has been formed. Japanese plums overgrow and overbear. They are particularly prone to branch splitting when mature and bearing heavy crops.


Cut back the long whips and thin fruit when it reaches thumbnail size, leaving about 4 to 6 inches between remaining fruits. Remove one-third of the new wood on Japanese plums each year by thinning and heading back. This heavy pruning is necessary to produce larger fruit. Keep long, thin branches headed to give the tree a stubby, wide shape. When the fruit spurs on a branch have borne for five to six years, select a new branch from lateral shoots on this branch. The next year, remove most of the old branch, cutting it off just above the selected lateral.

Quince fruits on new wood and become the large, heavy fruits are borne singly at branch ends, it is wise to head back any overlong branches to prevent limbs from breaking or sprawling under the weight of the crop. To grow as a small tree, prune to a vase shape. Otherwise let multiple stems grow from ground level and select the strongest, best-placed ones for framework. Roots are shallow and will sucker if damaged by soil cultivation. Little pruning is needed in subsequent years, other than making cuts to maintain a good shape.

Quince Fruit

Quince Fruit


Walnuts like pecans bear on new wood and need minimal annual pruning after the initial shape is established. Some heavy bearing varieties require pruning to thin them out. Walnuts are usually trained to a modified central-leader with five or six main lateral branches.


Source: McShane’s Nursery & Landscape Supply,

Remove New Growth As Needed, Leaving Fruit Bearing Spur

Apple Tree Pruning Steps Taken Over Two Year Period, To Develop Fruit Bearing "Spurs"

Apple Tree Pruning Steps Taken Over Two Year Period, To Develop Fruit Bearing "Spurs"

Diagram Illustrating Typical Fruit Tree Pruning - Removing Defects, Dead, Diseased and Extraneous Limbs and Branches

Diagram Illustrating Typical Fruit Tree Pruning - Removing Defects, Dead, Diseased and Extraneous Limbs and Branches