How to Prune Fruit Trees

My Garden Life
September 27, 2018
Table of Contents

Any gardener will tell you, pruning is an essential part of caring for fruit trees. The difference between trees that get pruned and those left to run riot is striking: not only do well-pruned fruit trees look a lot better, they are also significantly more productive.

In this simple guide, we’ll take a quick look at some of the most common concerns which someone who is new to the whole concept of pruning apple, plum, pear or cherry trees is likely to raise. Within a few short minutes, you’ll find that pruning is nowhere near the delicate art it’s often made out to be: you too can master it, and it’ll make a whole world of difference.

Before Pruning

Pruning tools and safety gear

Pruning during winter is advisable because fruit trees are dormant and it’s less stressful to the plant. Also, in winter your tree will have shed its leaves, and you will be able to see what you’re doing without having to dig through leaves! You should only prune during the summer months if a branch is dead or broken, or if you need to remove suckers.

The tools you’ll need will depend on the size of the job you are undertaking. The most basic, most essential piece of kit is, your trusty pair of hand pruners, sometimes known as secateurs. These are for taking care of twigs, small branches and anything else which is roughly less than half an inch in girth.

After that, you may want to invest in a pair of loppers to take care of some of the more serious work. These are just an upgraded version of your hand pruners: larger, sturdier and capable of dealing with thicker branches. With these, you can handle anything of around one inch in thickness. A top tip is to keep an eye out for a pair of loppers that features extendable legs. That can be a lifesaver when it comes to dealing with harder to reach areas.

Pro tip: Sterilize your equipment to prevent the spread of disease between trees. Whilst the chances of contagion are comparatively slim, this is a simple step that can save you a lot of hassle down the line.

Steps for Pruning

Pruning branch and tree with suckers

So, you’ve got the tools. Now what? Well, now it’s time to get stuck in! In terms of safety, it is well advised to invest in protective eyewear, as well as a robust pair of gloves.

1. Begin by pruning any dead, damaged, or diseased wood, which includes what’s known as “suckers.” These are a kind of sprout which emerges from the bottom of the tree’s trunk. They are more common in trees that are spliced or grafted together, but don’t worry about that for now. Just get rid of them!

2. Start by cutting from the base of the main branch; your next goal is to thin out the tree as much as possible while maintaining the bulk of its essential structure. Aim for downward facing branches, branches which are competing for light or space and try to ensure at least six inches of air around every branch.

3. Finish by snipping back around 20% of the outermost growth. Think of it as taking your tree for a trim.

Follow these simple steps, and your tree will thank you for it! You’ll be on your way to having a healthy and productive harvest of fruits.

Fruits for home orchards


  1. To Temat

    I pruned my trees in the fall, and now the shoots are growing back up in the spring. I’m thinking whether to cut them again, although it’s summer, wait until autumn again?

    • My Garden Life

      Hi To Temat,
      The best time to prune most fruit trees is in late winter/early spring when the trees are dormant. You can prune in late summer, if you keep it to light pruning (definitely save any hard pruning for when the tree is dormant). Keep in mind that pruning at any time other than when the tree is in dormancy will stimulate new growth that will be more vulnerable to damage if you’re in northern regions that might experience early fall cold snaps. Suckers that emerge from the graft at the base of a tree are very undesirable and can/should be removed in any season.

    • Roxan Weed

      My peach tree has tiny black spots and the next day the leaf is half chewed up and turning yellow. I only had the tree for 1 year and it is in a pot on my deck

      • My Garden Life

        Hi Roxan,
        Use a magnifying glass to closely inspect your tree for any signs of insect pests. Caterpillars could be the cause of chewed up leaves. However, the yellowing of the leaves is suggestive of possible disease. We found this publication on Pest and Disease Control for Peach Trees from the fruit tree experts at Stark Brothers Nursery that you might find helpful.


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