How And When To Prune Fruit Trees – Everything You Need To Know

How And When To Prune Fruit Trees

We all want healthy and beautiful fruit trees in our compounds. However, sometimes we get too busy, and they end up becoming overgrown and bushy than we expected them to. One of the best ways to ensure that the trees remain healthy and beautiful is by pruning them annually. However, wrong timing and wrong pruning techniques may do more harm than good to the trees, and that is why you must understand when and how to prune your fruit trees best. Pruning is not necessary for your trees to produce fruit.

However, it plays a significant role in improving the quality and amount of your tree and the produce. Right timing and good pruning techniques will also ensure that the trees are strong enough to support as many fruits as possible without breaking.

It also ensures that you control pests and diseases from your trees by removing all the affected branches. You can also use pruning to rejuvenate a dormant tree because it encourages vigorous growth of new shoots and branches.

You can also use pruning for grafting and planting new trees. The pruning's that you collect during spring or summer when the tree is producing new buds can be used in bud grafting to existing rootstocks.

The spring and summer prunes can also be planted into the ground to grow into new trees. You can also use the prunes you collect during winter when the tree is dormant for bench grafting.

To make the job easier, you may want to checkout our recommended garden pruners.

Garden Pruners

Garden Pruners

How To Prune Fruit Trees

Step 1: Cleaning up

Cleaning Up

Start by the 3 Ds; that is, removing any damaged, diseased, or dead wood or branch. That helps in maintain your tree in good health because it prevents the spread of any diseases to the rest of the tree.

Also, get rid of crossing branches by eliminating one of the branches, because once they rub against each other, it may cause an injury to the bark, which may act as an entry for bacteria and other diseases.

You should also eliminate all the sprouting buds from the tree trunk's base (suckers) because they come from the rootstock instead of the grafted fruiting variety on top. The suckers sap your tree of its nutrients and validity and may end up overgrowing the original tree, causing it to die.

If you notice suckers growing from the soil, you can cut them off at soil level, while you can use your finger for the young soft suckers arising from the branch.

Also, look out for any straight and vertical sprouts originating from some of the tree's main branches, also called the water sprouts or water shoots. If you do not prune them on time, they will grow and become a tree trunk's extension, ruining the shape of your tree.

Step 2: Thinning out

Thinning Out

Thinning out helps in letting in air and light into the tree's canopy, hence boosting fruit production and reduction of diseases and pests. It also helps enhance the shape of your tree according to its training.

The first step is to remove any branches that may be growing downwards towards the tree's centre or any branches crossing with each other.

If you notice other branches growing parallel to each other from different points or two branches arising from one crotch at narrow angles, thin them out and retain the healthiest one and the one growing at the best crotch angle.

Choose the branch that has a 10 or 2 o'clock angle from the tree's centre because the ones with wider angles may break when there is too much fruit on them, while narrow angles may result in fruits that are too high or a bushy tree.

Continue with the thinning process until there is an air space of 6012 inches around every branch. The smaller your branches are, the nearer they can be to one another. Ensure to make all the thinning cuts flush to your branches.

Guide To Pruning Cucumbers

Guide To Pruning Cucumbers

Step 3: Heading back

Heading Back

This involves pruning off the tree's outermost growth to ensure that the branches and the tree grow thicker and shorter instead of long and gangly.

It helps prevent the tree from breaking under the fruit's weight, and it also ensures that the tree's hormones promote growth lower within the canopy for smaller yet more fruitful trees.

If you do not head out, your tree will produce less and less thin fruits over the years to avoid exhausting its energy reserves.

Heading back means that you will be cutting off 20-30 % of your tree's growth from last year. How do you differentiate last years' growth from older tree growth? The wrinkly bark ring around every stem will guide you.

Depending on your tree's vigor, the ring may be between 4 inches to 2 feet back from each branch's tip and. It would be best if you made the cuts partway into every branch.

Also, ensure that you prune back a quarter inch on top of a bud facing and the direction you wish the branch to continue growing into. That distance gives the tree's branches room for healing above the bud.

It is essential always to ensure that the next bud is facing outwards so that no branches grow towards the center of your tree.

It is essential that you make the cut at 45 degrees so that water does not run directly into the growing bud.

While many fruit trees can be pruned the same way, some need special pruning.

Fig trees

Fig trees

If you are in an area with a subtropical or temperate climate, fig-trees there produce two crops annually. The initial crop, the breba crop, appears on the tips of the growth from the previous season, and the second main crop grows at the current season growth's base.

The best way to prune your fig tree is to sacrifice the breba crop by cutting the bigger branches into half and leaving the shorter branches to produce the breba crop.

During the next season, the shorter branches you left will have grown into longer branches, and the longer ones you cut will have produced many shorter branches.

Best Grass Shears

Best Grass Shears



Since persimmons have very brittle wood, having long braches makes it easy for them to break under the fruits' weight. Also, with no pruning, they tend to have biennial cropping, where one season they produce a lot of fruit and the next they produce nothing.

If you prune all the ends of the branches the tree produced last year, that will eliminate all the fruiting wood. Therefore, for effective pruning of this tree, leave some short new growth, which will produce fruit.

You can prune the longer new growth to a few buds away from the main branches. In the next season, the short branches will have grown into long ones, and the ones you pruned will have produced many short branches that will serve as the new fruiting wood.



These are trees that grow vigorously, and if left unpruned, they can become crowded and dense with old, unproductive branches. They also have many suckers, which may lead to your tree becoming weak or even dying.

Pomegranates produce fruits on short shoots near the branch's tips, which may remain productive for up to 4 years. If you prune all the branches' tips, you will not have any fruits in the coming season.

To prune your pomegranates, prune only the 4-5-year-old branches and leave the 1-3-year-old ones for fruit production. Also, ensure you prune during harvest time because it is easier for you to identify the fruiting branches.

That will ensure that the tree has enough horizontal branches for fruiting. Another option for you to best prune your pomegranates is to hedge them during winter. That may see your tree not produce a lot of fruit in the first year after hedging as you will have removed nearly all the branch tips.

However, there will still be some branch tips from all the branches that were not growing outwards, and that may produce some fruit. In the following year, there will be regrowth of so many branch tips in all directions, which will give much more produce than you expected.

That allows you to cut off all those branch tips that were growing inwards to avoid damaging the tree's shape.

If you are planting a new tree, ensure that you cut it to a height of 24-30 inches and prune any other side shoots left under that to 1-2 buds. The goal is to minimize crossing and rubbing, promote the growth of fruiting branches, and increase scaffold growth. It also stabilizes the top plus root system. After new growth has started developing from the initial cuts, that is the best time to prune a newly planted fruit tree.

When the new growth is 3-4 inches long, identify the central branch and prune all branches that are 4 inches under it. Spread the side branches to form 45- 60 degree crotch angles from the central branch using toothpicks or similar objects.

Remove the spreaders after 5-6 weeks. For the first three years, you should be devoted to removing water sprouts, secondary stems, and avoiding downward growth.

For proper pruning, you have to ensure that you have the right tools. Some of the tools include;

  • Hand pruners- They are best for pruning or cutting tree branches that have a diameter of at most 1 inch. For cleaner cuts, use the bypass pruners that have a curved cutting blade.
  • Loppers- Also known as looping shears or long-handled pruners, they are best when cutting branches that have a diameter of at most 2 inches. The labels on the loppers should specify the size branches that they can cut.
  • Rope saws- They use chain-type cutting blades, and they are best for cutting branches that have a diameter of around 5 inches. You can also use them to cut thicker branches, but that will take more effort.
  • Pruning saws- They are mostly designed to cut branches that have a diameter of around 3 inches, but if you apply more effort, you can use them to cut thicker branches.
  • Pole pruners- Also called aerial pruners, these are perfect if you want to prune a tall tree with high branches with a diameter of up to 2 inches. For a cleaner cut, use the bypass-style pole pruners.
  • Chainsaws- These are perfect for giving a clean cut when you are dealing with branches that have a diameter of around 3 inches.
  • Secateurs- They are mainly used when cutting branches that have a diameter of up to 20mm, and deadheading. The standard scissor-type are commonly used secateurs.
  • Hedge shears- If you want to shape your tree or trim the long hedges and head, shears are the perfect tool for that. You can also use them to prune branches that have a diameter of up to 1 cm.
  • Pruning knife- If you want to give your pruning a professional finish, these are the best tools to use. You can use them to bevel and trim your pruning cuts' edges. You can also use them to remove unwanted, developing lateral growth.

It is best to ensure that your tools are always sharpened and properly maintained before and after every pruning process. That will not only give you a neat prune; it will also ensure that you are not injured during the process.

For all the tools with moving parts, ensure that you oil them and keep them all in a dry place to avoid rusting. To prevent the spread of disease from tree to tree, ensure that you sanitize all the tools after pruning a tree. Also, clear all the pruned wood from the other trees.

Gardening Books For Beginners

Gardening Books For Beginners

When To Prune A Fruit Tree

Prune A Fruit Tree

Many fruit trees do not need to be pruned annually after they have been trained. Training is the form or direction that a young tree or vine is given as it grows. It is mainly done by having it attached to mechanical support.

For the first three years of a tree's growth, do not do a lot of heavy pruning. However, ensure to remove any dead branches. Encourage early fruiting for your tree, and after that, you can start heavy pruning.

For mature trees, when is the best season to prune them? It would be best if you pruned the trees at any time from late fall to early spring. While an average fruit tree's pruning cycle is between 3-5 years, it is essential to consider factors like the type, health, and size of your tree.

To ensure that you time this right, always consult an arborist for more advice. During fall and winter, the trees are in a dormant stage that temporarily stops their growth. That inactivity, plus the low temperature, creates an ideal environment for pruning.

Also, the hard ground during winter ensures that there is easier access to the trees and that there is no danger of them falling over. Since most of the leaves will have fallen off, it will be easier for you to reach the branches, and it makes it easier for you to see where you are making the cuts.

Pruning your trees in their dormant phase ensures that it retains its current health, and it also sustains its future health and growth, because it helps with pest and disease management.

That is because the fresh wounds and cuts in the trees hardly attract any disease-bearing insects and reduce the spread of fungi and diseases.

Pruning during winter also encourages better and stronger growth in spring because the trees store their excess energy in their root systems when they are dormant.

That way, once it is spring, that energy will be evenly distributed among the few remaining branches, making them stronger and promoting better fruit quality and quantity.

Removing the weak, damaged, and dead branches from the trees during this period makes them more robust for the severe weather in winter. They also ensure that there is enough space for the penetration of air and sunlight.

That helps not only in the development of fruit but also with their ripening because fruits that are exposed to sunlight ripen faster and are sweeter.

Spring and summer pruning is not recommended because that is the time when the trees use up a lot of energy to produce new leaves and blossoms. Pruning at this time will see your tree not growing back as strong as it used to be.

However, if you have a stone fruit tree or a tree that is too big, you can prune during summer or spring because that will prevent vigorous growth. You can also do spring and summer pruning for your trained pears and apple trees.

Pruning your tree during summer or spring is also an excellent way to remove all the dead or dormant branches. Since this is the time that the trees will be producing fruit, it will be easy for you to identify those with little or no fruits for pruning.

That will leave the healthy branches to use up the energy and produce even more and more nutritious fruits.

It would be best if you avoided autumn or fall pruning because even though the tree has used up a lot of energy already, that will promote new growth when your tree is almost going into dormancy.

The first winter frost will cause the young shoots to die, and those wounds can be perfect entry points for bacteria, pests, and diseases.