Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning your tree to perfection

Moving to a new address can have many challenges; strange locks to negotiate, finding the light switches, figuring out the hot water system and that’s just the house!

Perhaps like me, you wandered into the garden and found yourself the sudden custodian of a neglected fruit tree hiding down the back.

This unexpected discovery can lead to visions of summer fruit abundance but before pulling out your cook books, it’s important to know how to care for your tree with suitable, timely pruning.

Why is fruit tree pruning so important?

  • It strengthens the branches to support heavier loads of fruit.
  • It thins out some of the overabundance of fruit bearing branches encouraging better sized and tastier fruit.
  • It encourages new productive shoots (particularly important in older trees).
  • It opens up the tree to sunlight and air, reducing pest attack
  • It keeps the tree to a shape and size which can be easily harvested.

Pruning established cherries, apples, pears and plum trees:

Look at the upper part of tree and decide which are the strongest three or four branches (well-spaced vertically and horizontally around the trunk) keep these and remove all other smaller branches including those around the base.

Look at the shoots off these strongest branches and prune back about 10 cm. This forces the tree to regrow side shoots that will become the secondary branches for next year.

Over time keep an eye on the top branches, these will be more vigorous than the lower ones and may require extra pruning to keep the fruit in reach.

Pruning established apricots, almonds and Japanese plums trees:

Follow the same techniques except that in these varieties the lower branches are more vigorous and may dominate so prune back and leave the upper branches.

For all pruning:

  • Prune lightly
  • Remove any suckers from the tree base.
  • All cuts should be at a 45 degree angle and between the buds.


The best time to prune is in winter when fruit trees have slowed their growing, stored their food in the trunk and roots, shed their leaves and before the new buds have developed.

If you prune heavily in summer when the tree is growing and using its food stores –for a tree that’s like having your meal snatched away before finishing – and no one wants that.

Fruit tree pruning is a great way to get to know your new tree and so worthwhile when you enjoy the resulting summer bounty, so wait for the leaves to fall, get out your ladder and give it a go.


Information for this article was from

Hartman HT, Kofranek AM, Flocker WJ, Rubatzky VE,  2nd ed. 1988 Plant Science – Growth, development and Utilisation of Cultivated Plants, Regents/Prentice Hall, NJ.

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