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How To Prune Common Trees (Including Fruit Trees)

There is no blanket guide for pruning trees. When and how to prune depends on the type of tree. For example, ornamental trees have a different pruning method than most other trees.

However, there are general guidelines that you can follow for pruning any type of tree. In this guide, we are going to address how to prune during each season and the types of cut you should use.

Pruning should start when the tree is young so you can train the branches how to grow. This enables you to shape them as you wish and will make your job easier in subsequent years.

General Pruning

  • Remove dead, damaged or diseased branches
  • Remove branches that are touching other branches or growing inward
  • Cut 1/2-inch above the bud, lateral branch or branch collar

How To Prune Young Trees

The aim of pruning is to train the tree to branch at a desired height or encourage healthy branches to grow. Fruit trees follow the same pattern of pruning in the first three years and enable you to establish a desired structure for the tree.

First Year

  • The branches of a newly planted tree should be cut to 30-36 inches from the ground
  • Make the cut 1/4 inch above the bud
  • Container trees should be stripped of their lower branches and any that are growing too close to one another
  • Cut lower branches flush with the main stem

Second Year

  • The objective in the second year is to structure the skeleton of the tree.
  • Select 3-5 healthy branches, create space between them and cut them flush to the main stem

Third Year

  • The objective in the third year is to remove lateral branches that are crowding the space between the main branches
  • Remove branches you don’t need and leave only a few healthy branches that are well spaced out

After the third year, pruning patterns will vary from one tree to the next depending on your objective. Your priority is to help the tree produce quality fruit at optimum levels.

When trees are left unpruned, fruit production will be slower and with a lower standard of quality.

Seasonal Pruning

Pruning can be performed on trees almost all year round. When you choose to prune a tree will depend on the ultimate goal.

Spring and Summer Pruning

Pruning in the warmer months of the year does not trigger an abundance of new growth so is best used on trees you want to keep small.

When there is no need to prune fruit trees, you also avoid having to remove branches that will bear fruit. The exception to the rule is stone fruits and trained apple or pear trees.

Autumn Pruning

Autumn pruning can stimulate new growth so is best avoided at this time of year because ideally, you want the tree to rest.

Winter Pruning

Pruning trees in the winter encourages vigorous growth. Therefore, late winter is the best time to prune fruit trees which you want to develop new shoots. The leaves have also fallen during this time of year so you have clearer visibility over the shape of the tree.

Types of Cuts When Pruning

Thinning Cut

The objective of thinning is to encourage new growth and involves removing shoots from the entire branch. The cut should be performed as close to the origin of the branch as possible.

Heading Cut

The objective of heading is to maintain the desired structure of the tree and keep it confined within the designated area. Thus heading is performed on new branches and removes the top portion in order to invigorate the buds below.

Branch Cut

Branch cuts involve removing branches that are growing vertically in towards the tree and crowding the centre. Cut them deep down to encourage outward growth.

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