Garden Crash Course... Today: Fruit Tree Pruning

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15,2

“Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit,…” Lev 25,3

“The vinedresser is never nearer the branches than when he is pruning them.” David Jeremiah

The days are getting longer and winter is soon to be gone again... It’s time to start thinking about the garden, which is waking up from its hibernating period in a little while. It’s possible to make science out of everything but with most of the works in the garden you can achieve good result with just some basic knowledge.

Today Mats Schumann would like to tell us some theory about fruit tree pruning.

Mats lives in Bad Segeberg, in the north of Germany. In 2011 he finished his education as landscape gardener. 5 years later he became self-employed and since then he enjoys very much getting in contact with customers and serving them.


In general the best time for pruning of fruit trees is the end of winter, whenever we don’t expect any severe frosts anymore. This depends on the region but it’s between the middle of February and middle of March. If you prune in the fall or in the beginning of wintertime, you may expect a stronger growth of shoots the following year. Stronger growth of branches means also fewer blossoms. “Prunus” (plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots,…) like more to be pruned in summer because they are more receptive for diseases and in the warmer period wounds can heal directly. If pruned in wintertime, the closing of the wound happens only after the hibernating period. Also, if you prune these trees later, the new growth of the branches is smaller. Don’t worry though if you have pruned them in the winter. They will survive, even if there is an unexpected severe frost coming, they will come back in the spring.


In order for the tree to be able to heal the wounds it’s of great necessity to use sharp tools. In that way the cut surfaces are smooth and the bark doesn’t crack so easily.

In most garden supply stores you will find pruning saws. They are specially made to cut fresh, living wood while hack saws, bow saws or tenon saws are more for dried wood. For smaller branches up to 1,5cm diameter small pruning shears should be enough depending on the quality of the tool as well as the strength of the user.

Be careful with tree loopers because the cut might not be smooth or it might damage the bark around it. With some it’s also difficult to cut the branches close enough to the trunk.

How and where to cut? In general:

1. High angled upward growing shoots should be removed. Of course the lateral main branches should be kept remaining.

2. Shoots that are growing towards the inside of the crown can be cut away.

3. Shoots, which are touching each other, can be cut.

4. Branches that are hanging down should be taken away.

5. Damaged branches should be removed as well. Of course there are exceptions, for example if one of the lateral main branches is damaged, don’t just remove it if there are healthy shoots growing from it. Depending on how severely it is damaged it might make sense to prune the shoots a bit stronger which are growing from that branch. This will ensure the sufficient nutrient supply as well as make it less likely for the branch to fully break when it’s loaded with fruits or when there are strong winds.

6. If you cut a shoot, remove it fully – close to the next shoot. If small pieces of the shoots remain, the tree might grow several new shoots at the same place.

7. Throw a hat through the crown of the tree… Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated but be courageous to free out enough because the tree will dry after the rain much better and dirt and fungi won’t accumulate so much. In addition to that the fruit have a higher quality whenever they receive more light as well as if the tree has to take care of less fruit. The distance between the remaining branches can be 30-50cm.

8. Branches that bear fruit should be left remaining and they grow ideally 30-45 degrees upward. Whenever they bear fruits, they will bend a bit down which shouldn’t be too much.

All long and thin one-year-old branches can be shortened about 1/3 of their length in the end.

If you follow these simple rules, you got a lot right already!!!

One step further…

9. Depending on the intensity of the pruning process the tree will grow suckers in springtime, which are growing almost vertically upward. These can be ripped out in late springtime or cut away next time you prune the tree. If you rip them out, there will be fewer or no suckers at all at this place. If suckers are cut away with a tool, often several new shoots start to grow on the edge of the cut surface.

10. For the even supply of the fruit, it is advisable to pay attention to the so-called “juice balance”. The main thing is to let the shoots of the tree grow in levels to an approximately equal horizon level and to let the cut of the tips of the shoots end at one height.

11. In the life of a fruit tree are different stages from the young tree until the old one.

  • First cut: When the tree is planted you usually don’t cut a lot and the tender shoots can be directed upward or downward with the help of weights, ropes or sticks placed between to force them apart from each other (This is done bearing in mind that branches bend down whenever they are filled with fruit).

  • Preservation cut: Later on it’s important to keep the tree vital and for the most part the crown is thinned out according to point 1-8 and overage shoots are cut back to new ones.

  • Rejuvenation cut: Old trees, which haven’t been cut for some years, can age a lot. Characteristics for this are the decline in young shoot growth, a lot of fruit branches as well as a big amount of low quality fruit. Under consideration of point 1-8 often not much is left of such a tree. I can only encourage you to not bee too careful in that case. In order to be able to bear good fruit again, this tree need a big change, it recovers most of the times quite fast and brings a lot of joy to its owner.

12. The laws of growth: If several branches grow together or on the same level of the tree there are different guidelines according to which the tree supplies the individual branches with nutrients and in that way stimulates growth. Usually more stimulated are the branches that have a higher tip, the ones, which are closer to the main trunk, the ones that grow more steeply upward, the ones, which are stronger and the ones, which grow from the highest point of a bend branch.

“ Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”Ps 31,24

Mats Schumann

"Rootstocks, Grafting & Pruning" by Weston Adams

"Tree Grafting" by Louis Cuccia

"Orcharding" by Brad Johnson

"Pruning Made Easy" by Lewis Hill

"How to Prune Fruit Trees" by R. Sanford Martin

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