Do you have a budding new fruit tree in your backyard? Then you’ll want to know key industry tips to keep that tree in peak condition. Pruning is one of the main ways that you can care for your fruit tree and encourage it to produce better fruit as it matures.
In this guide, our experts share their top tips for when to prune your fruit trees.
Is pruning necessary?
Yes, pruning is critical for maintaining a tree’s health. Pruning has a wide range of benefits, including the ability to:
- Produce quality fruit
- Produce bigger fruit
- Maintain the size of the tree
- Prevent unproductive wood and damaged scaffold limbs
- Maintain the tree’s shape
- Prohibit low growth quality
These benefits will continue to carry over for years to come as the fruit tree grows. Most fruit trees should be pruned tactfully early on in the tree’s life. Some growers will leave their tree untouched and it will still bear fruit, however, the quality may be lower.
This is because allowing competing branches to grow forces the tree to stretch its energy rather than focusing it on the main branches. Pruning will not only encourage new growth but direct the tree’s efforts on a smaller amount of branches with high-quality fruit.
Overgrown fruit trees are more of a problem than one would think. Not pruning regularly not only comprises the quality of the fruit, but it also makes the tree hard to manage. If it grows too big, it may only produce small fruit that is too hard to reach.
It could also lead to a lot of dead wood and dead branches that sap its energy. Having an excessive amount of damaged branches will prevent natural sunlight and air from reaching the tree as well, robbing it of essential nutrients needed to produce fruit.
Now that you know why pruning is important, the next step is getting it right. Below, we have created a detailed guide on the basics of pruning so you can look after your fruit trees effectively. We’ll go over when is best to prune your fruit, how to do it and what to avoid in the process.
Why pruning fruit trees at the right time is so important
Pruning your fruit tree is a bit of an art since the ‘when’ is just as important as the ‘how’. To best encourage fruit production, you will need to prune in the correct season as well as in the right places.
There are 3 main types of pruning over a tree's lifespan.
- Framework: this happens at the beginning of a fruit tree’s life (first 2-3 years) by creating a manageable shape. This is also known as formative pruning.
- Maintenance: as the tree enters maturity, it’s important to maintain its shape and prevent overgrowth. Also known as detail pruning, the aim is to upkeep the desired shape and size while still encouraging new growth.
- Restorative: if a tree has become neglected and overgrown, then it’s time to cut back. Literally. By re-shaping and getting rid of unnecessary growth, the tree can be restored to its former glory.
When to prune a young fruit tree
The ideal time to prune a young fruit tree is in early spring right before the fruiting begins or in late winter. Winter pruning at the very end of the harvest helps to prime the tree for the following year, resulting in strong growth. It also trains the tree to grow in a particular shape. Pruning at these times of the year prevents damage to the tree due to frost, cold or sunburn. It is possible to do summer pruning as well, but you must be careful of how you do it.
Pruning in summer can be done to direct more energy to existing fruit or to remove crossing branches or broken branches. This is more relevant to a mature tree that has already been established since young trees won’t have had much opportunity to grow.
When to prune evergreen and deciduous fruit trees
Deciduous fruit trees change with the seasons by experiencing transforming leaf colour and losing their leaves. Doing some minimal pruning between seasons can help encourage new growth going into harvest time.
However, evergreen trees, such as citrus trees, keep their leaves all year round. You can trim lightly throughout the year to keep the desired shape, especially when training new trees. Once they are established, fruit tree pruning is required less frequently.
Which fruit trees should be pruned
So, you have a fruit tree, but what’s the best way to prune it? That depends on the type of tree you have. See below to find your tree:
Deciduous trees: leaves change colour and drop
- Apple trees
- Plum trees
- Peach trees
- Pear trees
- Cherry trees
- Nectarine trees
- Apricot trees (stone fruit)
Deciduous trees are winter pruning fruit trees. Pruning in late winter will encourage strong growth in the harvest season and allow the tree to recover from pruning wounds in warmer weather. This will set up the tree to produce lots of fruit. You can also lightly trim in autumn as it begins to lose its leaves.
Evergreen trees: keeps leaves throughout the year
- Citrus trees such as;
- Lime trees
- Lemon trees
- Orange trees
- Blueberry bushes
- Passionfruit vines
Evergreen trees can be lightly pruned in late winter to encourage more fruit growth, as well as in spring to remove any dead wood that didn’t make it through the winter. This will help direct the tree’s energy to the healthy parts.
How to prune fruit trees
Fruit tree pruning comes down to a few key aspects: pruning during the right time of year, using the right tools and pruning the right amount. We will go over the basics for young and mature trees and the best strategy to take. Firstly, the pruning tools you will need are:
- Pruning shears
- Long-handled pruners
- Gardening gloves
- Sun-safe gear like a long-sleeved shirt, hat and sunscreen (yes even in winter!)
Once you have all the tools, next you will need to decide on your pruning strategy. If you have a young fruit tree then it’s best to prune fairly frequently to encourage growth and train the tree to your desired shape and size. The best times to do this are during late winter or early spring to allow the tree to bounce back. If you notice any dead branches in between it’s also a good idea to remove those. As the tree becomes established, it will respond best to summer pruning.
Summer pruning a mature tree means that you will be inhibiting growth of specific areas. In spring, the tree is working hard to grow branches, leaves and blossoms. During summer, growth slows down and the tree will focus on the fruit.
Pruning during summer will simply direct the tree’s energy towards enhancing existing fruit and maintaining its healthy main branch structure. Going forward this is the best time to prune for already established trees to improve the quality of fruit and maintain the tree shape.
So, how do you prune?
Let’s take a mature plum tree for example.
- Get rid of any damaged branches, diseased branches or broken branches. In older plum trees, it may help to remove healthy-looking branches that aren’t producing any fruit. Make sure you are making cuts in line with the tree trunk.
- Focus on shaping your plum tree. Aim for a cone shape at 45 degrees from the trunk. Branches that are too horizontal won’t bear the weight of fruit. Plum trees in particular also require sun directly on the fruit so removing any excessive branch growth will help them access the light.
- Remove any sprouts and pests. Water sprouts tend to grow vertically from the main branches. Cut them off completely or pull them off by hand if possible. Leaving the sprouts on the tree will sap precious energy and nutrients needed for fruit production.
- Trim the edges to give your tree a gentle haircut. Removing 20-30% of the previous year’s canopy will help encourage new growth and focus energy on the developing buds. Always trim just above the bud.
Don’t have a plum tree? Not to worry, pruning is fairly similar in other fruit trees. Just speak to the friendly team at All Green Nursery & Garden for further guidance!
Looking to buy a fruit tree?
If you’re looking to buy your first fruit tree or add one to your collection, All Green can help. With multiple locations in Melbourne, the friendly staff can help pick you to pick the right fruit tree for your needs.