IWhen to prune fruit trees


When is it too late to prune my fruit trees?

Often these jobs become overdue in our busy schedules, so we don’t get round to them in the month they are due. Life just gets in the way!

Trees that are not pruned become less productive and congested with old branches. The aim is to create an open goblet shape with a framework of four to five main branches.

When is it too late to prune my fruit trees? Generally speaking pruning of apple and pear trees should be done in December or January, even if it snows. However, we are now in March and the trees are coming out of their dormant stage. Nevertheless, you should prune these trees, even three months overdue, to ensure the best yields. And later is better for canker-prone varieties because the sap is rising which helps prevent canker. Note that peach and plum trees should only be pruned in the summer.

To start with

• Always use sharp secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw; blunt tools leads to strains and tatty pruning cuts

• Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches


• Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch (primary) by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction. This will encourage the development of new branches and spurs and maintain a good shape

• Leave young laterals (side-shoots) unpruned so they can develop fruit buds in the second year

• Only remove the young laterals if they are crossing or if the growth is too crowded, i.e. growing closer than 10-15cm (4-6in) at the base

• Remove strong shoots (great than 15cm (6in) long) growing towards the centre of the tree

• On older trees, remove or thin out any spur systems that have become congested. Where thinning or removal is required, remove spurs on the underside of the branches, where the developing fruit will not receive enough light, and produces inferior fruit

• If your apple tree is a tip- or partial tip-bearer (e.g. 'Blenheim Orange', 'Bramley's Seedling', 'Discovery', 'Lord Lambourne', 'Worcester Pearmain'), cut back a proportion of older fruited branches to a strong younger shoot positioned closer to the to the main trunk or higher up the branch. This will reduce congestion and prevent branches becoming too long.


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