From the Sub-Tropical Fruit Club of Qld, Inc.
by Tom Del Hotal
Pruning Fruit Trees
Sourced from: STFC Newsletter Apr. May 2008
A pruning cut is a wound that is a possible entry point for decay, diseases or insects.
"heal" a wound by a process called compartmentalization. This process
surrounds the wounded area both internally and externally with tissue
that has greater resistance to decay. The wounded area never grows back
together and this wound remains a weakened area for the life of the
Cutting a small branch and making a small wound is always
more desirable than cutting a larger branch and making a larger wound.
Larger wounds take longer to "heal" (or compartmentalize) and have
greater potential for attack by decay organisms, diseases and insects.
TYPES OF CUTS:
used to remove an entire branch or stem at the point of origin, or to
remove a portion of a branch or stem by cutting back to the crotch of a
branch which is at least 1/3 of the diameter of the branch that is
being removed, (drop crotching).
Drop crotch pruning is a recommended method for reducing the size of a plant in both height and width.
Heading cuts / Topping cuts
made to remove a portion of a branch, stem or trunk. Cuts are made
without regard to the position of the cut or to lateral branch
Heading cuts usually result in excessive branch
development below the cut. These branches are usually poorly attached
and frequently break off damaging the branch or trunk they were
making thinning cuts, remove the branch at the top of the collar or
shoulder of the remaining branch. This will trigger a "wound response"
which initiates compartmentalization and callus tissue formation at the
Never leave stubs...
The cut will not compartmentalize and decay and disease will enter the wound.
Never make flush cuts.
makes a larger wound which takes longer to compartmentalize and also
removes the collar or shoulder which is helpful in triggering the wound
Never make ripped or torn cuts.
When removing a larger branch, follow the three cut process to prevent damage to the bark.
If no collar or shoulder is present, prune at a mirrored angle to the branch bark ridge.
branches to grow in specific directions is often a viable option to
pruning. This can take advantage of growth which has already developed
instead of pruning off already grown branches and waiting for new
branches to grow. Using training techniques can avoid the wounds made
by pruning and therefore reduce the problems associated with those
wounds. Training should be done when branches are young and flexible
enough to bend into shape without breaking or splitting the branch or
trunk. Weights, guy wires, stakes or spreaders can be used to train
branches. If ties are used, the tie material should be at least 1" wide
wherever it comes into contact with the bark of the tree to prevent
damage to the bark.
REASONS TO PRUNE
for structural strength is especially important on fruit trees. Heavy
crops of fruit can easily break branches, severely damaging main
scaffold limbs or splitting trunks. Basic guidelines for structural
pruning are as follows:
Train scaffold branches to be spaced along the trunk both vertically and radially when trees are young.
off branches which are attached to the bottom side of attached
branches. (Unless this is going to become the new terminal end of the
branch.) Increase the crotch angle of branches to greater than 30
degrees by spreading branches apart or by pruning off one of the
Remove co-dominant leaders by removing or reducing one
of the branches. Occasionally one of the branches can be redirected
into a lateral branch by spreading the branch. This redirected branch
will no longer be co-dominant. The Crotch angle should be spread to 30
degrees or larger.
Prune off the four D's: Dead, Damaged, Diseased and Dysfunctional branches.
trees to specific shapes for best fruit production. (Open vase or
modified open vase for trees in the genus Prunus, central leader or
modified central leader for all others.) Many fruit trees can also be
pruned or shaped for specific function in the landscape such as shade
or patio trees, hedges, screens or espaliers.
Fruit or Flowers:
to leave flowering and fruiting wood for specific fruit types.
(Fruiting spurs, last season's growth/ one year old wood, or current
season's growth.) Thin branches and fruiting wood to allow adequate
light penetration and air circulation for proper fruit development for
each fruit tree type.
trees which are pruned to their maximum size will produce the greatest
amount of fruit. These trees are pruned into central leader or modified
open vase shapes. To keep fruit trees smaller for ease of picking the
fruit, to get more trees into an area, or because of space limitations,
prune to modified central leader or open vase shapes.
Never top or head branches or trees!!! (The only exception is when you are pollarding a tree.)
or heading has many harmful effects on tree growth and tree health. The
results include excessive, poorly attached branch growth, disease and
decay, and starvation among others and never results in reducing the
size of the tree long term! Reduce the height or width of a tree or the
length of a branch with thinning cuts by the pruning technique known as
Direct or Redirect Growth:
the growth in the tree so that one branch or side of the tree does not
overgrow the other portions of the tree and so that the tree keeps a
balanced shape. Prune to a terminal branch to direct growth in that
direction. As branches bend downward from the weight of fruit, foliage,
or wood, they often need to be pruned back into an upright growing
Use drop-crotching pruning techniques to a side or top branch to redirect growth.
Managing Suckers (Root Suckers):
deciduous fruit trees are grafted. All growth arising below the graft
or from the root system should be removed to prevent the root stock
from dominating and dwarfing out or killing the desired grafted tree.
Managing Water Sprouts:
sprouts are vigorously growing upright shoots arising from above the
graft union on grafted trees. In some cases, water sprouts can be
trained to form strong branches and may be beneficial. If water sprouts
are excessively crowded, have narrow crotch angles, are crossing or
rubbing, or are causing poor branch or tree structure, they should be
timing can predispose plants to attack by insects, diseases, or damage
from sunburn or sunscald. Most pruning should be done during the winter
months on deciduous fruit trees when the trees are dormant and when
insect populations are suppressed by the winter cold. In some cases,
lighter summer pruning can be beneficial for keeping trees smaller,
however many bark boring insects are promoted by summer pruning. If
these insects are common in your area, keep summer pruning activities
to a minimum.
Open Vase and Modified Open Vase
vase and modified open vase pruning styles are used to maximize fruit
production and fruit quality for fruit trees in the genus Prunus
(peach, nectarine, plum, apricot and their interspecific hybrids). The
open vase style resembles a bowl.
Scaffold branches and
secondary scaffold branches make up the sides of the bowl. All branches
that grow towards the centre of the bowl are removed to allow light and
air to reach the interior of the tree. Low growing or small branches
should be left as long as they do not congest this open interior of the
"bowl". These branches assist in increasing branch diameter (caliper)
and strength as well as help to protect the bark from sunburn. If these
branches are fruiting branches, leaving these branches will help bring
fruit lower and therefore fruit will be easier to harvest.
modified open vase pruning style differs from the open vase style by
having more than one level or layer. Each level or layer is made up of
a smaller "bowl" above and within the larger, lower bowl. Sufficient
distance must be maintained between these layers to allow for good air
circulation and good light penetration to the lower layer or layers.
Large trees can have up to 3 layers, so that the overall appearance of
the tree resembles candelabra. This results in a larger tree and
greater fruit production than the open vase style. Open vase shaped and
modified open vase shaped trees will need to have an average of 40% -
60% of growth removed on a yearly basis. Good pruning practices will
help to reduce the amount of growth removed each year so that 20-40%
branch removal is common.
A Systematic Method to Prune Open Vase and Modified Open Vase Trees:
Step 1: Remove all suckers.
Look at the entire tree and determine which branches need to be removed
or redirected to open the centre "bowl" or vase. Use pruning or
training techniques to open the centre of the tree.
After the centre has been opened up, ignore the overall tree until the
final steps of the pruning process. Start pruning each scaffold limb
one at a time, beginning with the lowest scaffold limb first. Start at
the tree trunk and work your way towards the end of the branch.
for health, structural strength, and flower and fruit production and to
thin out crowded branches. If branches are growing vertically and are
crossing limbs which are growing above them, drop-crotch or remove the
limb to prevent overcrowding and crossing branches.
properly pruned, the overall appearance of the scaffold branch will
often be feather-like, with side branches and fruiting wood mainly
attached to the top and sides of this branch. Small branches and
fruiting spurs may be attached to the bottom of the scaffold, provided
they are not too crowded.
As the scaffold branch matures, the
ends of the branch will develop into a shape that resembles an
outstretched arm and hand, with the “fingers” of the hand
pointing upward and the “palm” of the hand directed towards
the centre of the tree. Branches should be spaced along the scaffold
limb, alternating from side to side. The “fingers” and hand
should form an open “cup” at the end of each limb.
Move to the next scaffold branch and repeat the procedure outlined in
step 3. Again start at the base of the branch and work outwards to the
tip of the scaffold limb. Remember to focus on only the scaffold limb
that you are currently pruning.
Continue working your way around the tree, pruning one scaffold limb at
a time. If there is more than one layer of branches, as in a tree
pruned to a modified open vase shape, move up to the next layer and
continue the procedure outlined in steps 3 and 4. Leave sufficient
distance between each layer to allow for adequate light to reach the
Actual distance between layers is variable and will
depend on location, exposure, tree age and size, branch density, and
species. Experience will help in determining what sufficient distance
between layers is.
When you have finished pruning each scaffold limb, one at a time, stand
back and examine the tree as a whole unit. Look for excessively crowded
branches, crossing branches, or branches growing towards the centre of
the vase. Remove or redirect these branches if necessary.
Peaches and Nectarines
trees produce flowers and fruit on last year's growth, 1 year old wood.
This fruiting wood is replaced each year. An average of 40-60% of the
branches is removed each season. Fruiting wood is easily identified.
Branches have smooth, shiny, green or green and brown bark. Branches
have well developed buds but no side branches. Branches are frequently
pulled downward by the weight of the fruit and develop into 'hangers'
which are beneficial to picking the fruit.
Plums and Apricots
trees produce flowers and fruit on fruiting spurs. Fruiting spurs are
long lived on plums (up to 10 years) but are short lived on apricots
(3-5 years). Fruiting spurs develop on branches that are 2 years old
and older. These older branches have brown, rough bark and smaller side
The side branches may be vegetative, which will
produce leaves and more branches or they may be fruiting spurs which
will produce flowers and fruit. Vegetative branches will produce
fruiting spurs after they become 2 years old and older. Fruiting spurs
can be identified as smaller branches with very short internode spacing
between the buds (average 1/4").
Vegetative branches are usually
larger and more vigorous, with more distance between the buds (usually
1/2-3/4" or more). As fruiting spurs age and get larger they may
resemble "thorns" or become club-like in appearance. Spurs should be
thinned as trees age to prevent excessive fruit development which
results in smaller fruit and may cause branches to break. Apricot spurs
usually die off after 3-5 years and need to be replaced. Prune to
remove about 1/3 to 1/5 of the older fruiting spurs each year after the
Central Leader and Modified Central Leader
leader and modified central leader pruning styles are used to maximize
fruit production and fruit quality for all fruit trees except those in
the genus Prunus. This style of pruning keeps branches in the centre of
the tree. Each scaffold branch and its attached branches and limbs
should occupy their own space in the tree.
Branches should not
cross, touch, rub or be excessively crowded. Adequate spacing should be
maintained between branches to allow sufficient light and air to
penetrate through the tree so that fruiting wood is produced and so
that insect and disease problems are reduced. Trees should have
sufficient branches remaining after pruning so that the bark of the
trunk and scaffold branches is protected from strong, direct sunlight
when the tree is full of leaves to prevent damage from sunburn or
sunscald. A tree pruned into a central leader shape resembles the shape
of a Christmas tree. Pruned to this shape, the tree will be the tallest
and will produce the greatest amount of fruit.
central leader pruning style differs from the central leader by having
a more rounded top. The dominant leader of the central leader tree is
suppressed with drop-crotch pruning or training techniques and
secondary leaders are allowed to develop. Each outer leader becomes
progressively shorter as they move outward from the centre of the tree.
secondary leaders divide the growing energy or dominance between
several growing points and the overall effect is a lower growing tree
with a more rounded shape. The secondary leaders must be spaced along
the trunk both radially and vertically to produce a tree with strong
Trees should never be topped. Central
leader shaped and modified central leader shaped trees will need to
have an average of 20%-40% of growth removed on a yearly basis. Good
pruning practices will help to reduce the amount of growth removed each
year so that 10-20% branch removal is common.
A Systematic Method to Prune Central Leader and Modified Central Leader Trees
Step 1: Remove all suckers.
Start pruning each scaffold limb one at a time, beginning with the
lowest scaffold limb first. Start at the tree trunk and work your way
towards the end of the branch. Prune for health, structural strength,
and flower and fruit production and to thin out crowded branches. If
branches are growing vertically and are crossing limbs which are
growing above them or are crowding nearby branches, drop-crotch, train,
or remove the limb to prevent overcrowding and crossing.
being properly pruned, the overall appearance of the scaffold branch
will often be feather-like where the branch is horizontal, with side
branches and fruiting wood mainly attached to the top and sides of this
branch. Small branches and fruiting spurs may be attached to the bottom
of the scaffold, provided they are not too crowded. Where the branches
are more vertical, side branches should be spaced along the branch in a
spiralled arrangement with internode distance between branches.
Adequate thinning of branches should be done to allow for air circulation and some light penetration.
Move to the next scaffold branch and repeat the procedure outlined in
step 2. Again start at the base of the branch and work outwards to the
tip of the scaffold limb. Remember to focus on only the scaffold limb
that you are currently pruning. Continue working your way around the
tree, pruning one scaffold limb at a time.
After moving around the tree by working on the lowest scaffold
branches, continue up to the next higher scaffold branches and again
work your way around the tree pruning each branch one at a time.
Repeat steps # 2-4 until you have finally reached the central leader of
the tree. Branch height should descend progressively lower from the
central growing point, downward as the branches move further out from
Step 6: If
you a pruning to a modified Central leader shape, drop-crotch the
highest, central leader to a lower lateral and round out the overall
tree shape by drop-crotching the taller branches.
Stand back and examine the entire tree. Look for any crowded or
crossing branches and drop-crotch, train, or remove these branches.
Balance the overall tree shape by thinning, drop-crotching or training
any scraggly branches.
Fruit trees which are pruned to
central leader or modified central leader shapes may bear fruit on
fruiting spurs, as in apples and pears, on last years growth, as in
mulberries and some figs, or on current season growth, as in figs and
pomegranates. It is extremely important to know the fruiting habits of
the fruit tree you are pruning in order to be able to prune correctly
and to maximize fruit production.
Pruning and Training Page