Initial pruning: supporting the growth of newly planted trees
Right from when you plant your fruit tree, you can create the ideal conditions for its growth. Prune the root and crown when you plant to quickly guarantee strong growth: identify the leader and choose three to four other main branches that should ideally be at a 45° angle to the trunk. This is all that the tree needs to develop into a crown, so you can remove all other stems.
Formative pruning: managing growth in young trees
After planting, apply a formative approach to pruning until the tree has reached the crown height you want – this is likely to be five or six years, on average. For nicely branching stems, prune side growth and the leader by up to a third. The long-term goal is to develop the crown into a pyramid shape. Formative pruning ensures a nicely shaped mature tree.
Maintenance pruning: caring for mature trees
Mature, fruit-bearing ornamental trees need an ongoing routine of maintenance pruning, with a focus on ensuring the crown doesn’t become too dense. Remove any new growths that are too close together, as well as suckers. Vertical shoots should generally be removed to keep your tree in a pleasing shape, though on fruit trees that have a fast-growing lower layer a few vertical shoots can act as a useful diversion for the flowing sap, preventing a lot of fast, weak growth. If there are a lot of suckers, you should only remove the really thick and really thin shoots – leave the medium ones.
Regenerative pruning: revitalising older trees
Smaller fruits and a very dense crown are indications of a tree struggling as it ages. Older trees can be encouraged into a new lease of life by a generous prune, thinning the crown and removing any large branches in danger of breaking. It’s best to spread the process over two successive years.
Pruning pillar and espalier fruit trees
Pillar and espalier fruit trees are beautiful trees that have been carefully trained into narrow forms that can even thrive in pots on a small balcony. Their compact training means they need very little space but can still produce a lot of fruit. Most of these varieties only need a little bit of maintenance trimming, though they can benefit from a more thorough prune if they have long side shoots.
There are a few key principles to remember when you prune your fruit trees:
- It’s better to be too generous when you prune than too cautious, even with young trees.
- Be a bit more restrained with older trees, though they still need to be thinned out properly.
- Most fruit trees can be pruned in late winter, but not if there is still heavy frost.
- Use a sharp tool for clean cuts.
- For older trees in particular, it is important to thin the crown so that there is enough airflow.