Apple trees benefit from proper pruning, spring and summer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – You can prune an apple tree any time of the year without hurting it, but late winter, just before spring, is probably best. The worst of the cold weather is past, so you won’t be subjecting the fresh cuts to severe icing, but you’ll still be able to influence the tree’s spring growth.

There are several main objectives to pruning an apple tree, says Pat Patterson, Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener:

  • Controlling the height of the tree, so that most of the fruit doesn’t grow out of reach;
  • Developing good limb structure for strength, fruit production, and the general health of the tree;
  • Encouraging a plentiful supply of new limbs, which will begin to bear fruit their second year; and
  • Ridding the tree of damaged or diseased growth.

The overall size of the tree depends primarily on its rootstock and innate vigor. Most apple trees are grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock. (Take care when you plant a new apple tree not to bury the graft, where the fruiting stock joins the rootstock. This will ensure that the fruiting stock will not begin to produce its own roots and the tree will keep its dwarf or semi-dwarf height.) Even so, you’ll want to monitor the height of your tree to be sure it doesn’t outgrow the spot you’ve picked for it. Once it’s as high as you want it to be, prune the central “leader,” the main upright limb, back to a lateral branch. Then keep monitoring the height year by year.

“Don’t expect a new young tree to start bearing well until probably its fourth or fifth year,” said Patterson. “In the long run, the tree will do better to put its energy into root and limb growth rather than fruit for those first few years. So concentrate your pruning to produce a strong tree during that period.”

Inspect your tree for limbs that branch from the central leader either too sharply upward, forming an acute angle, or at too wide an angle. Acute angles tend to trap bark as they grow and can lead to splitting later on. Branches that grow at too great an angle from the vertical tend to be weaker. They also encourage “water sprouts,” the unproductive upright shoots that need to be pruned off mid-summer every year. The ideal angle between the central leader and lateral branches is about 60 degrees.

In general, encourage branches to grow toward the outside of the tree and eliminate those that grow toward the center or cross other branches. You want air and light to penetrate the foliage to the center of the tree as much as possible.

“Different kinds of apple trees have different ways of setting fruit buds,” said Patterson. “Most modern apples are spur-bearing. Many older varieties are tip-bearing. This is obviously very important for how we prune the tree so as not to cut off the fruiting wood. If you’re in doubt, as long as you know the name of your tree you can ask at your local nursery or look it up in a good garden book or on the Internet.”

Once your tree has matured and begins to produce fruit, expect new branches to bear their best for several years (perhaps three to five years) and then taper off. You’ll want to prune off older branches that have begun to produce less in order to encourage new ones. This practice will help you have a more-or-less steady crop over a period of years.

Summer is a good time to remove older branches, according to Patterson, because it is then obvious which branches are producing best and which should be pruned. Summer pruning also allows you to get rid of branches that are showing signs of damage or disease as soon as you spot them.

Beyond these basics (which also apply to other similar fruit trees, for instance pears) there are many fine points to pruning a fruit tree. For instance, how far from the central leader should you cut a lateral branch? At what angle? Should you shorten branches or always take them back to the central trunk? Are water sprouts ever good to keep?

The OSU Extension Service has several publications on planting, growing and caring for home fruit trees:

  • Pruning to Restore an Old, Neglected Apple Tree
  • Managing Diseases and Insects in Home Orchards
  • Growing Tree Fruits and Nuts in the Home Orchard
  • Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard

Pruning Apple Trees

Pruning is a very important part of proper apple tree care and maintenance; however, many people think the task overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be! Keep these things in mind when approaching pruning your apple trees:

  • Have confidence in knowing that not everyone will prune the exact same way – including the experts.
  • In the best interest of your tree, it is preferable to do some pruning versus no pruning.
  • If an apple tree is left unpruned, it may not become fruitful, it will not grow as well, and – in some cases – it may not be encouraged to grow at all.
  • There are three main reasons you should prune your apple tree: its survival, stimulation, and shaping.

NOTE: This is part 8 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow apple trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.

Survival

When your apple tree is dug up from our fields to be shipped to you, and any time a tree is transplanted, the root ball loses many of its fine feeder roots. These hairlike, delicate roots are important to the process of absorbing moisture and nutrients in the soil. Pruning, in this instance, helps balance the top growth of your tree with the root system, giving the roots time to re-establish in your yard to support existing top growth and new growth.

When your bare-root apple tree arrives from Stark Bro’s, our professionals have already pre-pruned your tree for you. Because of this, you do not need to prune them again at planting time. The only pruning necessary at planting time would be to remove any broken or damaged branches and roots.

Plan to prune your apple trees every year during their dormant season. In Zone 6 and north, you should wait until late winter. A good reference book, such as Pruning Made Easy, can be invaluable for providing additional visuals and answering questions you may have during the pruning process.

Stimulation

In addition to the survival benefits, pruning an apple tree stimulates stronger, more vigorous growth from the remaining buds. After a single growing season, an apple tree you prune will be bigger with stronger branching than a matching, unpruned apple tree.

Shape and Structure

Equally as important to the benefits above, your apple tree needs to be pruned to provide a strongly structured shape. The natural shape an apple tree takes on is not always the best for its maximum fruit production. Stark Bro’s apple trees are pruned in the nursery row for proper shaping to get you started and corrective pruning must continue at home. If you keep up with your pruning and shaping each year, it will be a reasonable task mostly involving small, easy-to-heal cuts.

Pruning Tips

Pruning angles

Narrow, V-shape crotch angles in the limbs are an open invitation to disastrous splitting later on, particularly when your apple tree is supporting a large fruit crop. For your tree’s branches, choose wide 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock angles.

Pruning to a bud

Make sharp, clean cuts close enough (about 1/4 inch away from the next outward-pointing bud) so you won’t leave a clumsy stub that’s hard to heal over. Stay far enough above the bud so it won’t die back. Slant the cuts and the new growth will develop beautifully.

Every branch has buds pointed in various directions. Since you want vigorous new growth to spread out and away from the center of the tree, make you cut above a bud that’s aimed outward. These are usually located on the underside of the branch. This helps your apple tree take on a more spreading shape, keeping it open to light and air circulation.

Prune for Success

Apple trees develop better if they’re pruned in a timely manner and with a bit of care and consideration. Here’s how:

Help the tree form a strong framework. This is what you should aim for when pruning:

  • Remove weak, diseased, injured, or narrow-angle branches.
  • Remove the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches, and one branch of forked limbs.
  • Remove upright branches and any that sweep back inward toward the center of tree.

The purpose is to keep your apple tree’s canopy from becoming too thick and crowded, so some thinning is necessary to permit light to enter the tree and also to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote the improved bearing and fruit quality of your apple tree – you’ll be pleased with the results!

Prune apple trees to a “Central Leader” shape.

Apple trees are productive and strong when pruned and trained to a central leader (or main leader) structure. This type of structure has a pyramidal shape with a single upright leader limb as its highest point. This central leader is the newest extension of a long, upright growing trunk from which all lateral branches arise.

As with all strong-growing branches, the leader should be headed (pruned back) at approximately 24- to 30-inches above the highest set of its surrounding “scaffold” branches. The uppermost remaining bud on the leader will then produce a vigorous new leader, and no other shoot should be allowed to grow taller.

Lateral limbs should be selected from shoots growing out from the central leader. These should be spaced vertically about 4- to 6-inches apart. They should also have growth that is more horizontal than vertical, and point in different compass directions from the trunk – thus creating a “scaffold” of branches. Any unbranched lateral branches should be headed back to the next ideal bud to encourage side branches and to stiffen long, lateral branches. All laterals should exhibit the stronger wide angles discussed above.

Pruning Whips (Unbranched Trees)

Whips are unbranched trees. Unbranched apple trees are ideal if you want more control over which branches are allowed to develop – as you might in certain artful pruning styles like espalier. Prune whips back to 28- to 36-inches above the ground at planting time. After the new branches have grown 3- to 5-inches in length, select a shoot to become the leader and the rest become the tree’s scaffold limbs.

Off-season pruning

Sometimes pruning needs to be done even when the season isn’t ideal. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, emergency treatment is necessary. When taking action due to injury, prune to clean up any ragged edges; making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump.

It does not benefit the apple tree to wait until dormancy to prune damaged, dead, or diseased limbs or to remove unwanted growth like suckers and watersprouts. Fast-growing tree suckers and watersprouts should be completely removed as soon as you see them.

Spur pruning

You should not prune a spur-type apple tree as aggressively as you would a partial-tip or tip-bearing apple tree. Spur-bearing apple trees are naturally less vigorous than the others and do not require it. In apple trees with a spur-bearing habit, fruit develops on each limb and from the trunk out. They develop many small spurs rather than long shoots, so fewer should be removed. On the other hand, sometimes too many fruit spurs grow along a branch and may need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.

Fruit Thinning

There are several reasons to thin fruit:

  • To reduce limb breakage
  • Increase fruit size
  • Improve fruit color and quality
  • Stimulate floral initiation for next year’s crop

Home gardeners are able to effectively thin apple trees by hand. During May and June in most areas, many apple trees will start to drop or abort underripe fruit. This is a natural process that allows the tree to mature the remaining crop load. If not corrected through thinning, apple trees may bear biennially (fruits only every other year) or bear heavily one year, then bear a comparatively light crop the next year. Thinning may seem counterproductive in theory, but it really is a benefit to your apple harvest in the end.

The best time to thin apple trees is within 20 to 40 days of full bloom. Thin so that each remaining apple is spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on the branch. In clusters, leave the king bloom (the center bloom in the cluster of five flowers) as it will develop into the largest fruit. On spur-type apple varieties, many fruit spurs grow along a branch and will need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.

In This Series

  • Introduction

Getting Started

  • Acclimate
  • Location
  • Planting
  • Soil Preparation

Care & Maintenance

  • Fertilizing
  • Pest & Disease Control
  • Pruning
  • Spraying
  • Watering

Other Topics

  • Harvesting

Fruit Tree Pruning: How And When To Prune Fruit Trees

Timing and method of fruit tree pruning can enhance the amount and quality of your crop. Learning when to prune fruit trees will also create an open scaffold that is strong enough to bear all those beautiful fruits without breaking. Proper pruning methods and timing is the key to bountiful crops and healthy trees. Read on for some tips and techniques on fruit tree pruning.

When to Prune Fruit Trees

Most fruit trees don’t need pruning annually once they have been trained. Initial fruit tree pruning is important to help young trees produce thick stems and open canopies where light and air can enter and promote flowering, as well as reduce fungal and bacterial diseases. The best time for pruning fruit trees is at planting and, in subsequent years, in early spring before buds break and trees are still dormant.

Pruning should be undertaken at planting time where you cut the new stem off 24 to 30 inches from the ground and remove any side shoots. This causes the new tree to grow low branches and balances growth and the root system to keep the plant from getting top heavy during establishment.

You can’t expect much fruiting the first two to three years as the plant develops low branches for better fruiting. This

training for young trees can take many forms, but the most common is central leader training. This type of training gives the tree a strong trunk and laterally branching stems that start about 30 inches from the ground. The scaffold is formed by selecting a scaffold whorl, four to five balanced branches, which will form the base form of the tree.

Fruit Tree Pruning After the First Year

It’s important to know how to prune a fruit tree for the first three years. The goal is to increase scaffold strength, promote fruiting branches and minimize rubbing and crossing. The best time for pruning fruit trees that are newly planted is in the summer, after new growth has begun to sprout from the initial cuts.

After new growth has reached 3 to 4 inches, select the central leader and remove all other branches 4 inches below it. Side branches are spread with toothpicks or similar items to form crotch angles of 45 to 60 degrees from the central leader. This allows maximum light and air and creates strong branches that aren’t prone to splitting and can handle a load of heavy fruit.

After five to six weeks, remove these spreaders.

How to Prune a Fruit Tree After Three Years

The first three years are devoted to managing the scaffold, removing any crossing branches, secondary stems, waterspouts (or sucker growth), downward growth and heading back lateral growth to one-quarter of their complete length. This later step forces side branches.

Additionally, dormant pruning is used on mature trees to keep the lateral branches in the proper shape by cutting them back to at least two-year-old wood that is at close to the same diameter using angle cuts that force water away from the cut end. Dormant pruning in early spring is also the time to remove dead wood and errant growth that is weak and diminishes fruiting.

Once the tree is mature, if proper training took place, pruning is nearly unnecessary except to reduce downward weak branches, waterspouts and remove dead wood. Neglected fruit trees may require drastic rejuvenation pruning, which reinvigorates the scaffold but will minimize fruit load for several years.

It is necessary to know how to prune a fruit tree that has been neglected or the wood will become weak and breakage and splitting occurs. Additionally, trees that are crowded have poor fruit production so canopy management becomes a concern on older plants.

Cooperative Extension Publications

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu.

Fruit trees can be an attractive and useful addition to the home landscape. This fact sheet will help you to establish new fruit trees that will provide you with beauty and fruit for years to come.

When to Plant

Fruit trees may be planted in early spring, as soon as the frost in the ground has thawed. If the soil is very waterlogged, it is best to wait until it drains. Wait until the soil no longer comes up in sticky clumps that stick to the shovel.

The climate of New England is too cold for fall planting of fruit trees. Fall-planted trees will not have any advantage in growth over trees planted the following spring. Fall-planted trees may also be damaged in the winter months by rodents, deer or severe low temperatures.

Bare-root nursery stock is usually less expensive and will establish and grow well if planted in April or early May. If you must hold the trees a short time before planting, store them in a cool, shady place where they will be out of the sun and wind. Pack the roots in moist sawdust or sphagnum moss to prevent them from drying out. Potted or ball-and-burlap trees are preferable for planting dates in late May or early June.

Digging the Hole

Plant the tree deep enough so that the graft union is two to three inches above the ground. This planting depth will keep dwarf and semi-dwarf trees from growing into standard-sized trees.

Select a site with direct sunlight. Allow enough room between the planting site and buildings, trees, power lines or other obstructions for the tree to fill its space when fully grown.

Tree size varies with different species and the rootstock that the tree is on. The nursery where you bought the tree can advise you as to how much space the tree will need when fully grown.

Fruit trees are tolerant of a fairly wide range of soil types, but the soil should be well-drained, with a minimum of 18 inches of soil above any ledge or hardpan.

Start by cutting through the sod in a circle that is about a foot wider than the diameter of the root ball. Roll the sod out of the hole and discard it or use it to cover a place where you want grass. Then dig a hole wide enough to allow the root system to fit without roots wrapping around the edge of the hole in a circle. Dig the hole deep enough to allow the tree to be planted with the graft union two to three inches above the ground. This planting depth is critical for trees on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks. If the tree is planted too deep and the graft union is below the soil line, the scion variety will form roots and the tree will become a standard-sized tree.

Filling the Hole

What should you put in the planting hole? Only roots, clean soil, and water! Never put any fertilizer in the planting hole. If the soil is poor, you can mix in peat moss or thoroughly conditioned compost before filling the hole. A ratio of up to 50/50 peat to soil may be beneficial.

Trim off any broken or damaged roots before planting. Place the tree in the hole, and after making sure that the depth is correct, fill the hole with clean topsoil. It is helpful at this stage to have someone hold the tree straight while the hole is being filled. Pack the soil in the hole by gently stamping it with your feet. After the hole is filled, water the tree with two to five gallons of water, poured slowly enough so that the water doesn’t run off.

Care and Pruning

All newly planted fruit trees will benefit from being staked. This will result in a straighter tree with more growth. Staking is especially important for trees planted on a wind-blown site and for dwarf fruit trees. Consider a strong permanent stake for dwarf fruit trees.

After the tree has started to grow (in about two weeks) you can apply a nitrogen fertilizer. Apply one ounce of actual nitrogen in a 12-inch circle around the base of the tree, and make sure the tree is well-watered after fertilizing. All nitrogen fertilizer should be applied before mid-June. Late application of nitrogen can lead to late-season growth, and the tree may not harden off in time to withstand winter.

Watering the new tree is important to help get it started, especially in the first few weeks after planting. A good rule is to apply five gallons of water around the base of the tree every week of the growing season in which there is less than an inch of rainfall.

Apples and pears are usually trained as a central leader or cone-shaped trees. If the tree is an unbranched “whip,” prune the stem to a height of 30 to 36 inches above the soil line. This will stimulate the buds just below the cut to grow. The top bud will grow vertically and form the leader, or trunk of the tree. The next one or two buds can be rubbed off with the fingers to prevent them from competing with the leader.

The buds that grow out below the top two or three should be retained to form the scaffold branches. Remove branches that grow out below a height of 18 inches from the ground. Bend the branches that remain to an angle of 45 to 65 degrees from vertical using clothespins, toothpicks or small weights. This keeps these branches from growing so strongly that they compete with the leader, and it stimulates flower production.

Stone fruit trees (peaches, plums) are usually trained as open-center (vase-shaped) trees. Two or three side branches are selected, and the remainder of the tree is cut off just above the top branch. Contact your county Extension office for other bulletins on training and pruning fruit trees.

Weed Control

Weeds compete with young trees for water and nutrients. A weed-free zone should be established at the base of the tree that extends out to form a circle with a diameter of two to three feet. Mulch, herbicide or cultivation may be used to prevent weeds.

Pest Management

Managing disease and insects usually doesn’t become a big challenge until the trees begin to fruit. Newly planted trees need to be protected against attack by leaf-feeding insects, such as Gypsy Moths and Japanese Beetles. Inspect the trees on a regular basis to see if there is fresh damage, and contact your University of Maine Cooperative Extension County Office for help in identifying and controlling any pests you find.

Apple trees can become infected with a fungus disease, scab, that damages both leaves and fruit. Control of scab is very important when the trees come into bearing. However, in severe cases, young, non-bearing trees can become defoliated by scab. This can stunt the trees and delay fruiting.

Protect the tree trunk against girdling by rodents. Spiral mouse guards, made of white plastic, are a popular and inexpensive option. The white color helps prevent winter injury to the trunk. However, this type of mouse guard should be removed during the summer and re-fitted in the fall to prevent it from becoming a safe haven for trunk-boring insects, such as the round-headed apple borer. An alternative solution is to paint the trunk with white interior latex paint and wrap the trunk with an 18-inch tall piece of galvanized hardware cloth. This type of mouse guard doesn’t need to be removed in summer.

Deer can cause major damage to young fruit trees by feeding on the developing shoots and leaves in summer, and by browsing the fruit buds in winter. While repellents, such as small bars of hand soap, or small cloth bags of human hair, can deter hungry deer, sturdy fencing is the only long-term solution to possible deer damage.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 1997

Call 800.287.0274 (in Maine), or 207.581.3188, for information on publications and program offerings from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, or visit extension.umaine.edu.

The University of Maine is an EEO/AA employer, and does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender expression, national origin, citizenship status, age, disability, genetic information or veteran’s status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Sarah E. Harebo, Director of Equal Opportunity, 101 North Stevens Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5754, 207.581.1226, TTY 711 (Maine Relay System).

Pruning a newly-planted fruit tree

As soon as you have planted a new fruit tree (see guide on how to plant a fruit tree), you may need to carry out a one-time initial pruning. The tree may not establish successfully if you do not prune it. The initial pruning (if required) should be carried out as soon as the tree has been planted (spring planting) or early the following spring (fall planting).

The following table shows all the types of fruit trees we supply, and the initial pruning required after planting (if any). Find the entry in the first column that most closely matches your tree, and then review the pruning requirements in the second column.

Your new tree Initial pruning after planting
Bare-root 1-year tree on dwarf or semi-vigorous or interstem rootstock with no or very few side-branches Pruning required.
See instructions (A) below.
Bare-root 1-year tree on dwarf or semi-vigorous or interstem rootstock with 3-4 or more side-branches Pruning required.
See instructions (B) below.
Bare-root 1-year tree on vigorous rootstock to be trained as a standard Pruning optional.

If you need to do an initial prune, the following sections tell you how.

(A) Initial pruning of bare-root fruit trees with no side-branches (“feathers”) or just 1-2 side-branches

After planting (spring planting) or in early spring before the tree breaks from dormancy (fall planting) you must cut back the 1-year tree, a process known as “heading” or “topping”. This has two benefits. Firstly it restores the balance of the tree between the top part and the roots, since the roots naturally get disturbed during the transplanting process. Secondly, it encourages side-branches to form at the correct height for the growing tree the following spring. It may feel counter-intuitive to do this, since in effect you are cutting a brand-new tree in half and throwing most of it away – but it is the best thing to do. If you do not prune the tree back the chances of it establishing successfully are greatly reduced.

The height at which you make the cut is determined by how you want the tree to grow. Here are some guidelines, the height being measured from the soil level:

  • 8″ / 20cm for a step-over (usually on the M27 or G65 rootstock)
  • 16″ / 40cm for a fan or espalier
  • 36″ / 80cm for a bush or cordon
  • 40″ / 1m for a central leader or spindlebush
  • 4ft / 1.2m for half-standard on MM106 rootstock

If you are not sure, then a height of about 3ft / 1m (36-40 inches) is a good compromise for most rootstocks, or just under 30″ / 0.75m for very dwarfing rootstocks such as M27 or G65.

When making the cut, use sharp secateurs, locate a bud at the approximate height, and make a slanting cut away from the bud. Practice first higher up the tree or on a thin branch from another tree if necessary.

If there 1-2 side-branches, cut them right back to about 1″ / 2cm.

If you need any help, send us a photograph of the tree and we can advise further.

(B) Initial pruning of bare-root fruit trees with 3 or more side branches (“feathers”)

The simple rule of thumb for this pruning step is to cut back the main shoots by 1/2 of their length.

If your tree is a 1-year tree (and is not being trained as a “standard”) you must also prune the leading stem (if there is one) back to about 1m / 36-40″. This might sound drastic, but it makes all the difference in helping the tree to continue growing when it comes out of dormancy in the spring. Note that in some cases we may have done this at the nursery just prior to shipping, in which case you will not need to prune again – the fresh pruning cuts will be quite obvious.

You can also remove any side-branches below 18″ – 24″ / 0.5m, as these are too low to be usable.

Other tasks when planting a new fruit tree.

For Big, Tasty Fruit, Be Sure to Prune Fruit Trees

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If there is one group of plants that needs continuous care, it is fruit trees.

Fruit trees require a lot of pruning – the careful removal of dead, damaged or unproductive parts to make the tree grow better.

And, with the right pruning, all of the remaining branches get a good amount of sunshine.

Pruning helps fruit trees find a balance between shoot growth and fruit production. That is important for making sure the trees grow large, tasty pieces of fruit every year.

Without this balance, there may not be enough places for tree leaves to grow and fruits to hang.

The young tree

The first years are important to a fruit tree. These early years help trees develop a permanent base of branches to support a lot of fruit and get plenty of sunlight.

Centuries of fruit growing have led to many different kinds of trees, but there are three main ones: the central-leader, the open-center and the modified-central-leader.

That is a lot simpler than it sounds.

Apples grow on very short branches called “spurs.” Apple trees need less pruning than many other kinds of fruit trees.

The central-leader tree has a large trunk in the center, with shorter and shorter side branches moving up the tree. It is shaped much like a Christmas tree.

The open-center tree looks almost like the opposite of a Christmas tree. It has three or four main parts growing outward and upward.

And, the modified-central-leader tree is a mix of the two: It starts as a central-leader then becomes an open-center.

These three forms let trees get enough sunlight. The ideal form for a tree depends partly on the way it grows naturally.

Get your tree in shape

Here are some ways to keep your fruit tree healthy:

Begin pruning any new tree by cutting broken stems and removing dead or diseased wood. If your new tree has just one stem, shorten it by one-third to support branch growth. If the tree already has many branches, save well-placed stems and cut away all others.

The ideal branch placement starts about six-tenths of a meter above the ground and continues up the trunk, with about 20 centimeters between branches. For open-center trees, cut off the central stem just above the third branch.

For central-leader and modified-central-leader trees, you will need to force the main stem to continue making new branches. This can be done by cutting off about one-third of last season’s growth each year.

The top bud will grow to become an upright shoot and part of the trunk or lead branch. The lower buds will become side branches. Choose new side branches that are well-spaced along the lead branch or trunk.

The mature tree

Once a fruit tree is fully developed, the act of pruning helps create a balance between shoot growth and fruit production. How to get this balance depends on where a tree grows, its flowers and how big its fruits are.

Especially with large fruits, such as apples, individual pieces of fruit are usually too small and less sweet when the tree produces a large crop. Pruning removes some possible fruits so the plant can put more energy into those that remain.

When a tree is old enough to start growing fruit, each year prune some stems and remove others completely. Shorten stems where you want regrowth and more branches. Completely remove stems where you do not want this regrowth, such as where stems are crowded.

The amount of pruning required depends on the kind of tree you are pruning. The younger the stems on which fruits grow, the more stems must be shortened.

At one extreme are peach and nectarine trees. They produce fruit only on stems that grew during the last season. So they need a lot of pruning each year to launch new shoots for the next year’s crop.

Prune enough so that a bird could fly right through the branches.

Apple and pear trees, at the other extreme, grow fruit on long-lived, very short branches called “spurs,” so they need less work. Sometimes, however, even spurs need pruning.

Most other fruit trees require more work than apple trees, and less work than peach trees. Again, completely remove some stems and shorten others to get a good balance of fruiting wood and stem growth.

I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Susan Shand.

Lee Reich wrote this story for the Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

shoot – n. a new branch and its leaves on an established plant

branch – n. a part of a tree that grows out from the trunk

trunk – n. the thick main part of a tree

stem – n. the main long and thin part of a plant that supports the leaves and flowers

bud – n. a small part that grows on a plant and develops into a flower, leaf, or new branch

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