When to prune

  • Free-standing fruit trees or bush trees, such as those grown in an orchard should be pruned when they're dormant, in winter.
  • Trained trees, such as espaliers, cordons, pyramids and fans should be pruned in late August or early September.

Pruning tools

  • When pruning it's essential to keep your secateurs sharp. Blunt tools can cause branches to tear, leading to wounds on the tree that will attract disease.
  • It's also important to have a pruning saw to cut off larger branches.

How to prune
Pruning a bush tree

  • A bush tree is the most common form of fruit tree, with an open arrangement of branches growing from a short trunk.
  • Remove any dead, dying or diseased branches and then cut out any branches that are crossing over each other.
  • Branches that are growing into the centre of the tree can also be cut out , as prevents sunlight from reaching it.
  • If the tree has reached the desired height, cut back the leaders (the new growth at the tip of each branch) by about two-thirds.
  • If you want the tree to grow taller, leave the leaders and cut back lateral branches leaving about six buds.

Pruning shaped fruit trees

  • There are numerous ways trees can be trained, according to the type of fruit and the space available. Avoid tip bearing varieties when buying a tree to shape, as it is necessary to spur prune these plants to keep the shape.
  • The simplest form of fruit tree is a cordon, a single, supported straight stem studded with short fruiting spurs that receive most of the plant's vigour and light.
  • For the first three years until fruiting begins, the aim of pruning is to develop the shape by tying in the main stem, or leader, and shortening new sideshoots, or laterals, to three leaves beyond their basal cluster of leaves.
  • Cut back any shoots that grow from these pruned laterals to one leaf.
  • Once the leader reaches the required height, shorten its new growth annually to two buds in late August. In winter cut the spurs out to prevent crowding.
  • Apple or pear espaliers and fans are pruned in the same way, each branch being treated as a separate cordon.

Pruning overgrown trees

  • Old, neglected trees are often vigorous and very large, with the fruit out of reach. Rejuvenate them over two to three seasons by cutting out all the dead or diseased wood as well as a few main branches to allow more sunlight in.
  • Shortening others to side branches and thinning overcrowded spurs also helps stimulate new productive shoots.