Neglecting to prune your fruit trees won’t stop production of fruit. However, it can help to establish a strong framework of branches to support heavy fruit loads.
Pruning fruit trees can result in larger fruit that is easier to harvest. The tree may be much tidier and takes up less space in the garden. However, using dwarfing rootstocks may negate the need for any fruit tree pruning in the first place. Other trees, such as young apple and pear espaliers may need pruning several ties per year to keep them neat and tidy.
We’ve put together this quick guide for when you should be pruning your trees.
Winter vs Summer Pruning of Deciduous Fruit Trees
Winter pruning of fruit trees usually results in vigorous growth. The harder the fruit tree is pruned in winter the more vigorous the growth will be in spring. Winter pruning is used to train a tree to a particular shape or to encourage substantial growth. Winter pruning is recommended for newly planted trees up until the tree has achieved the desired height and shape.
In general, summer fruit tree pruning retards growth.The already established framework is maintained. The new growth that follows is tamed and is much less vigorous than growth following winter pruning. This allows more energy to be put into fruit. Once a system of summer pruning is established, very little winter pruning of the framework is required
Timing of Pruning to Avoid Disease
The timing of your fruit tree pruning is vital to prevent introduction of disease. This is especially the case for cherries and apricots.
Fruit trees are best pruned when they are actively growing. This enables them to heal wounds faster. Avoid pruning susceptible trees (e.g. apricot or cherry) on cold or humid days, and never when there is a strong chance of rain.
All deciduous trees go through an annual cycle. They break dormancy in spring, when the sap flows from the trunk and branches, out to the growing tips and puts on new growth. The tree continues to grow through summer until autumn. During autumn the sap flow reverses and is drawn back into the tree.
If you prune a tree in autumn, the reversed sap flow will draw any pathogens introduced at the cut, down into the trunk. It will help diseases spread. Never prune susceptible fruit trees during this time. If the leaves have started to change colour, then it is best not to prune susceptible trees. More resilient trees such as plums, apples and pears are less of an issue to prune in autumn, although it’s best to wait until winter.
From a prevention of disease perspective, the best time to prune an apricot or cherry is when it is actively growing in spring or summer. I would avoid pruning Apricots and Cherries in autumn or winter.
When to Prune Deciduous Fruit Trees
The only fruit trees which require a defined pruning period are apricots which should be pruned only when the trees are actively growing (eg spring or summer)
Winter pruning time for other fruit trees is from autumn, when the tree is beginning to lose its leaves, through to spring,as the flowers are beginning to open.
Summer fruit tree pruning can be carried out before or after harvest. ‘Summer pruning’ may even be carried out in autumn!
Remember: Winter pruning promotes vigorous growth; summer pruning inhibits growth.
- Winter prune young deciduous fruit trees such as apple, pear (always lightly), peach, nectarine and plums.
- Autumn-fruiting raspberries (primocanes) should be cut back in late winter to within a few centimetres of the ground. Newly planted raspberries and hybrid blackberries should also be pruned.
- Pruning blueberry bushes should be performed after harvest has finished, ideally in winter.
- Pruning citrus trees by removing diseased or dead wood. Citrus trees are tip bearers so I usually prune them with hedge trimmers.
- Thin some small fruits on early-season stone (apricots, plum and peach) and pome (apple and pear) fruit trees to improve the quality and size of the remaining fruit.
- Passionfruit vines can be pruned in mid- to late spring.
- Continue thinning small fruit on late-season deciduous fruit varieties into the early part of summer.
- Carry out summer pruning on deciduous fruit trees after harvesting in late summer.
- Summer pruning of deciduous pome and stone fruit trees should be completed by early autumn.
- Shoots of blackberry hybrids that have fruited should be cut down.
- Cut out summer-fruiting raspberry canes (floricanes) that have completely finished fruiting.
- Bananas (yes, you can even grow some varieties of Bananas in Melbourne) are cut to the ground after fruiting. Each plant will be replaced by an emerging sucker.
- Avocados are pruned lightly immediately after harvest. Trim only one side or the top of the tree annually. Rotate the part that you trim each year to maximise fruit production.
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