Pruning fruit trees

Pruning fruit trees

  1. You’ve bought your first fruit tree.  Now what?..Watching nurseryman John Worle’s video is probably the most informative thing you could do
  2. Before pruning decide if it is spur bearing or tip bearing?
  3. You’ve got a big old apple tree full of dead branches and twigs. How do I prune it?
  4. Espalier & cordon trees against a wall or fence. How do we train and prune them?

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2.Spurs or tips?

You can usually tell spur-bearers because they are more compact and tidy with the fruit carried closer to the main branch frame. They are always more suitable for training and most apples are of this type

Generally they produce fruit buds on two year old wood which in subsequent years develop into spurs.  These are short branched shoots that carry the fruit buds on them.

 Pruning spur bearing varieties:

  • Visualise the main framework and remove any branches that are crossing over or going in the wrong direction.
  • Detailed pruning:  Keep in your mind that you are trying to encourage the main branches to carry short side shoots (laterals) that will then form fruiting spurs.
  • Firstly single out the shoots at the end of each main branch, and then shorten the remaining end shoots by one third by cutting to an outward facing bud. This encourages them to form fruit bud and spurs.
  • Secondly look for the side shoots growing from the main branches. Prune these shoots to 5 or 6 buds as long as the shoots are not too strong growing and have a nice wide angle to the main branch. Again this encourages the shoots to form fruit buds the following year and then more spurs.

Tip-bearers produce their fruit buds at the very end of the shoots and not along the length of the shoots. As a result the trees are much more droopy and look a bit untidy compared with a spur variety.  The length of the branches can appear sparse and quite bare.

Pruning tip bearing varieties:

  • The general idea is to encourage side shoots to branch and so increase the number of shoot tips that bear fruit.
  • Firstly prune last year’s leading shoots on the ends of the main branches by two thirds.  This encourages side shoots to grow.
  • Secondly look at all the side branches (laterals) down the main branches.  Leave any side branch that is short (no longer than 1 ft). Cut back any side branches that are longer than 1 ft to 2 or 3 buds. This encourages more shoots that can carry fruit on their tips.

3. Renovating old fruit trees

First of all assess if it is worth all the work.

Does it crop quite well – do you like the fruit – is the tree reasonably healthy – is there plenty of room around the tree?

If the answers are all quite positive then it might be worth renovating. This should really be done over 2 – 3 years!

 Year 1.

Cut out all dead & diseases branches.

Think of the tree as a framework upon which to hang fruit.  Decide what shape that framework should be.  For most old trees this will be an open centre style frame (like a vase), with the cropping branches spreading upwards and outwards from the tree’s centre.

Once you have the shape and framework in your mind; remove any branches that do not conform to that shape or that are crossing over. Keep thinking of the main cropping branches as radiating out from the centre with plenty of space between them.

When cutting large branches try and avoid cutting through the basal ring at their base.  Leave a very small stub and then paint the cut with exterior emulsion paint to prevent disease entering the tree.

Year 2.

It is likely that there will be a lot of shoots as a result of the large cuts made the previous year. Some of these are no good and some will be useful for the future.

To decide remember the pruning guidelines for spur and tip bearing varieties. In other words remove any of these shoots or suckers that don’t fit in with the general pruning system.  What you are thinking about is the branch framework and helping the shoots along those branches to form cropping wood.

The tree will benefit from the application of some general compound fertiliser applied in the early spring around the tree’s base, or well rotted compost or farmyard manure.

Year 3.

Your old tree should start to look more regular and begin to crop more.  You should have a system now that can be followed rather than randomly cutting off branches.

Keep removing suckers and shoots that do not form a part of the system (see pruning spur and tip bearing varieties above).

4.Espalier and cordon trees

Espalier and cordon apple and pear trees are pruned in the summer between the third week of July and second week of August.

The Royal Horticultural Society has a brilliant collection of videos on pruning and training fruit trees and plants. Go to RHS fruit pruning and training videos here