Don’t Be Afraid to Heavily Prune Your Fruit Trees

— Written By Bill Hanlin and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

We are getting close to the time when we encourage tree pruning to remove damaged and diseased wood and to improve tree structure. Trees can be pruned almost any time of year, but most pruning takes place after the trees drop their leaves in the fall. Using the right pruning method will improve tree structure and will help you avoid ending up with a dense, messy tree.

In order to get the fruit tree to do what you want, you will need to use the correct pruning method. There are basically three different types of pruning cuts, with each one producing a different reaction by the tree. These cuts include heading, thinning and bench cuts. Correct pruning methods should be used, especially with fruit trees, to train the trees to their proper form and structure.pruning

When heading cuts are used, the tips of the branch or trunk are removed. Heading cuts are used on young apple trees to encourage lateral branch formation that will eventually become the load bearing structure on the tree. Mature lateral branches are often headed back to promote fruit bud formation and to make the branch more rigid.

Thinning cuts are used to eliminate undesirable growth and to open the tree up. A thinning cut removes the branch all the way back to where it originated. Thinning cuts do not encourage branching and, therefore, reduces the amount of wood in the tree.

Bench cuts are commonly used on peach trees to get them to open up. With bench cuts, young trees are cut back to outward growing limbs or twigs. Repeatedly cutting back to outward growing limbs over the years will lead to a vase shaped tree with no central trunk.

Do not be shy about pruning wood out of the tree. Proper pruning does not harm the tree and leaving too much wood will result in more problems with diseases and poorer quality fruit. Brochures are available at the Cooperative Extension office that has diagrams on ways to prune and train different types of fruit trees.