Cooperative Extension
MG Manual Home


Previous Previous

  MG Manual Reference
Ch. 8, pp. 23 - 27

[Pruning: fruit trees | other | small fruit ]

Pruning Other Fruit TreesTop

The general purpose of pruning fruit trees is to regulate growth, increase yields, improve fruit size and quality, and reduce production costs. Pruning is necessary to shape trees for convenience of culture and repair of damage.
Most pruning is done during the dormant season, preferably just before active growth begins in the spring but can continue through flowering, however bees may become problematic. At this time pruning wounds heal quickly, flower buds can be easily recognized, and injury from low winter temperature is avoided. Summer pruning may be done to help train trees to the desired form and maintain small tree size. It should be remembered, however, that all pruning has a dwarfing effect. For maximum yield of high quality fruit, prune only as needed to establish a tree with a strong framework capable of supporting heavy crops annually without damage and to maintain a tree sufficiently open to allow penetration of sunlight, air, and spray material for good fruit development and pest control.
Pear trees are trained as a central border tree along the same general lines as those recommended for apples. Pears have a very upright growth habit and must be spread early in training. Tipping or heading back the long shoots slightly will encourage development of side branches. Heading back after the framework has been developed is undesirable because of the tendency of the tree to throw out soft terminal shoots, which are highly susceptible to fire blight. It is best to limit pruning to thinning-out cuts.
Sweet Cherry
Sweet cherry and apricot trees are trained to the modified leader system that is similar to the one recommended for the apple except for annual thinning back of the central leader to a less vigorous, upright side shoot should be done. Special attention should be given to the selection of scaffold limbs because sweet cherry is subject to winter injury and splitting at the point where the limbs join the main stem of the tree. It is essential that the crotch angles be as wide as possible to ensure a strong framework, because sweet cherries have an upright growth habit. This must be done by spreading early in training sweet cherry trees. Apricots are fairly easy to train and prune. Thinning out of crowded branches and those blocking light into the center of the tree should be removed.
A sour cherry tree, with no strong branches at the time of planting, should be headed to about 24 inches above the ground. Selection of laterals can be made at the beginning of the second year’s growth. If it has some good laterals when planted, remove those lower than 16 inches from the ground. Select about three or four permanent lateral or scaffold limbs along the leader, 4 to 6 inches apart and not directly over one another. Do not head them back, since this tends to stunt terminal growth.
In the following years, select side branches from the leader until there is a total of 5 or 6 scaffold limbs well distributed above the lowest branch along 3 or 4 feet of the main stem. The leader is then usually modified by cutting to an outward-growing lateral. After fruiting begins, pruning consists mainly of thinning out excessive and crowded growth each year to allow sunlight to filter through the tree.
Peach and nectarine trees are usually trained to the open-center system. Newly planted trees should be headed to about 30 inches in height, just above a lateral branch or bud. If the tree is branched when it comes from the nursery, select 3 to 5 laterals, 4 being ideal, well-spaced up and around the trunk, for the permanent scaffold limbs. The lowest limb should be about 15 inches and the highest about 30 inches from the ground. Cut these back to two buds each, and remove all other laterals. A shoot should not be allowed to grow into the center of the tree.
If no desirable laterals are available, head the tree to the desired height and cut out all side branches to one bud. A number of shoots will develop during the season, from which you can select scaffold limbs. Selection can be made during the summer or delayed until just before growth begins the second season.
Once the scaffold system of the young peach tree is established, prune as little as possible until the tree begins to bear. Remove all strong, upright shoots growing in the center of the tree, and lightly head back terminal growth on the scaffold limbs to outward-growing laterals. This aids in the development of an open-center tree.
As fruit is borne on wood of the previous year’s growth, it is necessary that the peach be pruned annually to stimulate new growth and maintain production near the main body of the tree. Pruning of the mature peach tree consists mainly of moderate thinning and heading back to outward-growing laterals to keep the tree low and spreading. A height of 8 or 9 feet is usually preferred.
The plum may also be pruned in a manner similar to the apple. European and prune types generally develop into well-shaped trees, even if little pruning is done. Thinning out excessive growth constitutes the bulk of pruning after heading back to 30 to 36 inches at the time of planting. Varieties of the Japanese type are usually a little more vigorous and may not be pruned to an open-center. They may need some heading back as well as thinning of excessive growth after they come into bearing.
Special Training System
The foregoing suggestions for pruning fruit trees are concerned with training for maximum production of high quality fruit. In addition, many home gardeners prune for decorative purposes.
Numerous training systems, based on the art of espalier, which originated in France and Italy about 400 years ago, have been devised. Some are quite elaborate, requiring considerable time and patience as well as detailed knowledge of the plant’s growth characteristics. The easiest espalier system is the horizontal cordon. Apples, pears, and plums adapt well to this system. The trees are usually supported by a wall, fence, or wire trellis. Training to the four-tier cordon or four-wire trellis is relatively easy.
An espalier system can serve to separate yard areas and to provide an effective way of producing a large volume of high quality fruit in a limited area. Trees trained in this fashion should be grafted on dwarfing rootstock. Otherwise, they tend to grow too large and are difficult to hold within bounds.
First Winter
First Winter

Second Winter
Second Winter
A simple, four-wire trellis may be constructed by setting 8-foot posts 2 feet in the ground, spacing them 12 feet apart, and running wires through the posts at heights of 18, 36, 54, and 72 inches. Plant two unbranched whips of the desired variety 6 feet apart between each two posts.
Before growth begins in the spring, cut off the whip just above the first bud, below the point where the whip crosses the lowest wire. Usually three or more shoots will develop near the point of the cut. Retain the uppermost shoot and develop it as the central leader. The other two can be developed into main scaffold branches to be trained along the lower wire, one on each side of the central stem. Remove all other growth. The two shoots selected for scaffold limbs should be loosely tied to the wire as soon as they are 10 to 12 inches long. Twine, plastic ties, or other suitable material may be used. Tie the shoots so that they are nearly horizontal. This reduces vegetative vigor and induces flower bud formation. If the end of the shoot is tied below the horizontal, however, new growth at the end will stop, and vigorous shoots will develop along the upper side. At the end of the first season, the lateral branches on the lower wire should be established and the central leader should have grown above the second wire.
During the dormant pruning at the end of the first winter, cut the central leader off at a bud just below the second wire. Repeat the process of the previous spring by developing two scaffold branches to tie to the second wire and allow the central leader to grow above the third wire.
This process is repeated during the next two seasons, at which time a total of eight scaffolds, four on each side of the tree, should be firmly established. The leaders should be bent to form one of the scaffolds, rather than being cut off at the top wire.
By the end of the fourth season, the trees should be in heavy production. All pruning is then done during the spring and summer months. After new growth in the spring is about 2 inches long, cut it off, and also removing about 1/4 of the previous season’s growth. Terminals of the scaffold are left untouched.
About the first of August, or as soon as new growth reaches 10 to 12 inches in length, cut it back to two or three buds. Repeat about a month later, if necessary. This encourages fruit bud formation and prevents vigorous growth from getting out of bounds.

Next Next
Search Index Comment

This site was developed for the Arizona Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona.
© 1998 The University of Arizona. All contents copyrighted. All rights reserved.