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Pruning fruit trees
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Last week, I shared some information about pruning deciduous shrubs. Well, this week, I found a little information about pruning fruit trees. They are pruned differently than other deciduous trees if you are interested in harvesting them later this year. Here is some advice on how to prune young and established trees to help them grow and produce the best crop that the tree can give.
Prune Fruit Trees Now
If you haven’t pruned your fruit trees, now is the time.
General Recommendations
- Takeout broken, damaged or diseased branches.
- If two branches form a narrow angle, prune one out. Narrow angles are weak angles and tend to break during wind or ice storms.
- Takeout all suckers. Suckers are branches that grow straight up. They may originate from the trunk or from major branches.
- If two branches cross and rub against one another, one should be taken out.
- Cut back or remove branches that are so low they interfere with harvest or pruning. If cutting back a branch, always cut back to another branch or a bud. Do not leave a stub.
- Cut back branches to reduce the total size of the tree, if necessary.
Specific Instructions
Peach and Nectarine:
Peach and nectarine require more pruning than any other fruit trees because they bear fruit on growth from the previous year. Not pruning results in fruit being borne further and further from the center of the tree allowing a heavy fruit crop to break major branches due to the weight of the fruit. Prune long branches back to a shorter side branch.
Apples tend to become overgrown if not pruned regularly. Wind storms and ice storms are then more likely to cause damage. Also, trees that are not pruned often become biennial bearers. In other words, they bear a huge crop one year and none the next. Biennial bearing is caused by too many fruit on the tree. Though pruning helps, fruit often needs to be thinned as well. The goal is an apple about every4 inches. Spacing can vary as long as the average is about every 4 inches.
Cherry, Pear, Plum:
Light pruning is usually all that is needed.
Young fruit trees should be pruned to begin developing a strong structure of the main or scaffold limbs. This will help prevent limb breakage over the years when the scaffolds carry a heavy fruit load. Apple, apricot, cherry, plum and pear trees generally are trained using the central leader system. The growth pattern for these trees is for a center branch to be dominant and to grow straight up.  Peach and nectarine trees are normally pruned using the open center method because they do not have a strong tendency for one shoot or branch to dominate the growth of other shoots or branches. In this system, the tree is pruned to a vase-like pattern with no central leader. Regardless of the system used, the three to four scaffold branches should:
• Be no lower than 18 inches from the ground. This makes it easier to prune and harvest the tree once it matures.
• Form wide angles (about 60 to 80 degrees) with the trunk. Wide angles are much stronger than narrow angles and are less likely to break under wind or ice loads.
• Be distributed on different sides of the tree for good balance.
• Be spaced about 6 to 10 inches apart on the trunk with no branch directly opposite or below another.
For more information, you can request a publication about pruning from your local extension office. Good luck and Happy pruning!
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at or calling 620-793-1910