Pruning Fruit Trees
The general principles outlined below are a basic guide which we hope will give you confidence.
Why do we prune?
• To let in sunlight and air by removing congested and crossing branches to produce better quality fruit in appearance, flavour and size.
• To help the tree develop a strong branch structure to support better crop yields.
• To encourage flower and fruit buds.
• To limit the size and shape of the tree.
• To remove damaged or diseased wood.
When and how hard?
• The general rule should be little and often rather than take drastic action every ten years.
• Apples and Pears can be pruned anytime and hard if necessary.
• Stone fruit (Plums, Cherries, Peaches, etc.) are best pruned in the summer and only lightly.
• Medlars and Quinces can be pruned anytime but best to prune lightly.
• Walnuts prefer to not be pruned at all. Hazels can be coppiced.
Pruning Container Grown Fruit Trees
Our container grown fruit trees will already have been pruned to create a specific form. This will be marked on the tag label, e.g. bush, half-standard, cordon, etc. Most will be two years old, having been grown in the field for one year and in the container for a second year. If you include the rootstock they are three years old.
Bushes and Half-standards
For both bushes and half-standards, we would advise reducing the length of the main branches by about a third when planting and taking out any smaller branches that are beginning to grow inwards. It is also a good idea to remove any ‘feathers’ that may be growing from the lower part of the central stem beneath the branches, as these are unlikely to be productive and will take valuable nutrients from the main crown of the tree.
This initial pruning may seem harsh but will pay dividends later on as little further pruning will be needed other than occasional ‘tidying up’.
Fruit trees in our Patio range will be grown on dwarfing rootstocks or will be naturally dwarfing varieties. These are unlikely to need much pruning, other than perhaps a bit of ‘tidying up’ of the tips. We would advise thinning fruit in very productive years as heavy crops can break the small branches.
Family trees are shaped as bushes so require a similar style of pruning to bushes as outlined above. It may, however, be necessary to remove fruit on the branches of the weaker variety to keep the tree balanced, or prune back a variety if it is noticeably stronger.
Cordons are hard pruned to maintain as a column with fruiting spurs all the way along. To ensure sunlight reaches the full length they are better grown at a 45 degree angle and supported with a stake or on wires (fruit needs sunlight to ripen properly). Because they need to be hard pruned they are only suitable for apples and pears. The pruning of cordons need not be very precise, just snip off tips back to two or three leaves or buds each year.
The key to maintaining step-overs it to prune off any vertical spurs back to two or three leaves or buds each year. As with cordons, the level of hard pruning means that step-overs are only really suitable for apples and pears, not stone fruit such as plums or peaches. We grow step-overs on dwarfing rootstocks (apple = M27; pear = Quince C) as they don’t need much vigour to do well.
The hard pruning required to develop the horizontal tiers means that this form is only suitable for apples and pears. Stone fruit, such as plums, are tip bearing and will not produce fruiting spurs along the branches or respond well to such pruning. The old saying with espaliers is ‘a tier a year’ so to grow another tier it is best to top the leader at the required height in the winter to encourage new soft growth.
The best time of year to prune existing tiers is late June to early August when the new growth is flexible and can be easily tied down to the wires. This will also encourage flower and fruit bud for the following year. Cut back vertical spurs to two or three leaves or buds.
This is a more informal shape that involves tying back of shoots and a lighter approach to pruning. Stone fruit are well suited to this form (as well as apples and pears) so we produce a range of fan trained plums, gages, peaches, nectarines etc. A light pruning of tips every August and tying shoots back against a frame is all that is needed.