Trimming fruit trees is not that difficult, nor do you have to be an expert to do a nice job trimming your fruit trees.
All you need are the right tools, and a basic understanding of what the tree needs, and what you need as the person who will harvest the fruit.
Timing. When is the best time to trim fruit trees? Just about any time in the winter is good.
Early winter is probably better that way as spring arrives the tree knows where to make new buds. If you trim really late in the winter, the tree has to adjust bud production at the last minute.
Tools. What tools do I need? I’ll show you some photos. How’s that? I’ve got some favorite pruning tools that I use for all of my pruning needs. I’ll display them on this page.
Long handle looping shears are a necessary tool for any gardener that does any kind of heavy pruning. These are by-pass loppers meaning that the blades by pass each other as the cut is made.
By pass shears make nice clean cuts. The other type of shear is an anvil shear where the blade presses the branch against an anvil in a crushing motion. I don’t like anvil shears of any kind.
Think about scissors. All scissors are by pass shears for a reason. It would take an incredible amount of pressure to cut a piece of paper in scissors were made like anvil pruning shears.
The long handles give you all the leverage you need to cut heavy branches.
I love to have a folding pruning saw in my gardening tool box. My preferred brand of pruning tools is Corona. I’ve owned a lot of Corona pruning shears, loppers and folding saws.
I wish I had my Corona pruning saw back, but it got lost. When I was in the landscaping business I loved that saw because it easily fit behind the seat of my pickup truck and was always there when I needed it.
Notice on these pruning saws they have a unique blade design. They are designed to cut in both directions making them very quick and efficient to use.
These Corona pruning shears are my favorite pruning tool and I carry them with me daily. I really like the Corona BP 3160 for an all round pruning tool shear. I’ve been using these shears for 40 years.
I use them for pruning just about everything and I also use them to make tens of thousands of cuttings.
Back to pruning fruit trees.
The first step is to stand back and in-vision what you want the tree to look like, taking into consideration that you must be able to reach all of the branches with nothing more than a step ladder in order to harvest the fruit when it is ripe.
Looking at the tree from a distance, draw an imaginary line around over the tree and picture exactly what shape you’d like the tree to be when you are done.
So one of your primary goals when pruning fruit trees is to open them up so they are not a mass of entwined branches but instead have plenty of space in and around the branches.
This is really important deep inside the canopy of the tree because any branches or foliage inside of the tree serves no useful purpose.
Remember the imaginary line that you drew over the tree. Now it’s time to start cutting back any branches that exceed that dimension.
But as you do that you are not only cutting them back to the imaginary line but you are very selectively pruning them in such a way to create the correct amount of air space at the tips of the branches as well.
You have to open them up! Let the sun shine in! And let them feel the summer breeze!
As you prune the tree you will remove any branches that reach outside of that imaginary line. But before we do that, let’s stick our head inside the tree and see what’s going on in there.
Keeping in mind that any small branches inside the tree really serve no useful purpose because they will never receive adequate sunlight to perform as they should. Nor will they bear any amount of quality fruit for the same reason.
So let’s start by first removing any really small branches inside the tree canopy that are likely to be sunlight starved. While you’re in there, look for branches that touch, cross, or generally interfere with one another.
In most cases, one of those branches must be removed.
When you are pruning fruit trees there are several objectives that you are trying to achieve. It’s important that fruit trees be open so all the fruit that is produced receives adequate sunlight and air circulation.
Both sunlight and air circulation are critical to the production of good fruit. Both sunlight and air circulation work to create an environment that is good for quality fruit production.
The fruit needs sunlight to develop properly and the combination of sunlight and air flow work to stave off fungal diseases that can damage the fruit or it’s production.
There are two things to keep in mind when doing this. One, you want sunlight and good air circulation around the ends of those branches, but you also want to reduce the amount of branches that can produce fruit.
Your goal is a supply of healthy fruit, not a ton of fruit that nobody really wants. A fruit producing tree can only produce a limited amount of high quality fruit. But the tree doesn’t really know that.
The only thing the tree knows how to do is make a flower on every bud that it can produce, then later produce fruit for each flower that it makes.
So by reducing the number of end branches that can flower and produce fruit you are actually helping the tree to make really nice fruit.
Professional fruit growers actually thin the the fruit on their trees in an effort to get good quality fruit.
After the trees bloom and as the fruit starts being produced, they actually remove about 10% of the fruit that the tree is trying to produce so the tree will put all of it’s energy into a smaller amount of fruit.
I won’t claim to be an expert on all kinds of fruit production because I most certainly am not. But I’ve got friends in the apple business so I am familiar with what they do.
When the apples are about the size of a dime they spray the tree with something that knocks about 10% of the fruit off the tree.
But if for any reason they don’t get that spray on at the right time and it doesn’t work as they wanted it to, they have to go through the orchard and manually thin the trees.
So if you wonder why apples cost what they do, producing high quality fruit isn’t as simple as just planting some apple trees and raking in the money.
Let’s recap what I wrote.
1. Keep your fruit trees low enough that you can reach the branches to harvest the fruit.
2. Remove any and all small branches inside the tree, especially those that cross or compete with other branches.
3. Open up the tree on the outside for good sun penetration and good air circulation.
4. Reduce the amount of area where the tree produces fruit to reduce the amount of fruit that is produced.
Is there a right way and a wrong to make the cuts that need to be made?
The cuts should be smooth and clean, no frayed or ragged edges. Don’t leave strands of hanging or peeled back bark. Your pruning tools should be sharp and clean and of high quality.
The more you pay for pruning tools the better they work. Cheap tools leave a cheap looking job. Wipe them down with rubbing alcohol to clean your tools. Don’t leaves short stubs. Cut all the way back to a main branch.
If you leave short stubs the tree will make more, multiple branches on the stub that you leave, actually compounding the problem that you are trying to eliminate.
That’s it! Questions or comments? Post them below.