Benefits of Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning branch of an apple tree using hand shears.

Every fruiting tree has its specific pruning requirements to meet its needs. Careful pruning and training of young trees improves their productivity and longevity.

Pruning technique can prevent crotches or weak forks, an injury where the tree trunk splits into two or more due to the weight of the fruits and snow on the branches.

Pruning fruiting trees improves sunlight penetration and increases air movement to develop the tree structure, enabling it to support the crop load. This technique removes dead, or diseased branches, and encourages the formation of flowers and fruit buds.

The Beneficial Impact of Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning an apple tree to allow light and air supply into the inner part of the tree.
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Pruning fruit trees is necessary if you wish to have a healthy tree and improve its productivity.

To understand the importance of pruning fruiting trees more clearly, checkout the following reasons.

  • Both fruits and leaves obtain maximum sunlight exposure. 
  • It provides even distribution of fruiting along all branches.
  • Regulates the height and size of the tree.
  • Lessens possible limb breakage.
  • Produces high-quality fruits with their ideal size.
  • Lessens potential fruit disease because it increases adequate airflow.
  • Encourages the root system. 

When and How Often Should You Prune Your Fruiting Tree

1) Prune fruiting trees when the leaves are dormant.

It is best to prune trees when the leaves are off (dormant). It is a lot easier to see which branch of the tree should you trim when the leaves are off. Also, removing dormant buds strengthens the remaining buds.

Pruning in the summer slows ripening and will expose fruits to sunburn. But if you want to control the thickness of your fruit tree that is too large, pruning in early spring is the most effective.

2) Start pruning while the tree is still young.
The structure of the newly transplanted apple tree before and after pruning.
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Right after you’ve transplanted the new tree, cut it off to a height about 24-30 inches shorter, and remove any side shoots, leaving only one bud.

Pruning lightly to the newly planted tree will help strengthen and encourage a strong root system.

3)  Assess the overall health of the tree before pruning.

Skinny young trees need pruning to encourage fast growth without bearing within three years. However, you can promote healthy and robust young trees to fruit earlier by not trimming the branch that is bending.

You can leave sufficient leaves intact to send needed nutrients to the roots, but it is always best to remove dead and deformed branches to allow adequate air and sunlight to penetrate the inner part of the tree.

4) Ensure a balanced pruning.

When considering which branch to cut, know that trimming vertical branches can encourage vegetative growth and allow sunlight to get through to the inner part of the tree.

The balance between fruit-bearing branches and the branches that are to provide shoot growth are essential. This will also protect fruits from the intense heat of sunlight, which can cause sunburn.

5) Allow adequate air and light to meet their needs.
The peach tree after pruning allows sunlight to get through into the inner part of the tree.
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Thinning out some thick growth and removing crossing branches will allow air and light to penetrate the inner part of the tree. Removing competing limbs will also encourage a solid branch angle.

Topping horizontal branches, on the other hand, can rejuvenate fruiting wood and thin off excessive fruits.

Also, remove branches that are bending down, and producing only a fewer small fruits. They will eventually lose their energy later.

6) Avoid infection and spread of disease. 

You can trim any tree in winter, but not when the air is too moist, or when the winter rain or snowfall is in the near forecast. Let the fresh-cuts dry completely to avoid infection and spread of disease.

7) Prune to reduce excessive loads.
The split branch of an apple.
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Besides promoting the health of the tree, winter pruning reduces excessive loads of snow that could damage and split existing limbs.

8) Prune to encourage high returns.

Did you know that the more flowers and fruits a plant produces, the lesser the yield? If you leave a plant and let nature do its work, you will see this happen.

Pruning encourages large returns even with lesser fruits and blooms. Proper pruning at an appropriate time will make branches increase the production of quality fruits and flowers.

9) Control and establish a strong root system.

Early pruning will also give you a safer, healthier, and maintenance-friendly tree. It will help you save effort, time, and money.

Pruning young trees to shape and control their size is necessary at the start of its growing years.

Doing so will establish strong dominant roots in the first two years of growth. Reducing new growth should continue in every season afterwards. And removing all the diseased, damage, and decaying branches is also essential.

10) Restore neglected fruiting trees.

Old neglected trees that have no disease, with a trunk that is not hollow, can bear fruit again. To make it possible, here is the step-by-step guide to pruning a neglected tree.

  • If the tree has become too tall, you can remove up to five feet of height each year to achieve its ideal height.
  • Always remove dead, damaged, and diseased branches.
  • Remove vertically growing shoots and broken limbs.
  • Removing large branches in several years is essential. You can remove even up to three large branches in a year as long as you will only remove not more than one-third of the tree’s canopy. 
  • First, remove branches with narrow angles and those trunks that are starting to form crotches.
  • To bring back the tree’s ideal balance, you may cut lateral branches that are too long, and prune upper branches to a shorter length than those on the lower part of the tree.
  • Remove growing limbs competing towards the center of the tree.
  • Remove excessive branching to allow light penetration.
  • Use appropriate pruning tools and always keep them sharp and clean.
  • It is essential to disinfect pruning tools in-between cuts.

Neglected trees may take three or more years to bring back their fit conditions. So, thinning the outside surface of the tree first is needed to allow light penetration. Light is essential to develop fruiting wood onto any part of the tree.

The primary objective of pruning neglected fruit trees, are to thin out branches, reduce tree size, and most importantly, to increase fruit production, in quality.

Which Branches Should You Prune?

Newly pruned branch of a peach tree.

Pruning is the practice of removing branches, roots, buds, and other parts of the tree that are diseased, infested with insects, weak, and are at the risk of potential damage due to lack of sunlight.

Here are some pruning tips that will help you determine which branch to keep and which one to remove.

Tip #1 – Remove useless limbs.

Pruning diseased limbs.

Remove any limbs that can potentially cause damage to your tree. Diseased limbs can be a source of infection and are also vulnerable to insect infestations that could further damage the tree.

By removing all damaged, diseased, and dead limbs on your fruit tree, it will make the tree grow vigorous, minimizing the possible limb breakage due to overload.

Tip #2 – Remove water sprouts.
Water sprouts of an apple tree.
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Remove excess growth from the previous season. This growth is called water sprouts. Water sprouts do not bear fruit and can cause excessive shading, particularly in the interior part of the tree.

Excessive shading can cause twigs and branches to die, which may result in less fruiting around next year.

Tip #3 – Remove intersecting and competing branches.
Crowding branches of an apple tree.
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Remove intersecting and competing branches. These makes sunlight and air supply unable to penetrate the inner part of the tree.

Also, fruits on crossing limbs usually rub onto other existing branches causing wounds and then become an entry point of insects which can cause diseases.

The Importance of Thinning Your Fruit Tree

Newly harvested apples in the farm.

If you desire a large-sized fruit from your tree, then pruning your fruiting trees is necessary. An un-thinned tree is structurally stressed, resulting in many under-sized returns.

Excessive loads of fruits will affect next year’s returns, creating inconsistent production every year.

Most of the fruit trees drop fruits to combat adverse growing conditions. However, fruit thinning can address these naturally occurring fruit drops.

Fruit drops from the apple tree.

Fruit thinning will also allow you to control the arrangement of developing fruits for optimum size and quality.

Thinning with the use of a chemical is often inconsistent, which is why most fruit growers usually opt for manual-hand thinning, resulting in ideal sized fruits with better placement on the tree.

Fruit trees bloom in clusters. Apples usually have five to six blooms per cluster. Reducing the number of blossoms to just one or two will give you a better result. One fruit per six inches of shoots is the most desirable spacing.

Apple tree blossoms.

Peach trees are to bring forth excessive amounts of fruits. A 10% blossom generates full returns. When the fruits reach marble-size, peach thinning should start, and the ideal spacing is not less than 6-8 inches.

Why Prune Bearing Fruit Trees

There are two seasons when it comes to pruning fruit trees, winter (dormant) and summer. Pruning fruit trees during winter is essential to maintain the shape and size of the tree.

However, removing larger branches is not necessary, especially if the tree has been well-trained unless the limbs have damage.

It is best to keep your fruit trees to a height easier for you to manage without the use of a ladder. Smaller trees are easy to care for, and of course more accessible to harvest. In addition to that, they also require less water and can respond even in limited space.

For trees that bear fruit in an alternating year, it is best to prune them heavily before the massive fruiting season to balance its growth and fruit production.

Remember to remove broken and infected branches, and when removing crossing limbs, you can always retain the stronger one.

Four Types of Pruning

Trimming widespread branches of an apple tree.

  • Thinning –  is removing the branches at the base to free up the canopy, alongside with the trunk or stalk to encourage quality fruiting. It is a technique used to allow sunlight to come through.
  • Raising or cleaning – is the trimming of low hanging branches to provide free space for entries, walkways, cars, and people. This is also called fine-tuning.
  • Topping – is when you need to remove most of the branches all the way down to the trunk to encourage the tree to grow in such a particular way.
  • Reductionis when you need to trim the tree’s overall volume, to shorten widespread branches that are crawling into utility lines.

Two Stages of Pruning Approach

These are the two stages in the life of a tree that requires a different pruning approach.

  • Training
Pruning young apple trees to outline its branching and framework.
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The training stage takes place within the first four to five years of the tree’s life. It determines the plant’s structure, such as the outline, branching, and overall framework.

  • Renewal or Maintenance

The primary objective of maintenance pruning is to keep the ideal size of the tree aside from preventing branches from crowding each other.

Maintenance pruning encourages new fruiting shoots by thinning, heading back, and the removal of suckers, diseases, and damaged branches.

Illustrations on different types of pruning.
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Renewal pruning is the approach taken when fruiting occurs, and when the training stage is complete. Its primary purpose is to maintain the size, shape, and vigor of the tree.

Essential Pruning Equipment

Set of pruning tools.
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These are the three tools essentials for pruning:

  1. Scissor-cuts hand shears (best used to cut up to a one-half inch in diameter)
  2. Lopping shears (best used to cut up to one inch in diameter)
  3. Curved pruning saw (best used for a larger cut – it is beneficial to avoid uneven cuts that can cause slow healing)
  4. Gloves (protect yourself by wearing gloves while removing limbs from the trees)

Tips: Disinfecting your pruning tools between cuts are required to avoid infection. You can use either a 70% denatured alcohol or mix a solution of household bleach at one part bleach and nine parts water.

You can use either a sponge or a spray bottle to apply the solutions to your pruning tools between pruning cuts.

Final Thoughts on The Benefits of Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning is the technique used to correct fruit trees’ undesirable natural tendencies such as overstimulation of shoots, large branches that cause shade to prevent tree into fruiting, and other negative tendencies.

Pruning and training can make fruit trees increase their fruit production, aside from developing a stronger structure. It is essential to maintain the health and productivity of the tree throughout its entire existence.

Pruning is one of the most vital parts of fruit tree care that can cause more harm than good if you don’t do it correctly.

About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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4 Comments on “Benefits of Pruning Fruit Trees”

  1. I never really thought about all the benefits of pruning such as better aeration and sun exposure. My partner and I are trying to get a really great looking yard this year and we need to work on the trees. With the help of a professional, we should be able to get them looking great again and really healthy.

  2. Hi Benita, it was great to read indeed and I can see there are many benefits of pruning the fruit trees. Before I was hesitant about this pruning idea but now after reading this article I can see how beneficial tree pruning is. Moreover, you have also enlisted the Tree pruning equipment and I am definitely planning to purchase the same.

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