Cherry trees are lush, beautiful trees well known for their early spring blooming and fruiting. These are some of the hardier fruit trees, and they can survive both drought and cold winter temperatures. This longevity may lead to trees outlasting their usefulness or homeowner and becoming overgrown and neglected. To prune an old, overgrown cherry tree back to health, follow some standard pruning guidelines and then increase its care.
Prune cherry trees in late winter, while the tree is dormant, to avoid damaging the tree or sapping any of its energy. Choose a dry day for pruning, since cherry trees are prone to fungus when their wood is exposed to damp, and shoot for late February or March, to prune the tree before it begins to grow in spring. A good general guideline is to prune a couple weeks before the last frost in your area.
Plan for your pruning, to avoid haphazard cutting, and remember that less cutting is better than more. Cherry trees do best in a rough Christmas-tree shape, with longer branches on the bottom and shorter branches on the top, for circulation and light. They bear their fruit on wood over two years old, so pruning off all the external growth will restrict any fruit harvest for the next year. Plan to prune away any branches that grow through the centre of the tree, rub against other branches or grow crookedly. Prune branches that grow only in the centre of the tree or grow straight up, and thin foliage or wood in areas that are especially crowded.
Cut with sharp pruning shears, close to the nearest bud. Don't cut into the main branch, as this may damage its growth, but cut the pruned branch to within 1/4 inch of the next bud, or joint. Finish by cutting away any remaining dead or damaged wood, and wood that shows sign of rot or insect infestation.