How to Prune a Tree for Fruit

Updated November 21, 2016

Fruit trees are pruned to increase fruit production in two basic ways. Central leader pruning creates a single trunk with several horizontal scaffold branches, and is recommended for apple, pear, cherry, pecan and citrus trees. Open-vase pruning lets more light and air into the canopy, and is used for peach, nectarine and plum trees. Prune fruit trees when they are young to encourage strong structure, and they will produce delicious fruit year after year.

Perform major pruning in late winter or early spring, while the apple, pear, cherry and citrus trees are dormant. If the tree has multiple trunks, cut the weaker ones away with long-handled pruning shears, leaving the strongest one as the central leader.

Stand back and look for five to seven horizontally growing branches. Let your eye space them evenly, 8 to 12 inches apart on either side of the trunk. These are the scaffold branches that will bear later. Cut the others away with the shears. Set the blades at a 45-degree angle and cut down and away from the trunk, leaving a 1/2-inch stub that will let moisture drip off.

Clip off vertically growing branches with short-handled shears. These branches do not produce fruit, and keep light from reaching the centre of the canopy when leaves and flowers open.

Prune off shoots or "suckers" from the base of the trunk, and from branches throughout the spring and summer months, with the short-handled shears. Suckers do not produce fruit, and pull a lot of moisture from the rest of tree and developing fruit on other branches. Repeat sucker pruning in midsummer.

Prune off dead or diseased wood from fruit trees at any time of year, whenever you see it. Cut all pruned branches into manageable lengths and discard in yard waste bags. Do not leave decaying wood near the tree because it invites fungus and insects.

Prune peach, nectarine and plum trees in early spring, before flowering. Study the shape of the tree before you begin. Your goal is to thin the canopy into a open-vase shape. Clip off any shoots or suckers from the lower third of the trunk with short-handled pruning shears.

Prune away the central leader halfway up the tree, leaving four to five laterally growing scaffold limbs spaced around what remains. Use a pruning saw for this task if the limbs are more than 2 inches in diameter.

Working from the outside in, clip off vertical shoots from all parts of the fruit tree's canopy. These shoots will crowd the canopy and prevent light from getting in and ripening the peaches.

Prune away any branches that cross or rub each other, to prevent bark injury, leaving the strongest, horizontal branches. Use long-handled pruning shears to reach high into the canopy.

Look for broken or diseased wood, and cut it away at any time during the growing season, even when the tree is bearing. Cut away twigs and branches that rub against developing fruit as you see them.

Cut branches into manageable lengths, and dispose of them in yard waste bags, especially when insects or fungus are present.


Sterilise blades of pruning equipment in boiling water before and after each use to prevent transmission of disease from tree to tree. If you don't want to wait for water to boil, simply wipe the blades with a soft cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol.


Don't leave fallen or decaying fruit near the tree. Rake it up so it won't attract animals, insects or disease.

Things You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Short-handled pruning shears
  • Long-handled pruning shears
  • Yard waste bags
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