Text reads: When to prune fruit trees for the biggest and best fruit. Image of a hand, pruning shears and a branch.

Are you wondering when to prune fruit trees? The proper care of a fruit tree, whether it’s a small sapling or a vigorous large tree, can seem daunting. One of the most important steps to ensure a healthy tree is to know when to prune your fruit tree. Pruning at the right time can encourage faster growth or can allow you to cut down the size of a too-tall tree without stressing out the plant. Read below for our all-season pruning guide to know when to prune fruit trees for the best results.

Winter Pruning

Pruning fruit trees in the winter encourages vigorous growth in the coming spring. In the autumn a tree draws the energy from it’s leaves and allows them to drop to the ground, putting all the energy into the root system for the winter storage.

Fruit trees do not expend much energy towards growing in the winter, in fact you won’t see any visible growth at all as it all happens underground in the root system. Your tree uses those stored nutrients to keep it alive during the long winter, setting aside energy for the tree to come out of dormancy in the spring.

So if you live in a cold climate winter is a great time to prune fruit trees. The lack of leaves, flowers and fruit mean your bare tree makes it incredibly easy to clearly see the tree’s shape and to decide what needs to be cut.

Keep in mind that late winter is a better choice over early winter. When your tree is not vigorously growing (as it does in the spring and summer), it cannot heal the wounds caused by pruning cuts which could lead to disease.

Don’t prune in the early winter and leave your tree all season long with those unhealed cuts, prune in late winter instead knowing that with the oncoming spring your tree will soon be able to heal any pruning wounds.

Another advantage of pruning your fruit trees in the winter is that late winter pruning encourages vigorous spring growth. When you cut away extra branches that might crowd out the tree you are allowing the best branches that remain to receive all the growing energy in the spring.

If your tree is overcrowded with branches in the spring all of those branches get a small piece of the growing energy. A pruned tree, with less branches, gives a larger share to each branch so the tree can grow longer and produce better fruit.

Spring Pruning

With the spring weather comes more sunshine, warmer days and a tree ready to emerge from dormancy. With all of the energy stored through the winter your tree will now send the energy from the roots to the branches to encourage a strong growth season. Buds lead way to leaves, blossoms, fruit and new shoots.

A benefit to pruning in the spring after the buds have opened and the blossoms and leaves are emerging is that you can clearly see what branches did not survive through the winter. Tender fruit trees like peach and apricot often lose branches in the winter and the new growth in the spring will clearly show where to prune.

It is important to note that spring pruning will not encourage the same vigorous growth that a later winter pruning would accomplish. The tree has already used up energy creating the buds, blossoms and leaves so it won’t be sparing much more for new growth. Use the spring time to prune fruit trees that have grown too tall for easier fruit picking in the fall.

Summer Pruning

Summer time means your tree has used up it’s stored nutrients and is now reading to start stockpiling more. With the leaves out your tree is producing a lot of energy for it’s current growth as well as for the coming winter.

Believe it or not, you can prune fruit trees in the summer. A summer pruning will not encourage vigorous new growth so you can trim down the size of an overly large tree.

After a cherry tree has put out it’s fruit in the early summer you could do the pruning work to get it to a manageable size without harming the tree.

Summer is also a great time for pruning maintenance. Any branches that get broken, are growing in bad spots or get diseased can easily be pruned during this season as well.

Autumn Pruning

With the cooling weather your tree is now preparing for dormancy. The sugars that were stored in the leaves is now being moved to the roots allowing the leaves to fall and the tree to have a winter storage. If you live in an area that experiences a cold winter then we do not encourage to prune fruit trees in Autumn for the same reason an early winter pruning was a bad idea: open pruning wounds can’t heal. An open pruning wound that doesn’t properly heal can allow for decay or a fungus to enter your tree.

Pruning a Diseased Tree

Managing diseases and getting rid of diseased branches is important for protecting the life of your tree. If you see an area with disease then pruning late winter, spring or summer will help take care of the problem quickly. Most diseases remain dormant through the winter so if you notice a problem on your bare tree in the winter wait until the more optimal late winter/early spring time before doing pruning fruit trees and your tree won’t suffer further injury from open pruning wounds. Keep in mind that pruning isn’t always an effective treatment for certain diseases so make sure to correctly diagnose and treat the problem.

How to Prune Fruit Trees

Pruning is essential to the care of your fruit trees but, if done incorrectly, you can actually harm your tree. Knowing when to prune is the first step, knowing how to prune is just as important! Check youtube or your local extension services for instructional videos on how to prune fruit trees correctly because the age of the tree and the type of the fruit tree will change the way you prune.

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