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When pruning fruit trees, gardeners differentiate between winter and summer pruning. Regular pruning guarantees lavish flowering and lots of juicy fruit. The timing is just as important as the incision. This tutorial is peppered with well-founded instructions on when and how to prune fruit trees in an exemplary manner.

How fruit trees are to be pruned depends largely on their age

Table of Contents

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  1. Types of cuts and dates
  2. Pruning of pome fruit
  3. Preservation cut stone fruit
  4. Summer pruning sweet cherry
  5. frequently asked Questions
  6. Pome fruit and stone fruit - types of cut and dates

    For the perfect cut pome fruit trees has an appointment in late winter enforced. In February, the crowns of apples, pears and quinces are buzzing when gardeners devote themselves to the worn and future fruit trees. Well-trained pome fruit does very well with a cut every 2 to 5 years. stone fruit speaks better to one summer cut, either in connection with the harvest or after the leaves have fallen in autumn. No rule without exception also applies to pruning fruit trees, such as cherries. The following table sums up important types of cuts and recommended dates:

    cut type goal/occasion best appointment
    Pip fruit preservation cut Promote fertility of pome fruit every 2 to 5 years in February
    Stone fruit preservation cut Maintain vitality, health and earning power every 1 to 2 years in summer or autumn after harvest
    Special case: sweet cherry promote new fruit wood every 4 to 5 years in summer after harvest

    If a fruit tree pruning goes far beyond care and maintenance, the Federal Nature Conservation Act has the say in the choice of date. To protect our massively threatened bird life, radical pruning is necessary prohibited from March 1st to September 30th. Restrained pruning measures may be carried out during the grace period provided there are no bird nests in the branches.

    Cut pome fruit in February

    The main task of a maintenance cut is to promote fertility and fruit quality. A light-flooded crown is just as important as young side shoots oblique-horizontal alignment. The best apples, pears and quinces are harvested from sun-kissed fruit branches that are at most half as thick as the main shoot. As illustrated in the figure below, all wood that interferes with skeletal shoots and fruiting wood must now be removed. How to cut correctly:

    • Remove all shoots that compete with the central shoot and leading branches
    • Tear off or cut off vertical shoots on the tops of the branches (water shoots).
    • Cut out branches that are dead, weak, damaged and directed towards the inside of the crown
    • Cut back overly long, heavily branched skeleton shoots to an outward-facing bud

    In the last step you dedicate yourself to the most precious treasure of a fruit tree crown, the fruit wood. The sweet burden of past years has left its mark. Exhausted fruit shoots are easy to recognize by the low-hanging growth. Select a vital side shoot behind the apex to cut off the worn, overaged wood at that point. The proven pruning technique serves as a local rejuvenation and is referred to in gardening circles as a derivation pruning.

    You have done everything right if your pome fruit tree is covered with a light crown presents. Ideally, you can "throw a hat through a pruned apple tree and catch it," following the gardener's well-established rule. You don't have to take the wisdom literally, although there is a kernel of truth in it. An airy crown results in minimal susceptibility to fungal infections and ripens larger, juicier fruit.

    After 2 to 5 years, the fruit wood has spent itself in pome fruit. With a comprehensive maintenance cut, you clear the way for young fruit shoots. Dead wood, water shoots and unfavorable branches are removed. Worn, low-hanging fruit wood is rejuvenated by being diverted to a side shoot further inside.


    Older pome fruit benefit from an additional pruning in July. Cut off all shoots and leaves that cast shadows on apples, pears or quinces. Tear off wild shoots. If there are too many fruit buds on the branches, thin out the fruit. Break off damaged and puny specimens. The most promising fruits should be at least 3 centimeters apart to ripen in premium quality.

    Cut stone fruit in summer

    Traditionally, stone fruit is cut in the summer because the wood is more susceptible to disease and rot. If a fruit tree is full of sap, it can close cuts more quickly and fight off pathogens better. Plums, damsons and sour cherries can be blended either at the same time as the harvest or after the leaves have fallen in autumn. Although the cut is not significantly different from that of pome fruit, the following aspects should be taken into account when cutting stone fruit:

    • Shoots with rounded flower buds when cut in summer not intersect
    • Tracing drooping, old fruit wood to a two-year-old side shoot garnished with flower buds
    • If the fruiting wood is too thick (almost as thick as the main branch), cut back to 10 to 20 cm long cones
    • Shorten unfavorable, dead branches to 5 cm short stubs
    • This year's unbranched long shoots with more than 20 cm in length shorten by a third

    On some of the most popular tart cherries, it is primarily the one-year shoots that flower and bear fruit. Morello cherry and resulting varieties should for this reason each year get cut. The aim of the pruning is that there are no more than three one-year-old shoots with a length of 20 to 30 centimeters for every 10 centimeters of leading branch length. After harvest, prune branches that have been removed vigorously back to two buds or an inner side shoot. In the same year, fresh fruit wood shoots sprout from it, which blossom in the following spring and then bear fruit.


    Note the juice scale

    One of the most important premises when pruning fruit trees is observing the juice scale. The classic fruit tree crown is pyramidal in shape with a continuous, dominant central shoot and three to four lateral main branches. Uniform growth is only ensured if the tips of the leading branches are at the same height. The central shoot protrudes from its main branches by 15 to 20 centimetres, forming an imaginary angle of 90° to 120°. The figure below uses the example of training on an apple tree to show how the crown structure should ideally be built up and maintained.

    Grow a fruit tree with a pyramidal crown from a central shoot and three to four main branches. Together, the framework forms an angle of 90° to 120°. The leading branches are located in juice scales.

    Cut sweet cherries rarely

    When the fruit wood of pome fruit or sour cherries has long been exhausted, the sweet cherry still shines with lavish blossoms and juicy fruits. A cut on the cherry tree is therefore a rarity. However, you should not completely eliminate the cut care. At intervals of four to five years, sweet cherries benefit from thinning out dead wood and rejuvenating fruit wood. How to do it right:

    • The best time to cut is in summer, immediately after harvest
    • Thin out unfavorably growing, dead and bare shoots
    • Hanging branches with a diameter of more than 5 cm indicate a healthy side shoot
    • Remove thick, old branches to cones that are 10 to 20 cm long

    The most precious good of a sweet cherry are spurs, richly garnished with thick flower buds. In gardeners' language, the productive fruit wood is referred to as a bouquet shoot and is spared from the scissors. Otherwise, there is nothing to be said against bold pruning in the crown of the cherry tree. A competent maintenance cut leaves an almost empty crown. That's nothing to worry about. On the contrary, the pruning effort is rewarded with a richly flowering and richly bearing sweet cherry in the following years, until the next time a maintenance cut is on the care program.


    Steep shoots do not bear fruit

    A tightly upright shoot grows vigorously upwards, because the growth law of peak support is at work here. In return, the massive increase in height dampens fertility. Only in an inclined to horizontal position does the sap pressure decrease so that flowers can form. This does not imply that every steep drive has to give way. If it is in an advantageous position in the crown structure, tie the shoot down, weigh it down with weights or regulate the direction of growth with spacers.

    frequently asked Questions

    Why should fruit trees be pruned? Can't I just let an apple, pear or cherry grow?

    The most important goal of pruning fruit trees is the promotion of fruit wood. It is important to keep those shoots vital and sun-kissed that bear flowers and fruit. Most fruit trees plant the flowers in the previous year. The best fruiting wood on peach or sour cherry is on one-year-old branches. Apples and pears also bear fruit on two- and three-year-old shoots. Without a regular pruning, a fruit tree crown is overaged after four to five years at the latest and no longer bears any fruit worth mentioning.

    At the moment I am creating a near-natural garden with three to four fruit trees. I want to take care of these trees in harmony with nature and cut them as little as possible. How can this be done without sacrificing a rich harvest?

    Fruit trees develop a picturesque and natural habit if they are little pruned in the first few years. Minor interventions do not disturb growth, but have a beneficial effect on a light-flooded crown shape with numerous flowers and fruits. Planting and training pruning are in harmony with nature. In later years, every pruning on fruit trees is a tightrope walk between optimizing the harvest and damaging the wood. If you plan the location for a fruit tree, it should be generous enough to allow the crown to unfold freely without the need for pruning to reduce size. Thanks to this foresight, pruning is reduced to an occasional fruit tree pruning on apple or cherry trees every three to five years.

    Are all fruit trees self-fertile?

    Most fruits are not self-fertile. They only bear juicy fruit when another variety contributes its genetic information in the form of pollen. Modern breeds are sometimes labeled as self-fertile, which has left gardeners disappointed with poor yields. When planting fruit trees, it has proven useful in gardening practice to plant at least two varieties in close proximity that pollinate each other.

    Is it true that you shouldn't cut fruit trees when it's freezing?

    It has turned out to be a misconception that pruning back during frost causes damage to fruit trees. Thanks to intensive field tests by experienced experts, we now know that pruning down to - 5 degrees Celsius is possible without further ado. Only when the thermometer drops lower should you approach a cut with caution. There is a high risk of shoots tearing or breaking off because the cold wood is brittle.

    What types of saws and shears are recommended for cutting fruit trees?

    Two types of saws are perfectly suited for pruning trees: handy folding saws and flexible hacksaws with adjustable saw blades. Folding saws, also known as Japanese saws, master the cutting of branches that are difficult to access. Hacksaws score with precise cutting guidance on Astring because the saw blade can be adjusted individually. Among the scissors, two guys are also vying for the gardener's favor. Bypass shears work with two sharp blades that pass each other. Anvil shears work with a straight, sharp edge pressed onto a blunt counterpart. The bypass mechanism is ideal for cutting live wood. The anvil mechanism has proven itself for cutting hard, dry branches.

    The 3 most common cutting mistakes

    If a fruit tree refuses the longed-for splendor of flowers and juicy fruit, the gardener has made a pruning mistake. To arm yourself against typical damage to fruit trees, the following table names three cardinal errors and provides tips for prevention:

    cutting error damage picture prevention
    never cut premature aging, meager crops cut at least every 3 to 4 years
    too steep crown branches densely branched crown without valuable fruit wood Leading branches raise at an ideal angle of 45° to 90° to the trunk
    thick branches not cut to astring or cones Spread of wood rot Saw off branches thicker than an arm in front of the branch ring or with a 10 cm peg

    A common faux pas gardeners make even before the first cut is made. We are talking about unclean blades and saw blades. Statistical surveys have proven that the most common cause of diseases and pests on fruit trees can be traced back to contaminated cutting tools. Pathogenic agents use the blades as a means of transport directly into the pathways of the trimmed shoots. Please do not forget to clean and disinfect the tool meticulously before each cutting.



    The perfect pruning of fruit trees will come to nothing if there is a lack of hard-working insects as pollinators. In order to attract bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and other beneficial insects, the garden should be designed in an inviting way. Early flowering shrubs, such as the cornel, provide plenty of nourishment. Insect hotels and flower pots filled with wood wool invite you to linger and take care of the brood. Leave rotten tree trunks and piles of leaves as coveted retreats. Of course, toxic pesticides and artificial fertilizers are frowned upon in insect-friendly gardens.

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