Winter may not seem a great time for getting out in the garden with cold, damp days making staying indoors very appealing but bright crisp days are welcome relief and an ideal time to prune fruit trees for the upcoming growing year!

Fruit trees can be pruned in winter, spring or summer depending on what you want to achieve from the process. Pruning in the autumn should be avoided as it will encourage the tree to send out new shoots that will not be tough enough to withstand the winter.

Winter Pruning 

This type of pruning is mainly for apple, pear and quince trees as this type of pruning encourages vigorous growth and should be done when the tree is dormant; between when the leaves fall and the appearance of new bud growth which is usually between November and March.  Pruning when there are no leaves also allows you to view the overall shape of the tree.  However, if you want to reduce the size of your tree without vigorous growth, wait until Spring.

Spring and Summer Pruning 

This time of year is good for pruning stone fruits such as plum and cherry trees or trained apple and pear trees. As this type of pruning is carried out after the tree has started to develop fruits (known as setting fruit) you’ll easily be able to see areas of diseased or dead wood without interfering with the fruit production. Pruning in spring and summer is also good for trees you want to keep small or dwarf trees as regrowth will not be as active.

How to Prune Fruit Trees 

It is important that the tools you intend to use to prune your fruit trees are sharp; blunt tools will cause damage to the tree allowing possible disease or rot.  Garden tools can be sharpened with sharpening stones such as the Niwaki Sharpening Stones or you can take them to a local blade sharpener who can do it for you.  

To start with, remove dead or dying, crossing, rubbing, diseased or weak branches with loppers or a pruning saw.  Once they have all been removed you can shorten the previous year’s growth from the primary (main) branch by approximately a third.  Ensure that the cut is made just in front of a bud and that the bud is facing the correct direction for maintaining a good shape as this is where the new growth will stem.

On older fruit trees where overcrowding is present, the removal of spurs and shoots to thin out the area should be done from underneath.  This is because any light would be held back from developing fruit and therefore it would be underdeveloped and inferior.

It is important to note that when pruning apple trees in winter you may notice signs of apple canker (a fungal disease causing disfigurement) or the appearance of lichens and other growths which are not harmful to the tree but can indicate low vigour. Trees can also suffer from cold damage in the winter/early spring so precautions may need to be taken to protect them from particularly harsh conditions.