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Pruning Fruit Trees


  • Scientific Name
    Malus domestica
  • Special Considerations

    Photo: Robson Melo, Unsplash
    Photo: Robson Melo, Unsplash
    Apples need sturdy branches. Heading cuts are necessary. 

  • Fruit grows on:

    Old wood (spurs). Spurs form on one to three year old trees. Spurs continue to produce fruit for eight to 10 years, then die off. Trees are continually generating new spurs.

    Illustration shows how apples and pears flower on spurs. UC Master Gardeners Handbook
    Illustration shows how apples and pears flower on spurs. UC Master Gardeners Handbook

  • What to Prune in Winter

    Remove dead, diseased or damaged wood, as well as crossing branches. 

    thinning and releadering cuts to open the tree to sunlight and to evenly space the branches (about 18 inches apart at their tips). 

    Shorten or remove overly long branches to a side branch. 

    Remove strong (dominant) branches that are growing inward, crowding the center, or crowding adjacent or lower branches. 

    Keep an eye on the fruiting spurs when making choices regarding which branches to keep and which to remove.

    On the branches that remain, identify new growth (from the previous summer) emerging from the main (scaffold) branches and head that new growth back to two to four buds.

    Remove water sprouts and suckers. As an exception, a water sprout may be shortened and retained to fill a space created by the removal of a nearby branch.



  • What to Prune in Summer

    Reduce the height of vertical branches to keep next year’s fruit within reach.

    Remove or shorten crossing and crowded branches.

    Remove or shorten lateral branches that are growing upright both to keep them from shading other branches and because upright branches tend not to be fruitful.

    Note: While there is a tendency for upright branches not to bear fruit, some may. Therefore, a gardener may choose to keep fruit bearing lateral branches while summer pruning with an intent to shorten or remove them during winter pruning.

    Shorten laterals that are growing horizontally in desired directions to three to five buds or to approximately 10 inches.