Spraying and Pruning Fruit Trees and Fruit Bushes

pruning fruit trees

Pruning Fruit Trees

The summer pruning of fruit trees and bushes is very important. Its purpose is to inhibit the production of more shoots and to channel the plant’s energies into the production of fruit buds. The leaders are ignored and should never be shortened in summer. But we do shorten the long leafy laterals which then produce short clusters of fruit buds, known as spurs. Sometimes these spurs are formed by the end of the summer. If the pruning is done at the correct stage in the lateral’s growth, you should be able to see the fruit buds formed immediately below the cut made when pruning. Sometimes, the buds do not form until the following year.

It is difficult to give exact dates for summer pruning, because so much depends upon locality as well as on the variety to be pruned. But generally speaking, this is decided by the condition of the laterals. These should already be woody at the base and the leaves should be well developed. Laterals whose leaves are soft and sappy are not mature enough. If immature laterals are cut, the bushes will be induced to shoot again and so the purpose of pruning will be defeated. It is best not to attempt to prune the whole of a plant in one go but to return to it time and time again, pruning only those laterals which are ready.

Gooseberries and Red and White currants

Whether these are grown as bushes or cordons the method of pruning is virtually the same. Treat each branch as though it were a separate plant, a single stemmed cordon. Every side shoot growing from each branch must be cut back to allow about five leaves to remain.

So far as gooseberries are concerned, these can be most difficult to pick — one reason why a three part cordon is a good shape. But if you try to keep the branches off the ground so that you can get your hands below and thin out branches, to get your hands between, you will find gathering the fruit easier.

Apples, Trained

These should have all mature laterals growing directly from the main stem cut back to about three leaves. Mature shoots are usually nine inches or more in length with a woody base and dark green leaves. Sometimes these laterals produce sub-lateral shoots which have grown from points below the cut made at summer pruning (often because conditions were not quite right when this was done). Look for the basal cluster of leaves, and cut back at one leaf beyond it. Espalier trees should be pruned as for cordons.


Generally treated as for apples, except that they are usually ready for pruning about mid-July. Apples are ready about two weeks later.

Red and White currants, Winter Pruning

This should be carried out between October and early February. This time laterals and leaders are pruned. Laterals are cut back so that only two or three buds remain on each. Cut leaders so that they are only one third as long.


You have a chance now to trim the bush. Arching stems should be cut back to an upright growing stem. Where leaders grow straight and very erect shorten them each time to a bud which points away from the centre of the bush. Remove any suckers off all of these bushes.

Winter Pruning of Apples and Pears

Bushes, standards and half standards should be pruned so as to keep the centre of the tree open and enable light and air to get to it. Bushes can be gradually trained into a goblet shape with an open centre. Follow always the golden rule of winter pruning: prune hard to get strong growth, prune lightly to discourage growth. Always make a horizontal cut about one eighth of an inch above a bud which, for main branches should .always point away from the tree. Remove all strong growths going into the centre. Professional growers train youngsters to prune “so you can throw your hat through the tree.”

Dwarf pyramids should have a central stem with branches radiating in a natural spiral — like a pyramid or triangle. Aim always to maintain this shape.

Cordons are planted and tied to canes or supporting wires at an angle of 45 degrees. Plant rows running north and south. When leaders reach the top wire, the entire cordon can be loosened and lowered slightly, still keeping them parallel. Tip prune leader by about one third each winter and thin spurs. For cordons, summer pruning is more important.


The object of all pruning and lopping is to retain the character of the tree as well as the balance between root and head. If this is not done a very large root system deprived of its natural outlet through the branches may send up basal growths and suckers and it will be a continual light to get rid of these, especially with such trees as  willows, poplars and sycamores. Certain trees like oak and beech are better behaved and lower branches can be removed which are a danger or obstruct light without harming the symmetry of the tree too much.

When lopping large branches, it may be necessary to cut them down in sections and lower the cut portions to the ground by means of a rope slung over a higher branch. Even if the branch can be sawn off in one piece it is best to leave about 2 ft projecting from the trunk. This serves two purposes; the ladder may be leaned against this stump whilst the operation is in progress and the short spur will prevent the branch tearing off raggedly and injuring the trunk. Then, with the ladder leaning against the main trunk, the short stump can be sawn off as closely as possible to the trunk itself. When cutting off the limbs of valuable trees, I always rub down the cut surface with coarse sandpaper and trim the edges of the bark with a sharp knife as this allows it to be covered over much more quickly. Immediately after smoothing the surface, paint the cut portion with a good lead paint; Stockholm tar, which is prepared from wood and not coal, is ideal.

One word of warning, if the branches of a neighbour’s tree annoy you, you are not at liberty to cut any further back than your boundary fence. However, it is far better to discuss the whole matter amicably with your neighbour and come to some understanding before you spoil a tree. Taking too many branches off your side of the fence may not only make the tree look lopsided but perhaps may cause it to fall.

27. September 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Fruit Trees, Plants & Trees, Pruning | Tags: , | Comments Off on Spraying and Pruning Fruit Trees and Fruit Bushes


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