Pruning Fruit Trees

Did you know that the best time to prune fruit trees in Ohio is March? March is the perfect time because it is the end of the dormant period. At this time the trees are not actively growing, the risk for cold injury on wounds is low, and there is less risk of pathogen entry.

Young fruit trees and mature fruit trees have different needs when it comes to pruning. Neglected trees are worth an article of their own.

Young fruit trees (1-5 years) need to be trained so that the framework of growth is desirable for both growth and harvest. When planting new trees, trim any branches below 24 inches. Ideally, you will want three to four evenly spaced branches around the trunk to use as scaffolds. Select your training style: open center, central leader, or modified central leader.

The most common style is central leader. Open center is often used for peaches, plums, and apricots. It allows good light filtration to reach all of the tree’s branches. Modified central leader is often used for apples, pears, and pecans. Side shoots should be trained to grow at a 60 to 70 degree angle.

When choosing which limbs to prune and which to train, consider symmetry for even fruit production and light filtration to lower branches. During the harvest season, mark any branches that produce shriveled and dried fruit to be pruned during the dormant season. Any damaged or diseased branches should also be removed.

Pruning mature trees may reduce number of fruit produced, but fruit size will be increased, ripening will be more uniform, sugar accumulation will be greater, and there will be fewer disease and pest problems as a result of better light filtration and air circulation.

If trees are vigorous growers, prune more aggressively. Avoid pruning too close to the main branch to keep wound size minimal. If the tree is very large or neglected, spread extensive pruning out over multiple years. Match your pruning tools to the size of branches. Use shears for small twigs, lopping shears for medium branches, and a hand saw for large limbs.

There are many aspects to pruning fruit trees correctly. For more details and illustrations, you can access the Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide for examples at: