Tree pruning: how and when it is done and tools needed

What is pruning? Pruning essentially consists of removing a part of a tree, a shrub or a flowering plant in order to help nature in the sense and in the direction that are useful to man.

It consists of the set of operations that are carried out directly on the skeleton or on the crown of the plants in order to:

  • Modify and / or control size, limit plant growth
  • Form the plant and regulate the amount of flowers and fruits
  • Improve the quality of the fruits
  • Regulate fruiting every year

The following article will try to provide a series of basic concepts of fruit pruning , to help the reader answer three very important questions:

Why, when and how should it be pruned?

What tools are needed to prune?

pruning tools

pruning tools

In all cases, the tools must allow a clean cut, without tearing the branch, for which they must be well sharpened. After use, they must be cleaned, disinfected and lubricated for better conservation.

The disinfection of the tools once we have used them is important to avoid the transmission of diseases from one plant to another. You can keep your tools clean by simply cleaning them with ethyl alcohol or 50% bleach water.

 Cutting surfaces larger than 5 cm in diameter must be sealed with water-based paint containing fungicides or some healing product. Some mixes that can be used are:

  • Copper oxychloride (paste made with copper oxychloride and a little water)
  • Latex paint
  • Latex paint + Captan fungicide (1 liter of Latex + 80 grams of Captan 80% WP)

When to prune? Time and general rules for pruning

Two types of pruning can be distinguished based on their time of completion:

1.- Winter pruning: it can be done when the last leaves fall, until the end of winter when the buds are still at rest.

2.- Pruning “green”: it is carried out in the fruit tree with leaves. Depending on the objective pursued, there are two different moments for its realization:

  • Late spring pruning: it is carried out only to eliminate unwanted growths (suckers) that compete with the normal development of the fruit.
  • Autumn pruning: it is carried out after harvest to increase the entry and distribution of light within the tree, and in this way to achieve a better quality of fruitful buds for the following season. It is also used to retain the growth of the crown, once the tree has reached the desired height and the corresponding space.

In the case of a family fruit forest, the management of the plants, although it should favor fruit production, is not as strict as in the case of an extensively produced fruit forest. For the fruit trees of the family garden, we are going to consider then, some basic questions that improve their development:

  • Pruning should favor the entry of light and air into the entire canopy, leaving only the guide branches necessary to maintain the structure.
  • Fruit plants must have a balance between the floral part (which will eventually bear fruit) and the vegetative part (leaves).
  • Old branches and “suckers” should be removed , which are long, vigorous, slightly woody branches with few buds that grow vertically, generally next to a cut or on the sides of thick branches or from the base.
  • Form a not very high cup that allows adequate fruit collection. For this purpose, thick branches that have grown in height can be cut and / or the more flexible branches bent to slow the circulation of sap and generate more flower buds .
  • Do not allow very closed angles between branches (ideally more than 45º).
  • New branches that develop on either side of thicker branches should not be too close together (separation of 15 cm or more).

what branches to prune

Before going into detail about how the different species should be pruned, it is important to distinguish the types of pruning that exist, taking into account their purpose:


Types of pruning

A) Training pruning: this is done on the young plant to guide its development. It is carried out during the first four years after planting, and during this stage the formation of the plant structure is prioritized, selecting the main branches that will form the final structure.

prune tree

Outline of a training from 1st to 4th year

B) Pruning of fruiting : its objective is to improve the development of flower buds, preserving a balance between the production of fruits and leaves. It has different characteristics for pip fruit trees than for stone fruit trees, as will be explained later. This pruning is carried out from the entry into production of the plant.

C) Rejuvenation pruning: it is done with the tree already formed, eliminating suckers, broken, old or diseased branches. It can be done at the end of the harvest and take advantage of to eliminate old fruiting branches and give opportunity to new fruiting branches. Here too, branches can be pruned to limit crown height and guide limb spread.

How should I make the cuts?

When a branch or branch is pruned, it is cut above the bud to be favored to approximately one centimeter, with the inclination that protects it from falling water and earth.

how to cut trees

In the case of thick branches, the cuts are made in such a way as to facilitate wound healing, trying not to leave a stump even if the cut starts at the fork. Pruning begins with a cut, up to almost half its diameter, on the underside (cut a) and about 20-30 cm from the trunk from which it originates; about 10 cm further outwards and from above a new cut is made (b) that will allow the branch to be separated, which breaks under its own weight without detaching bark. By cutting (c) the remaining stump is removed.

cut branches

Now, having the notions about the types of pruning, and about how to make the cuts, we will explain how each species in particular should be pruned:

Peach or peach tree

The fruiting buds are located on the one-year-old branch, they are rounded and larger than the vegetative ones. Both appear grouped on vigorous and solitary stems on thin branches. In general, the poorly pruned or pruned plant blooms mainly on the stems at the top of the crown.

The annual pruning produces the renewal of the fruitful branches. The thinning of damaged, weak branches and those that are badly located or overgrown allows the crown to be clarified. The moderate shortening of the remaining branches allows the formation of new stems that will bear fruit the following year. Very intense pruning reduces the number of flowers and weakens the plant.

Japanese Plum

It fructifies, at the same time, on long and short branches (bouquets). In general, it needs a meticulous thinning, removing superfluous branches and shortening up to 50% of the vegetation of the previous year. The greater luminosity favors the growth of fruitful bouquets.

Apricot or apricot

The fruiting buds of the one-year-old branches are similar to the peach tree, it also fructifies in clusters located on branches of one year or more.

The thinning improves the luminosity inside the crown, the shortening of 30% of the remaining stems favors the formation of new branches.

Apple tree

Fruiting originates from a mixed bud that produces several flowers and a bud, this bud is rounded and is generally located at the end of short twigs of two or more years. There are other formations that can give rise to fruitful buds, in the case of “bags”.

This species does not require, in general, an intense pruning, which includes the thinning of some branches and the shortening of certain stems.

pear tree

It grows taller than the apple tree and its pruning is similar. The thinning of the glass improves the entry of light and air, which favors the uniform ripening of the fruits. The 30% shortening of the stems of the last budding favors the formation of floriferous branches.

The following figure shows some cuts that can be made in this species:

pear pruning


One- and two-year-old bouquets are pruned short (to one-third) and three-year or longer branches are favored; May bouquets are not pruned, they are only thinned out if they are very close or poorly oriented.

cherry pruning

Quince and walnut trees

They require light maintenance pruning to correct crown development. It should be noted that fruiting occurs at the ends of the branches.

Citrus fruit pruning

Formation pruning

Training pruning can be done in the nursery or by the buyer himself. The goals of training pruning are to form a suitable supporting structure to support future tree load.

The other objective of pruning upon receipt of the plants from the nursery or when they are uprooted in the nursery is to balance the aerial part of the plant with the roots that have been pruned or trimmed during the extraction of the nursery row.

The steps to follow are:

  1. a) Cut 50 cm high to favor the development of lateral branches.
  2. b) Leave 3 to 4 lateral branches arranged equidistant.
  3. c) Shortened shoots.

Pruning of Fruiting in adult plants

The best time is at the end of winter and before spring bud break. In general, it is convenient to do it after the harvest. This is easy to accomplish in early harvest and mid-season varieties. In the case of those with late production, a decision must be made between sacrificing some of the year’s production for the benefit of the next harvest or having the full production and losing part of the following year, since the fruit must already be pruned. developed and almost mature (winter) on the plant or with the plant with freshly set small fruit (spring – summer).

It should not be done every year (on this point there are differences of opinion among specialists). But it must be taken into account that the lower the frequency, the greater the intensity, the greater the thickness of the branches to be cut and the higher the cost of the operation. Likewise, the thicker the branches, the greater the possibility of entry of diseases.

In the lemon it is recommended a pruning every 2 – 3 years. In this case, no attempt will be made to shape the plant because this is almost impossible due to the type of branching.

Pruning between low and high production regulates production and favors its regularity.

To realize the quality of pruning we must observe the following aspects:

  1. a) If the pruning was too soft, the next sprouting will be short.
  2. b) If the pruning was too intense, it will cause a strong budding, the formation of a large number of “suckers” and poor fruiting.
  3. c) A well executed pruning will stimulate the growth of medium shoots and a balanced production with it. Small plants are more efficient in production and this is achieved, on the one hand, with the type of plants (variety and rootstock used) and, on the other, with the regulation of pruning.

Guiding Considerations for Shade Trees

They are regularly pruned from the juvenile period to develop a strong frame with tall and resistant branches.

Of the branches that are crossed, the less important ones are cut, leaving the one that favors growth and the shape imposed on the crown. Los Fresnos, Alamos, Arces, Paraísos and Olmos, admit annual conduction pruning at the end of winter, avoiding making repeated cuts in the same place so that “stumps” do not form that hinder the circulation of the sap.

prune fruit trees

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