Advise - Starting to prune dwarf sweet cherry tree as a fan

Hi all,

I would like to start pruning my sweet cherry tree which I planted in the fall last year. I want it to follow a wire structure and have read that the “fan” style would be preferred over “espalier” for cherry trees.

I’m really nervous to prune the branches as I would be cutting away a lot :slight_smile: Could someone confirm that the red stripes in the picture below would indeed be the good cutting points?

I’ve retrieved my information from these sources:


i have not fan trained a cherry myself.
So wait for other to respond before pruning :slight_smile:

But those red stripes seem like goot places to cut.
If you cut at those positions, you get a Y fan. You cut the middle red stripe, to avoid central leader dominance. And you shorten the left and right brance to force it to branch out, so you can work more on the framework of the fan. You might even want to shorten the horizontal branches a bit more. Hard to estimate distances/budcount on the picture.

I have also seen example where they would cut the central stem a little higher. around where the label is on the picture. This way you start out with 4 stems for the fran. Id personaly prefure the Y fan though. And cut like on the picture.

However keep in mind that cherry fruitset usualy goes downhil fast on branches 5+year old. So even within the fan you will have to try and replace most branches every 5 years. Or keep the “framework” fan branches far enough apart so you can replace the shorter wood often.

Another option would be to UFO train.
page 50 of this manual explains that well.

For that you would keep the cut in the middle where the red line is. But not cut the left and right branche.

Also looking in the guide at where cherry’s fruit. (base of 1year old wood few cherry’s. Main crop on 3year old wood+) is verry usful to understand, before you start thinking about training the cherry.
If you want the largest cherry’s you’ll prune mainly for shorter 1 year old branches, like explained on the SSA part of the manual. However this will cost you crop amount.

For practical reasons i would go for UFO. Or keep it as a fan for the astethicaly pleasing shape. However keep in mind you want verry little permanent wood in the fan, and plan to replace almost every brance once every 5 years to keep it fruitfull. Cherry’s and peaches are some of the harder fruits to train into ornamental tree forms.

Oscar gave a great explanation. I agree that I would go for the UFO train. Cherry branches tend to grow upward and UFO allows for the vertical habit. It becomes more like grape pruning, allowing left and right cordons, and, in this case, replacing the vertical shoots every 3 years or so.
Oscar is right that the fan would probably be more aesthetically pleasing, but the fan requires keeping track of a lot of side-growing laterals.
The cherry-laden tree will be a sight to behold either way! Happy growing.

the tree is well set up for UFO, you don’t have to go only one direction. UFO will often have one horizontal going left and one going right. you can cut out everything but the horizontals you have at the bottom, leave those full length, then girdle them every 30cm (score with a razor knife) to promote shoots

The fan shape is an espalier. If you want cherries, I suggest not an espalier. It will look very pretty in bloom and in fruit, but you will not have many to eat or cook with.

I could have been more clear. like cdmarijan and z0r pointed out. For the UFO you can keep both the horizontal left and right branches :slight_smile:
I think they call this dubble UFO. (where Y/V UFO is used for a trellis system where they bend the vertical shoots to the front and the back, alternating.)

The growing style has some similairities with guyote grape growing. Although with guyote you replace everythinng except the main stem each year.

With cherry’s you keep the 2 horizontal branches. And cut 20% of the thickest/oldest vertical branches each year. To renew every brance once every 5 years. Pruning at 3 years wil cost you most of your fruit. Pruning at 5 years seems to be the sweet spot. Although your enviroment/rootstock/productivity of cherry cultivar might shift this a year

It also has similairities to future orchards / multi leader concepts (new zealand/italy).
Although with apples you keep both the 2 horizontal branches and the verticals. Since they can spur bear/renew.

@Silencer001 do you already have some experiance with espaliers? or other ornamental tree forms?
If not, UFO will probably be more productive and easier to form and grow. If however you already have some experiance and the asteathic appeal is really inportant, a fan is definitly the way to go.

Just my opinion though :slight_smile:

If you go for fan, it might be wise to look at a few older cherry tree’s. If you count back the years growth from outside to inside. You can learn to spot the difference between the 2 year old “leaf” spurs. And the 3+ year old fruiting spurs. You can also spot the difference between the leaf buds and the fruiting buds at the base of last years growth. If you get a “feel” for these. Pruning a cherry fan is definitly possible.

@oscar, @cdamarjian, mrsg47 & z0r: Wow, what an overwhelming response. I really appreciate your time to provide me with such useful information. It went through your replies and the (very useful) PDF and by looking at it closely there is really much more to it than I initially thought. It also provide me with new forms of training which I didn’t find in my research up until this point. So again: many thanks!

I don’t have any experience with espalier or any other form of training. So I will go with the UFO shape and prune right above the 2 horizontal branches. It just feels so scary to prune almost the full height of the tree :smile: I will prune the tree as soon as the weather forecast doesn’t predict rain and will apply wound sealant on the cuts since I read that cherries are susceptible for diseases after pruning.

I found a video of Greg Lang and the UFO shape also appears to be the most productive of all newly used training methods (Number 1: UFO on Gisela 3, number 2: UFO on Gisela 5). I have the Gisela 5 variant.

I do still have 1 question: I ordered this variant abroad and the horizontal branches were pruned before shipping unfortunately. I assume that I should try to extend the current branches with a new shoot up until the end of the trellis and then guide it upwards? In some other books I have found that masking tape was used at the end of the tip to guide the new shoot in the same direction?

Many thanks again!

so yeah UFO is the highest yielding training system that’s been studied but only in the context of close row-to-row and in-row spacing, the individual tree yield may be less (ore more) than another system. You could keep all of your wood and come up with your own training method, that will give you fruit sooner since you’re keeping more wood. Going to UFO is going to be a bit of a reset for the tree and you’ll essentially lose a year. btw I just headed back a tree on newroot1 (about g3 size) to do UFO with it, one left one right starting this year which is why it’s interesting to me

I think 10-12 ft rows are typical and Dr. Lang’s studies have been to try to determine the best in-row spacing for each rootstock/training system combo. g3 would be planted closer together (at 3-5 feet) than g5 and the scion also contributes somewhat to the overall vigor. I think g5 usually gets about 5-8 feet in-row space for UFO. they can be kept smaller than they want to be but this leads to them developing more vigor and less fruit as they’re pruned so if you can you want to reserve 5-8 feet wide for it

here’s a good video on starting a UFO tree. you rub the buds off on the sides/bottom to get verticals going. for the leader, you just keep pulling a shoot down to the bottom wire until you fill your space. Your idea to tape up the new leader looks fine but I think commercial farmers aren’t spending that much time on it, they only take a few minutes per tree so they just tie the new leader to the wire and move on. another advantage to UFO is that the pruning/training decisions are very formulaic so you can have low skill labor do the right thing quickly


Z0r Posted some good tips and a verry relevant video!

You could do the masking tape thing if you want. It would be mainly cosmetic though.
You could also just let the tip of the horizontals grow. (if you bend the tip a little higher it will grow that shoot longer)

And bend them down at the end of season.

You already said it was on G5. Do you also know the scion or fruiting variety? Is it a verry fruitfull or self polination variety?
And what climate are you in? (you can also fill this in in your profile. Verry usefull!)

btw if you do the masking tape trick. you will stil have to let the new shoot bend upwards. Otherwise it will grow verry little. (veritcal branches get priority above horizontal ones in the tree, all other things being equal)

the Long, Lang, Kaiser cherry book I’m reading (Sweet Cherries - Lynn E. Long, Gregory A. Lang, Clive Kaiser - Google Books) mentions this free pruning guide: PNW667 Cherry Training Systems | OSU Extension Catalog | Oregon State University
most of the chapters in this book are adapted from the authors’ previous public works. this one has a nice section on UFO although the starting point is planting a whip at a 45 so it’s not an exact guide for your tree

@z0r & @oscar : Thanks for the reply and information!

Indeed, that’s a good remark to make. I didn’t realize that this was the scope of the trial, sorry. I’ve decided to go with the UFO setup. I’m aware about the reset and it will take longer to fruit. Hoping to create a good structure and have a good yield in the years afterwards.

I’ve cut the tree and applied some wound sealant to the cuts and rubbed of the buds below the trunk and at the bottom of the laterals.

I do have a follow-up question regarding the location where 2 buds are closely located to each other. Would you rub off 1 of the 2? And which would you choose since both of them are located on the side.

It’s a “grace star” cherry variety. I wanted it to be a self pollination variety. My neighbors have 2 cherry trees, but he was unaware about the variety. And I was interested to try a variety which isn’t that much known or available in our local stores at least. I’m located in Belgium which would translate to zone “8a” if I understood you correctly.

To bend the laterals a little bit upwards, would you use bamboo sticks in the frame or use the trellis wire above and binding wire to let it point upwards? I just realized I forgot to do this after the pruning.

I’ve received some keiki paste from a friend who is working with orchids. Would I be able to use this paste on the buds to increase the chance that they will break into upwards?

Hello Silencer
Nice to see someone from the EU on the forum. Im in the netherlands thus verry close to you.

If you don’t mind. It is helpful to fill out your climate zone/location on the profile part of the forum :slight_smile:
That way people can give you better advise.

If you read the manual, you’r supposed to active a bud to grow an upright every 20 cm (8inch). You can do this by notching or rubbing off other buds.

You could leave both buds. You could leave 1, or you could remove both (in the picture it seems like the 2 horizontal facing buds are close to the left and right buds. Thos left and right i estimate are about 20cm apart?

It might not give you a clear picture of what to do. The thing is. as long as you end up with 1 upward growing shoot around every 20 cm in the coming years. Your fine. There are multiple ways to get there.

I would just leave both buds. And prune the shoots where you don’t want them early. Or i would rubb off all buds except 1 every 20cm.

I have no experiance with keiki paste. Seems like an intresting thing. Basicaly cytokines in paste form. To promote shoot formation. You can however get the same effect by notiching. (decreases auxines coming from shoot growth, increases cytokine buildup coming from root tip growth)

I would recomend experimenting with it. But not now. There are many proven ways to get what you want with the UFO training. Better to go for those. And run a seperate experiment with keiki paste.

Also it will be quite normal to not have all the uprights grow in the 1 year. That is why the guide recomends pruning away the overly vigourus uprights, and shortening the others a bit. To get more uprights the 2e year.

@oscar, @z0r I wanted to provide an update on my cherry tree. It has put out some good growth, but not all buds developed a branch on the horizontal branch as you can see in the image below. It seems that the vertical branches closest to the trunk are the most vigorous. I think the one on the right qualifies as a bull shoot. Up until mid june all 4 verticals were practically identical, but afterwards the 2 shoots on the right hand side started growing higher.

The buds that broke on the right hand side appear to be larger and I assume that these will become fruiting spurs next year? Do you think that next year, there is still a chance that this bud will develop an upright? I was thinking to use the notching technique in March to hopefully be able to get some growth going… I will upload a picture of the buds in a new comment due to the limitation of only being able to upload 1 image.

Regarding pruning, I was thinking to do the following:

  • Pinch the 2 right vertical shoots so they won’t grow stronger asap. In the guide, it was mentioned that it should be done mid summer.
  • In November, remove the right vertical shoot (while keeping 3-4cm for regrowth) since it’s a bull shoot
  • In November, thin out the other 3 vertical shoots up until the 1st trellis (25 cm in length) so it’s uniform in size with all the other branches
  • Around March next year (right after I see the buds opening), notching the buds on the horizontal branch to stimulate it to create new verticals

I’ve read that after the first year of the experiment of Greg Lang, he removed all vertical branches since they weren’t growing uniformly. Do you think that I should do the same or can I keep some growth up until the first trellis?

Side question: Will the cherry tree still keep on growing after this point or has all the growth settled for this year?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Picture of the buds on the right hand side which didn’t break and are located on the old wood of the previous year:

Close up picture of the thickness of the vertical branches:

it’s a bit hard to say what to do exactly.

And i think there are multiple options that can work, based on your personal preferences.

If you want fruit as fast as possible, i would leave it as is, or prune the larger uprights back by 50% now.

Personally, if it was my tree, I’d prune back all uprights to a stump with 1-2 buds. In hopes of getting a more uniform spread of uprights. This will delay some of the fruiting by 1 year though.

So either you deal with the uneven uprights now, or over the coming years. Only thing to worry about is that old cherry branches can go “blind wood” meaning they don’t have any (large) buds left. If your horizontals go blind before you have enough uprights, it can be a bit of a pain. But i would not expect that to happen next year. So you should be fine.

your 1 year ahead of me though. So this is purely speaking from what if read, not from experience in a similar circumstance.

For me, silver leaf disease is a thing. So i don’t prune in winter. I don’t know if it is for you though.