Fruit Tree Pruning Guide - This one I really like

I’ve found fruit tree pruning esp. apple quite confusing and that it’s a difficult concept for me. I’ve looked up UMass Extension Services. It links this guide from Boyer Nursery.

I’ve found the instructions easier (for me) to understand. It makes sense to me.

For those who are as confused as I am about pruning, I hope you take time to read this link. I printed out a copy out for reference. I admit I’ve read a few times since I’m a slow learner :smile:


Thanks for the link. I’ve actually read that guide last year. It is very thorough. I too struggle with pruning concepts and tend to overthink things. Apple pruning to me seems easiest but I still don’t really understand the concept of pruning and causing vegetative buds to switch to fruiting buds.

I only got a few paragraphs in before I saved it. This is a very useful, very user-friendly guide. Thanks for finding and sharing it.

Speed and Mark,
When experts fet technical on growing, fertilizing, pruning, my head spins. It goes way over my head.

This one, like you said, very user- friendly.

Pruning apple is the hardest to me. Pruning peach, plums or even pears wrong, they still fruit for you. Pruning apple wrong, it may not produce for you that year.

Mamaung, I think I have messed up my pear more than anything! Even though it has been very well behaved in terms of responding to cuts and forming a good shape and structure, I’ve inhibited fruiting on some of the varieties on it. I still get fruit off of some of the other varieties, though, so I won’t starve this year.

I’ve struggled most with stone fruit. I don’t know to what degree it is pruning error and what is disease-caused, but I’ve killed off every apricot I’ve attempted (although I did get some fruit from a couple) and my plums died too. Thank heavens for my apple!

:- )M

Thanks, Mamauang. I’ve saved the article and will print it out this weekend. I confess, espalier confuses me, too. I know it shouldn’t be hard, but I stuggle to understand where to prune. I’ll probably have to read it a few times as well, lol!

Patty S.

I too have read that guide before. I read it, re-read it and still am reading it. I have taken the guide out to my orchard and placed the guide on a chair next to my tree while I prune. Anyone trying to tell you how to prune in a forum or email, might as well be teaching you how to knit over the phone! It takes time and practice and getting rid of those vertical water sprouts! Its finally working for me. Thanks Mam!:heart_eyes:

The secret to pruning the right way is first knowing your rootstock then the variety,like apple,pear stonefruits etc.For instance I grow apples with a modified central leader,then as they grow you prune them for fruit production,no watersprouts,short side branches of your main scaffold branches. You have to do it judiciously, than after four years or maybe 5 you have a beautiful tree and it will be full of fruits.

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I see two methods of dealing with watersprouts. One removes them completely and the other cuts them back to four buds causing it to produce fruit spurs. I have no idea which is better.

Wow. Put a BIG light bulb on here. Every spring I’ve been doing my pruning to an old legacy tree trying to bring it under control and make it more productive. The water sprouts make the tree look almost comical and I haven’t been able to figure out how to control them from the massive haircut I’ve been giving the tree. (The tree is a standard and I topped it a couple years ago because we simply couldn’t get the fruit 25+ feet in the air.)

Last year we had a fair amount of fruit, but GOOD sized fruit. Previously we’ve had a TON of fruit, but all very small and mostly useless. I was laying out plans to go clean it up again for this season, but now know NOT to chop them off until July to deter more vigorous growth.

Thanks for this!

Thanks for posting the guide. I have saved it.

It is a very nicely written and clear guide. I never heard of pre-bending branches while supporting the crotch to help prevent the splitting off of excessively stiff branches and look forward to trying this method (probably today). I rely on hinges- but these are mostly branches that can’t be bent at all.

The guide is missing one very fundamental concept and in time I believe you will be limited in your ability to make decisions if you fail to grasp it.

It doesn’t mention the importance of relative branch diameter in relation to dominance and fruitfulness. This is especially true of apple trees.

Spreading is not the panacea and sometimes excessively thick branches need to be removed and replaced. Relative diameter of a scaffold has just as much affect on its vegetative vigor as its angle.

I much prefer the simplest explanation for originally training most varieties of free standing apple trees to simply remove all branches more than a third the diameter of the trunk and leave the tree alone otherwise until it comes into bearing. Once the tree starts bearing you choose your permanent scaffolds and tiers of scaffolds and open the tree up to allow light throughout the tree.

This is what many commercial operations did when free standing trees were the norm simply because it is the easiest and quickest way to bring a tree into productivity.

Once the tree is in fruiting mode the question of relative diameter is brought into the equation while making decisions of what to remove when eliminating crowding secondary and tertiary branches. Maintain each scaffold as if it was a more horizontal central leader tree and remove lateral branches that threaten its dominance because they are too thick.

Anything more than half the diameter at its point of attachment to its dominant branch (the "trunk of the branch) is removed as needed to keep the tree adequately open. You don’t automatically remove such a branch if it isn’t crowding better proportioned branches, but those are the branches you remove first to open up the tree adequately.

This may seem complicated compared to the clear writing of the article here but if you grasp the idea of relative diameters from the beginning of training trees you will be much more successful at getting trees productive early within their allotted space.

A basic guide will give you confidence and comfort, but only experience and watching the results of your mistakes actually will lead to a clear understanding of how to manage the pruning of fruit trees. The nice thing about apple trees is that they can always be rebuilt, no matter how badly they were originally trained. If you start with an awareness of the importance of diameter ratios, this will never be necessary.


You may be interested in the Umass extension fruit program is doing a Apple pruning class for home owners in Harvard Massachusetts on January 30. It’s under the Mass Aggies Seminars on their site. Jon Clements is doing it and he’s the guy in Massachusetts that works with orchards to improve their fruits.

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Alan’s advice about removing certain branches once they reach a largish diameter compared to the branch to which they are attached is one of the things that contributed most to my understanding of pruning. A light bulb definitely lit up for me once I understood the need.

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Thanks Mamuang. I’ve printed out a copy for my “leisure” reading materials!


John - thanks for the news about the seminar. I’ll see if I can clear my schedule to attend. Harvard is only half an hour drive up 495.

Alan- since I have read your posts for all these years (does not mean I remember many), I do know about the what you mentioned above. Thanks for your advice here for those who have not read it before.

Like I said, I like this guide because the writer makes it easy for someone like me to understand.

Mrs.G. - I will copy your method of taking the guide out into the orchard with me. Reading, pruning, reading,and more pruning. Hope the end result is not a disaster (in case I turn the wrong page)

Markmnt - re. the light bulb it up. I can’t find my light bulb :slight_smile: I have not killed any tree by pruning yet but it could happen.

I am glad that quite a few of us find this guide helpful.


It depends if you need to populate that portion of the scaffold arm with fruiting buds. If you have enough fruiting buds/spurs and a water shoot comes up too close to an existing spur it gets cut off at the base.

Easy… Pizzie


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Mike- Thanks. Is that one heading cut to four buds on the watersprout usually enough to generate fruit spur(s) or is further pinching needed after those four buds sprout?



Cut the shoot off at a 45-degree angle with your hand pruners three leaves above the basal cluster at the base of the shoot. This leaves a short stump above the cluster from which new fruiting wood can develop.

see this link



If I ever go an espalier route, I will ask Mike for advice.

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