Heading Cuts vs Thinning Cuts

Just when I thought I knew enough to avoid heading cuts on apples/pears/persimmon (delays fruiting, disrupts hormone flows, causes a rat’s nest of re-growth, etc) I see this pruning video by JSCadura:

I fear I’ll get a lot of blind wood (no fruit buds) if I don’t head but remember reading somewhere that I’ll get fruit buds without heading cuts. Ideas?

My experience here is that making heading cuts to apples and forcing scaffolding for the purpose a smaller, less vertical tree can affect bloom in the near term but the prospects for sizeable crops after a few years is excellent.


i differentiate between the effect of heading vs thinning cuts based on branch thicknes/vigor.

Heading a thick branch will get you a lot of side shoots. Heading a thin branch can get you more fruit wood.

If you want to prune a vigorous branche that’s in a “bad” spot. Thinning cut.
If you want to promote side branching of a vigorous branch, heading cut.

The video talks about managing distance between side branches in an open center. You can also get those by brakeing of buds with your thumbnail. The left over buds will than form branches on the heights/directions you want. (depending on vigor of the tree)

you might have to nip some of the faster growth that’s higher up to get all side branches balanced though.

I usually do my thinning cuts first (branches facing the wrong direction, bad crotch angles. etc
And than most of the rest are heading cuts.


I’ve been doing heading cuts to get some of the buds further down the stem to sprout/leaf out, but no luck. It’s an apple, and the variety is Sierra beauty. Do you know how I could get alot more branching?

I don’t like how heading cuts make for stiffer trees. I much prefer long flexible branches which can arch and bend under the weight of the fruit.

notching could be worthwhile

Correcting blind wood in apples - MSU Extension.

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With a small number of trees (backyard grower) notching would be as effective as heading to force branching, right? I’ve notched for many years but heading might be quicker, easier. Notching has an advantage of not delaying fruiting, I believe.

in my experience notching and heading just are a little different.

It seems harder to wake up dormant or really smal buds with notching than heading. If had 2-3 year old tree’s that i basically headed to the trunk. You get lots of buds to grow that way, that did little when i notched them on a similar tree.

time of year also matters. Lorrette summer pruning is full of heading cuts to promote more spur/fruit bud set. for example. Heading cuts don’t have to delay fruiting they can also promote it.


another famous example of heading leading to more/earlier fruitfulness are kniptrees

(knip is the dutch word for cut)
Those are basically maiden whips headed in dormant season so they promote lots of side branches at the correct Hight. So they can be planted in spindle orchards the next year.

Excellent points. Most of the summer I risk fire blight entering summer pruning cuts so I have to be very careful.

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heading has not worked for my fruit trees

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What time of the year should I try notching?

that’s also an excellent point. fire blight is not really a risk in my climate. But i can imagine summer pruning being really unusual across the pond compared to here.

ideally before bud brake. Notching “messes” with the hormonal balance locally around a bud to make it grow. You get the largest effect if you do it before bud brake. Or during times of a lot of vigor. (mostly vigor/growth in the rootzone)

i haven’t done comparative tests.

But i have also done some summer (more like spring) pruning/nipping of the growing tips combined with notching.

The theory being that the auxines (mostly producing in actively growing tips) inhibits growth of side branches. By lowering the auxines by nipping the growing buds, combined with notching i had hoped to get good results.

And i did get decent/good results on the handfuls of times i tried it. I am however not sure if the nipping really helped or not. Notching does not seem to be super consistent. Sometimes something i notched that i expect to struggle to grow, does fine. And another notch i have high hopes for does nothing.

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I went that route with my very old comice pear tree and last summer the longest branches started snapping under the weight of all the fruit.

Was it needing to be thinned? It also sounds like you’re referring to skipping one season of pruning rather than a tree that was grown that way all along. Were the branches snapping along their length or at the connection points?

It’s a standard size so I couldn’t reach the uppermost branches. They grew out, fruited and snapped. This winter I removed all growth above 10 feet.