Pruning paw paw trees to a reachable height?

Does anyone prune their paw paw trees to keep the fruit at reachable-from-the-ground height? If yes, what’s your method?

I have 4 paw paw trees in my yard, they’re maybe 12 or so feet tall, fairly narrow given their height, with a strong central leader. Do I prune with a traditional Christmas tree shape central leader? Or do I try to convert to an open center?

The trees have never been pruned before (except for a few broken branches that I trimmed off as necessary).


I do not trim because the animals pick them and drop them when they are at half size. They are gone before they start ripening.

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia, so there’s not much animal pressure where I live, probably cause the human pressure is so great :yum:

I live in center city Cincinnasti, Ohio and you would be surprised what’s running around in our sewers, trash cans, and neighborhood fruit trees.


I know a grower who tops his at 8 ft but I haven’t tried it with mine yet.

Here’s a picture of one of my trees, for reference, but the other trees are very similar.

Danzeb, do you happen to know what shape the grower prunes to?


All you need to do is cut back the central leader to a height of your choice.
Do NOT prune for an open center like a peach tree.
The fruits need protection from the sun. Remember, these are a naturally shade-loving tree.
Good luck!


Thanks! If I top of the central leader by about 4 feet or so (so that it’s about 8 feet high), should I trim the side branches proportionately to keep the tree triangle shaped, or let the side branches grow up and out so that the tree ends up more globe shaped?

I don’t know anyone that has done that. What you’re doing is the equivalent of trying to keep an apple dwarfing on a full size rootstock, as all pawpaws are technically on full sized rootstocks as well. I suspect you’ll get a lot of vegetative growth thrown constantly and you’ll be in a regular campaign to prune to maintain shame and induce fruiting.

I took my 20’ pawpaw to 15’, and it throws out a ton of new growth since.

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It isn’t so different from pruning any fruit tree and I’m not even so sure about TT’s comments about them being shade loving meaning fruit needs to be protected from excess sun exposure. I’ve never seen a sunburned paw paw, but trees do naturally shade their fruit.

Upper scaffolds of any tree will dominate the lower ones if not pruned back so the answer is yes whether you are pruning a paw paw or apple to a “modified central leader”.

In general branches need to be shorter the further up they are. Always cut back to a shoot and don’t leave bare stubs. That’s just pruning 101. It may help trees protect themselves from fungus, but to my eye, always looks less brutal. I like it when I’ve pruned a lot of wood out of a tree and you can barely see it’s been pruned.

For trees that you are trying to allow light as close to the individual fruit as possible, scaffolds are often arranged in tiers in which above tiers are maintained at half the length or so of the tier of branches immediately below. Tiers are usually arranged with 3-4’ distance between bottom and next tier. I don’t think this is needed with paw paws because they seem to do a good job of distributing sugar to fruit regardless of sun exposure.

Except that a paw paw tree is naturally semi-dwarf and an apple can reach heights in excess of 70 feet on seedling roots. There is no reason not to keep a paw paw at a relatively low height and I’ve always done it to make harvesting easier.


I guess it’s a case of relative. 8 to 70 is truly dwarfing. 8 vs 20/25 may not so much. I think pawpaws look great just as trees, so I try to leave them as is. Then again, I care much about pawpaws so I don’t invest much effort into the harvest process.

The local pawpaw growers association rep just lets them fall and then collects to harvest. Another NaFex member here has strung up netting about 2-3 feet off the ground to catch them as they fall without any bruising.

I think @TrilobaTracker meant about the fruit not necessarily about the tree itself. The fruit can have a tendency to crack (pretty sure it’s somewhat cultivar dependent too) when exposed to too much sun. At least that is what some of the growers association have said. It’s also speculated that it may also be due to fungal reasons, but we get cracking here without any Phyllosticta fruit spot, so I don’t know.

That said, usually pawpaws that are in full production and produce good quality fruit are lush and full of enough vegetative growth to shade the fruit, so it’s usually a moot issue.

If you have poor quality soil though, the pawpaws like most other things will kind of peter out their growth and become naturally dwarfing. All of those “pawpaw trees” come out looking like shrubs more than trees though.

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Pawpaws will absolutely suffer from sunscald.
That’s the main impetus behind my comments.
The fact that they naturally are understory trees is not the sole basis for my comment - I actually almost deleted that part LOL
In a recent video, Kirk Pomper at KSU was discussing the need for shade on the fruit and even hinting at hedgerow planting for that purpose.

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All: thank you for the advice!

The tree in the picture is a KSU Atwood that is only 3 years old. It is already the same size as my SAA Overleese and NC-1 trees that are 5 years old. I guess I was worried that the Atwood would take off like a rocket and I wouldn’t be able to reach/pick the fruit (especially since my personal preference is fruit that is not yet brown, so I prefer not to wait for fruit that has dropped).

I think I must be in a prime paw paw growing area. There huge patches growing along a creek behind the train station about a block away from me, and to my eye some trees look 30 feet high. I was worried that my trees would get similarly giant. (Unfortunately, the train station trees have fruit that is just so-so).

I think I’ll take a hybrid approach and try pruning some trees but not all. I have two trees in my front yard, flanking my driveway, and two trees in my back yard. I think I’ll just let the back yard trees grow to full size. They’re SAA Overleese and the NC-1. Maybe they’ll be Giants like the trees down the block!

I’ll try to trim the SAA Overleese and KSU Atwood in the front yard, though. I just don’t want such giant trees shading out the rest of my front garden. I feel like the size they are right now is pretty perfect aesthetically and in terms of reaching the fruit. So even if they throw off a ton of new growth, hopefully that will just bring them back to the current size and I can maintain that going forward.

Other than removing a broken or wayward branch, I’d not prune them at all.
Crop loss and tree health suffers if you prune them. (They’re not like apples that benefit from annual pruning.)

Full sunshine locations will keep their height in check better than partial sun locations.


They will get 20 feet or more over time, even in your yard, if left alone.
Also as you probably know - flowering occurs on last years growth, so depending on when you prune etc it will impact your crop.
I do think repeated heading back of the tree affects its overall health/longevity.

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I have 2 Paw Paw trees and many root suckers coming on. I also have an Comon persimon tree that lost its central leader at about 12 Feet. C.P. Is growing like an African acacia tree

Your Paw Paw will do the same. My goal was to have this tree grow 25 feet while arching over my kitchen roof to branch out to shade my kitchen without shading my citrus trees against the south side of my house.

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If you’d read the quote you would see that’s also what I was talking about.

Those are some good suggestions to reducing bruising, although it wouldn’t stop fruit from striking branches on the way down.

The main benefit I see of picking them before they fall but show a little softness is that they keep longer. It is a lot easier to distribute them before they rot if you pick them before they are drop off the tree ripe.


Based on what, exactly? Some of the longest lived oaks in the world are in England where for centuries they were pruned back to use the outer wood for tool handles.

I think that keeping trees stout is just as likely to increase longevity as reduce it based on a lot of anecdotal evidence. The taller and greater the spread of a tree the greater the leverage to uproot it, for one thing.

I manage literally hundreds of century plus old apple trees that have been pruned annually or intermittently. It is the ones allowed to grow excessively tall and gangly that seem the most likely to topple.

Not that you may not be right in the case of paw-paws. My sense is that they are probably relatively short lived trees anyway.

I don’t either, but I like to discuss and even argue to help myself and others learn about my favorite subject- fruit trees. I’m a New Yorker, and we don’t take being contradicted as an insult as it seems to me that the more gentle cultures of the south and midwest sometimes do. In the South the tendency is to be very polite until the matter needs to be settled with a shotgun. :wink:


My apologies. I have no skin in this, just repeated what I have been told.

My oldest apple is probably a century old. I’ve always wondered how long pawpaws would hold out in comparison. Ken at Oikos says its 20-30 years for main trunk.. I suppose its always hard to say since pawpaws will grow into clonal patch when undisturbed. Do the clonal suckers count toward the life of the main tree?

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