Using Dave Wilson techniques to keep trees small

My trees are between 8 and ten years old. As I developed my orchard I added trees the first three years. These are only trees in the city. I have more than one orchard. So I wanted to keep them small. I never wanted full size trees. For years I wanted to grow fruit trees but it was impractical. Then I discovered you can keep trees small by pruning a few times a year. I decided to try it. As small fruit trees would be very doable for me.
So do these techniques work? Judge for yourself
Here is a Santa Rosa plum. Since Santa Rosa hardly fruits here most of the tree is other plums now. It has four plums each with their own scaffold.
All trees have been kept at seven feet a few need pruning again. This tree is 8th leaf

Satsuma plum tree with Vermont, Toka, a pluot, and superior plum. 10th leaf

Here is Nadia also has four plums added. This is 8th leaf.

The only multiple graft tree I purchased that way. I added two more for good measure. 10th leaf.

White Gold cherry tree with a couple of other cherries added. I added Utah Giant and I’m in the process of replacing all scaffolds with it. It’s taking forever. 9th leaf.

Here is Indian Free peach I added 3 pluots and two nectarines. The lowest of my trees at six feet. 10th leaf.

I try to thin to about 50 fruits a tree. It’s not easy to get maximum results as stuff happens. As I age I’m starting to lean to the easier stuff to grow. But I have no plans to stop growing them anytime soon.


Some of the spoils of hard work

Dried Indian Free. These are so good I can’t stop eating them.

At last harvest

A closer look

Plum meets cherry Nadia


This is SUPER interesting. Thank you so much for sharing these real life examples. I’m about 2 years into my fruit tree journey and my goals for my little backyard are very much the same - prolonged harvest, small trees, manageable fruit, lots of varieties to try.

I had some specific Qs about some of my trees in terms of pruning advice for this kind of approach. I’ll post pics and detailed Qs here over the next few days/weeks. Thanks for starting this thread!


The thing that I have learned is that certain characterisics that may be unfavorable to a grower of full size trees is favorable for a backyard grower trying to prune trees to a manageable size. For instance, suckering is very helpful when aggressively pruning. You can butcher a tree low and it will shoot out new branches everywhere. I really like Mariana 2624 for this reason. Also, trees with older fruiting wood are MUCH easier to keep small. Peaches can be tricky for this reason, unless you have space to stretch them wide. However, this is not a problem with early varieties since you can trim them right after picking the fruit and still get another crop. I imagine in southern cal this is true for pretty much all varieties, very jealous.


I learned most of my pruning skills from just doing it. Lee Reich has a great book on pruning, and lots of videos are out there. Peaches are the hardest for sure. I found Indian free peach to be able to generate plenty of wood. I use seedlings often for rootstock.
Renewal pruning of currants and blueberries helps with understanding what you need to do. As i have to prune them to produce well too. Expect to make mistakes and try and learn from it.
One key way I found was that to prune to lateral branch stimulates lateral to become a new leader. It will grow well. At some point I may need to cut back far and lose a season of fruit. If you do one scaffold at a time you can still get some production.


Drew, great topic, I am following this thread closely


When I first started growing pluots I was told they are a west coast fruit. So l looked around and.a commercial grower in Michigan was selling pluots.
So I decided to try them. I realize you may have conditions that just won’t work for pluots. All I can say is they work here. I lost a lot when brown rot was bad one year. The trees that work well here are The dapple series, Geo Pride. And a few others. Most I have not tested. Splash is decent here.
What I love is how big they are and still have outstanding taste. I can’t get the brix like California but the pluots have higher brix here than plums here.
Look at the size if these puppies!


Nectarines are high on my list of fruits I really like.
Arctic Glo

Spice Zee Nectaplum is a low chill nectarine and some wondered if it would work here. It does work here. The Nectaplum is the largest nectarine I have seen!

Before I knew to thin better, Indian Free

Dapple Dandy and Flavor King pluot. Both nice fruits if you ask me.

Indian Free peach makes incredible jam


That looks amazing Andrew!

Here are some pics of my tiny backyard plantings. I know they are way too close for any commercial plantings or even for larger backyards and yards.

Multi grafted Pluot: Flavor Queen, Dapple Dandy, Flavor King and Flavor Supreme - anti-clockwise from the left front corner.

About 5 ft to the right - 2-in-one-hole Peaches:
August pride on the left, mid-pride on the right:

About 5ft to the right:
Snow Queen Nectarine:

About 6-7 ft to the right:
Tropic Gold Apricot:
(Edit - fixed the pic. I had posted a duplicate pic)

I can post more detailed pics. Would love any pruning advice. This is the first year I have peaches in the ground so I’m really excited to try to get some to ripen. I only had a handful of peaches from a tree in a pot a few years ago. If I need major work on it, I’m hoping I can do it after it finshed holding fruit :frowning:

Edit: I’m negotiating with my neighbor to remove that creeping fig. If I do that, I’ll get a LOT more afternoon Sun on these trees.

Thanks in advance!


@Drew51 also just planted this VdB fig into a 15gal. Fig is very thin but had good roots. It’s leafing out from the tip. Would you recommend I cut it to about 2 ft tall? Or let it lead out?


Hmm well if you wanted to have a tree form you could cut it the height you want scaffolds. You can do that now or at the end of the season. Say you want it a foot taller. Trunks will fatten up so don’t be concerned it’s thin. Put it in good light. If you cut now fruiting will be delayed. I like to prune while dormant.
I have a short season. I may prune off junk or branches I don’t want anytime. Pruning may stimulate branches from the base to sprout.
On stone fruit cut 2/3 of last years growth off. Yes you’re cutting fruiting wood but you’re leaving some. It’s hard to keep under control without keeping it in check. Usually you want a bowl shape so prune central leader to highest scaffold. You can direct growth by cutting to branch that goes in the direction you want. Tying scaffolds down to keep more horizontal works well too. Keep them tied all growing season or longer.


Thanks @Drew51!

I want to keep it like a short (ish) fig bush and have branches/etc. I think you had mentioned doing something like that on another post I saw. Not exactly sure how big, but definitely not like a massive tree.

Also found this thread where you and other experienced growers have given advice and it seemed like the consensus was to prune it back a bit. I asked the OP on that thread how their plant is doing a few years out :slight_smile:

Thanks for the notes on the stone fruit.
I already did the “cut old wood by 1/2 and then cut new growth by 1/2” technique I heard about and read about. Unfortunately due to some brown rot of stone fruit, most of my new growth on both these peaches was affected or rotted out as it was budding. I managed to get the brown rot under control for now and we will see how they grow this year. Last year we also had rain and overcast skies for 4-5 months almost continuously and I think that contributed significantly to the issues. I think I’ll let the fruit set and then see later in the summer if I can do some structural pruning.

@Olpea, @scottfsmith, and @fruitnut - wondering if you had any thoughts on the peaches and stone fruit as well. (Or of course, on the fig).

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As time goes by I have changed a lot on how I prune. I’m much more aggressive in removing wood. When you get four feet of growth on mature trees I’m not sure why you would want to leave more than a foot. Soon it’s going to be 17 feet tall if not aggressively removing wood. If old or new anything over seven feet is gone all new wood in some cases. With cherry I’m even more aggressive and bring back tree down to five feet cutting four year old wood out if needed to knock it down.


Looking at your peaches you need to thin out a lot of branches, the easiest peach technique is open center to start by removing stuff in the center. Then stub what’s left. Look at some pictures of pruned peaches, for example NC State has some good videos.

Note that one tree is very close to that hedge and you will want to do some degree of a fan on that, remove any branches heading into the bush.


I love this topic Drew, as this was my vision shortly after I planted my first couple apples when I bought my property. Currently my whole setup is laid out for maximum use of the space I do have available.

I did a great deal of research after my first year planting a few dwarf apples and realized I wanted a lot more variety and different fruits. This is the way I found Growing fruit to start with. A lot of google searches would bring me to topics you’d chime in on pertaining to small trees, pruning and varieties. You’re one of the reasons I have multiple pluots planted. I love plums/pluots but really didn’t think they were possible to grow in my climate (never see them growing around here) or to keep them small for a yard my size! I saw you having success in zone 6a and was like well if he can and we have similar climates…and the research continued…

Also saw some pics of Scott smiths orchard on a thread once and saw that close planting of fruit trees can work outside of CA climates—so much inspiration came from that as well.

Currently I have 70 something trees planted in my somewhat small backyard with dwarf apples spaced pretty closely (some in the same hole). Plums, cots and peaches are a little further apart (8 ft or so). With the goal to keep all of my trees at 5-8 ft tops. Now for my new venture- grafting this spring. I am excited to add even more varieties to test. Without a forum like this, talking grafting like it’s any everyday practice-which I’m learning it is if you’re growing fruit long enough, I really don’t know that I would’ve even tried it.

Above is testament to the great resource this forum is—even outside our members list. It’s been my single most reliable source of info out there.


I think you are on the right track in your thinking for a close planting. Close plantings are not only used by backyard growers. Commercial growers have been experimenting with close plantings for quite a few years. The V-systems and pillar systems approach 1000 trees per acre, or more. Some are planted at 5’ apart and less.

Close planting will reduce vigor, so it’s easier to keep the trees small. Drew’s pictures also show a lot of sod around the tree, except for a small area around the trunk, which will also slow vigor. Drew has obviously done a good job managing vigor, but you just want to make sure you don’t slow the trees too much. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope.

Scott gave good advice on pruning. Those videos put out by NCSU are the gold standard, imo for growing a vase shaped peach tree.


Love this! 1000% Agree Dave. This forum is incredible and the openness and willingness to share details and experiences is amazing.

And +1 on grafting. I’m going to try a lot more based on what I’m learning here.


Thanks Scott! Do you think my plan to wait for the fruiting to complete this year before doing any major pruning is OK? I did thin out the peaches quite a bit but they are still mostly “central leader” though the central leader is only about 4-5ft off the ground.

I need to do a lot more work for the multi-grafted pluots and the nectarine and the apricot.

Will watch the video thank you!

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Thank you! Interesting point about the sod around the tree slowing down vigor. I also have a bunch of wood chips (which have now mostly broken down, so I need to get another load).

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On vigor it has not really been an issue for me. I had so many wood chips two years ago but now are pure compost. I also feed well. The native soil is very rich too. My trees can easily grow four feet a year. I sure do a lot of pruning.
I’m just not seeing any lack of vigor.