When to prune off low branches for maximum growth?

I have a bunch of small, young, apple and pear trees that are less than 3’ tall that I planted last year. I have had quite a lot of vole and rabbit damage in the past so my goal is to really protect them well. It seems to work well to wrap the trunks with aluminum window screen, but due to the snow depth here I really need to go up at least 4’ or they can be girdled.

So my goal is that when they are mature trees, I have no branches under 4’ high, and then I would just be able to leave them wrapped with the window screen for protection. But right now they are under that height so there needs to be lower branches, so I have to have more temporary protection.

But I’m wondering how I should go about pruning off the low branches that I know I will not keep long term. Should I prune some of the low ones off right when they first start to grow in the spring? Or should I wait until the tree is dormant in the winter? And then how far up should I prune? It seems I need to keep some branches for now that I will eventually prune off so the tree can make enough leaves. But it is also unfortunate that the tree spends energy growing low branches that will eventually be removed.

What I’m really after is figuring out the timing of pruning to accomplish maximum vertical growth in the shortest time. Once the tree is vertical above a certain height then I can wrap the trunk with window screen and have permanent vole and rabbit protection.



Normally you want to prune once dormant in fall or very early spring before sap rises, but given your particular situation, I would suggest, if the tops are healthy now, do it now so you can encourage a good strong leader. Then proceed thereafter to prune normal times, if you prune now, seal the cuts very well with pruning sealer.
Kent, wa

Wait till dormant so the tree can pull the nutrients out of the leave before dropping them.

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How many of the lower branches would you prune off in winter? Like all of them, leaving a bare trunk, or would it be best to take off like the lower 1/3 of branches so it has more leaf collection area with the upper branches, and then plan on pruning higher and higher for a couple years? Thanks.

My conditions might be different than yours. I planted five small trees this past winter. Apple, pear, and plums. Due to only a minimal amount of snow I used a short section of hardware cloth for protection from rabbits. When the tree starts growing upward and a few side branches pop out. I immediately pinch or cut these off leaving one or two leaves. As the tree grows I continue cutting the side branches off and as the trunk gets stronger I go back and completely remove the lower ones. I did my last removal about a week ago and I plan to wait until they are dormant for more removal. My opinion is that with this method you get faster top growth and move toward the tree form you’re looking for. Adding a little fertilizer along the way also helps speed up the growth.


Your trees are 3 foot tall babies, those lower branches are like baby teeth, fulfilling an important role in early tree life photosynthesis. I would let them be until the trees are as tall as you.