Winter pruning - why and how?!?!?

So I know this is a very basic and beginner question but let me explain…

When I first got into growing fruit, I read a bunch of books and it seemed like ALL the pruning required was winter pruning.
The books were “Winter pruning this” and “Winter pruning that” So that’s what I did. Then I discovered Gardenweb,
and I learned that winter pruning leads to excessive growth and then more pruning and less fruit, so I switched to summer pruning,
to control vigor and keep the trees productive. Actually, I switched to year 'round pruning - - I remember someone’s quote that
“the best time to prune was when you had a sharp pair of clippers in your hand”.

A lot of my recent year’s pruning has been done right after petal fall. My thinking was to keep as much wood/flowers on the
tree as possible until after bloom as insurance for a late frost/freeze, and then remove a bunch of it to open up the tree for the
growing season.

So fast forward a few years and new website and I see lots of people talking about winter pruning, and I’m wondering what I
should be doing and what sorts of troubles I’ve set myself up for by just doing spring and summer pruning for the last few

What are the goals of your winter pruning?
Does it make sense to leave wood on the tree until after bloom for frost insurance?
Or is it easier and more efficient to shape the tree when it’s completely bare?

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Yes !
That does not mean there isn’t a reason to summer prune if needed for the reasons you already stated.

Bart I use your method a lot. Don’t think you are missing anything of serious consequence by not winter pruning.

What I don’t hear much about is renewal pruning. I’ve found that important esp on stone fruit. That’s the hardest part for me and probably mostly a winter pruning issue.

I think as long as you’re pruning, you’ll be fine. If you get good fruiting, then there’s you’re proof! I suspect most recommendations for winter pruning are derived from commercial recommendations, and for a full time orchardist winter is when you have to time.


Yep. Some people want to prune when there is less activities and they have time available.

Also, it does help to see the structure of the trees when there isn’t any leaves or blossoms on them (especially large trees).

Cabin fever might also play a role. :grin:


I have a hard time figuring out structure in the summer. So I prune for shape, in the winter. Get rid of those cross branches. I can judge how close the branches are in the winter. A huge difference if you ask me. I cannot visualize structure well when the tree has full leaves. In summer I prune for size and don’t worry about structure. I also renewal prune my sweet cherry in the summer. Cherries are different here, rootstock matters


So true! Last spring before anything bloomed, I made all sorts of mental notes on which branches to remove after flowering and fruiting. But of course by the time I got around to doing the pruning, everything had leafed out and I could no longer tell which branches needed to go. It was so obvious a leafless tree, but so confusing when they were leafed out! I’ll probably mark the branches somehow if I don’t just remove them while still dormant.

I have removed a lot of crossed branches this year too! I am removing them along with good scion wood. I did receive an email from the head of the Hort. Dept.from the Uni. of RI and she said just this week, NEVER prune in the winter, with no explanation. Better ask her whats up!

I am in zone 6, it’s 50 F here. But it can get cold later. If I prune now, and the weather gets cold later, would it hurt the tree? What about pruning it at dead of the winter? Would that hurt the tree ?

My thinking is prune early should prevent energy going to the branches that eventually get prun off. But I also vaguely remember reading it somwhere that pruning in the winter can hurt the tree somehow, prevent healing or something?

I am very confused.

Well I would not prune in the dead of winter, that’s not a good idea, although it’s nice to get scion when the tree is very dormant. the scions last. Besides that I do my major pruning late winter early spring, You can collect scion then too, still dormant but not super cold either. I just did that yesterday. It’s really not that cold out. Also with cherries winter pruning can allow for fungal infections. I’m hearing that with apricots now too. Late winter is not winter pruning (It’s spring pruning). At least in my book. Cherries on Gisela need the tips pruned before bud break. My thinking is prune then dormant spray copper. that should protect the tree from any infections, and you can get one of 2 copper sprays on. I didn’t get a chance to spray when I pruned, but as soon as temps are above 40 again I’m spraying.For me that will be tomorrow. Each type of tree have different issues. So it’s hard to give exact advice as it varies for each variety and even rootstock.
So we are about 27 days away from spring, any pruning now is spring pruning.

Sara I am in 6b near Philly too. At this point I think there is no danger of tree injury from a pruning cut being exposed to a freeze. I do dormant pruning this time every year. Don’t know if you could get damage (like tree or limb death) due to pruning in dead of winter or not. I would think not. But I prefer not to be out there then.

@Andy Good to know that you prune at this time every year and there is no damage from it.

I have a lot of pruning to do, it’s good that I can start now. Thanks!

I’ve just started pruning peaches and plums, although it’s better to prune peaches after they start growing, but I just have too many orchards to prune and too much to do in full spring.

I believe the danger is pruning peaches and have temps below 0 follow. I’m guessing we are done with that. The reason for pruning them much later is to reduce the chances of them getting canker.

Mature apple trees can be pruned anytime you are not expecting temps below -25 F. At least with most varieties. Pears are not supposed to be quite that hardy but they are stronger than peaches.

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Alan, what about places like down here where it’s extremely unlikely to ever get into single digits, much less hit 0?

Then it is only about the response you want. Winter pruning removes less energy than summer pruning. Cutting into annual wood to encourage secondary branching is more effective if done in spring when trees have been in growth a couple of weeks.

Most espalier pruning is done in the summer only. Cherries are safer to prune in summer if canker is an issue. With peaches canker can make it best to prune when in bloom.

My established trees get a lot of summer pruning to put light where I need it and reduce what I need to prune in winter when I always run out of time before everything has been pruned. I focus on excessively vigorous growth. Establishing trees only get occasional oversized branches removed and pinching to steer growth during the entire growing season.

With summer pruning you have to be sure you don’t remove shoots that are serving fruit- every piece of fruit needs 30 or 40 well exposed leaves nearby.

Alan- would this spring cut around bloom time not be a good idea in fire blight territory?

Hmmm, that is a good question. I’m in FB country but not the worst. I’ve never read warnings about pruning apples during FB season but I just don’t know.

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