Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions


Fruit trees come in numerous varieties and sizes to fit in most landscapes. Choose from dwarf and standard size fruit trees like apples, peaches, cherries, plums, pears or grow citrus fruit trees, such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Growing fruit trees will provide you with a bountiful harvest of fresh fruit for seasons to come with the proper care. Pruning fruit trees differs depending on the type of tree grown, but most require a lot of the same pruning.

Step 1

Prune fruit trees with either a central leader or open-center. Prune peaches, nectarines and plums as open-center or vase training, and prune apple, cherry, plum and pear with central leader, according to North Carolina State University. Open-center allows more sunlight to reach the center of the tree, since it cuts the central leader branch and leaves three to five main branches coming out from the trunk. Central leader uses one main branch with several other lateral (scaffold) branches coming out from the trunk in a Christmas-tree shape.

Step 2

Cut back newly planted fruit trees to 36 inches for standard size, and 30 inches for dwarf varieties. According to the University of Arizona, most citrus fruit trees only require minor pruning to retain shape, or remove unwanted branches.

Step 3

Prune fruit trees again in the summer after growth reaches 4 inches. Cut all, but four lateral branches uniformly spaced on the fruit tree's trunk for central leader trained trees. Prune open-center fruit trees leaving three or four evenly spaced lateral branches on the trunk, and remove all other branches, according to North Carolina State University.

Step 4

Plan regular fruit tree pruning during the dormant season; do this as late in the winter as you can to avoid winter injury, according to North Carolina State University. Use pruning shears for branches up to 1/4 inch, loppers for branches with diameters from 1/4 to 1/2 and pruning saw for any branches over 1/2 inch.

Step 5

Remove any damaged, sickly or diseased branches on any fruit tree. Prune branches that cross over the center or touch other branches, and any suckers growing on the bottom of the fruit tree or sprouts shooting up from branches.

Step 6

Prune central leader trained fruit trees, as needed yearly. Keep only one main (central) leader branch and space the lateral branches evenly, and at longer lengths further down the tree. Remove any branches with angles less than 60 degrees, and any located opposite other branches.

Step 7

Prune open-center trained trees annually to retain an open area in the middle of the fruit trees. Remove any branches growing upward, and prune the lateral branches back for the first three seasons to strengthen them.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning loppers
  • Pruning saw


  • North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service: Training and Pruning Fruit Trees
  • Kansas State University: Pruning Fruit Trees
  • University of Arizona: Pruning Citrus
  • University of California: Ten Basics of When and How to Prune Fruit Trees

Who Can Help

  • University of California Cooperative Extension: Training and Pruning Fruit Trees
  • University of Arizona Cooperative Extension: Pruning: Pruning Fruit Trees
  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Planting and Early Care of Fruit Trees
Keywords: pruning fruit trees, prune fruit trees, prune open-center, prune central leader

About this Author

Diane Dilov-Schultheis has been writing professionally since 2000. She is a food and travel writer who also specializes in gaming, satellites, RV repair, gardening, finances and electronics. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has been published on Yahoo!, the Travel Channel and Intel.