How to Prune a Dwarf Fruit Tree


Fruit trees for home and orchard growing are often grafted to dwarf or semi-dwarf stock. Full dwarf fruit trees must be grown on supports--either staked, grown against a wall, or trellised to a fence--because they cannot adequately support the weight of their fruit when at the peak of production. Keeping both dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees properly pruned will help maintain the tree's strength, health, and structure by allowing in light and air and minimizing broken branches. Pruning also maximizes fruit production, ensuring that the tree's energy does not go into developing suckers and unproductive shoots.

Step 1

Cut the dwarf fruit tree back at the time of planting to a height of not more than 36 inches, using a sharp hand pruner. Observe the young tree carefully the following growing season to ensure that one clear leading vertical branch emerges; prune away any branches close to the leader that are competing with it by clipping them back to their base, flush with the main leader stem.

Step 2

Select three to five lateral branches, evenly spread around the tree, to remain as the base of lower limbs. Prune away all other lateral branches during the dormant season after the first growing season, using hand pruners on small branches, and long-handled loppers on any branches that exceed 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

Step 3

Head the main leader by pruning it back to about 4 inches above the tallest lateral branch remaining to encourage new lateral branches to emerge at this point.

Step 4

Prune off all but a few new lateral branches each growing season, and head the leader back to about 4 inches above the last lateral branch using hand pruners. (Do this each year until the tree reaches the desired height.) Prune away suckers--shoots emerging from the base of the tree--as well as side shoots off the main trunk other than the desired laterals, every growing season.

Step 5

Remove excessive side-shoots from the upper branches annually, using long handled loppers or standing on a short stepladder to safely reach the limbs with hand pruners; this allows light down to the lower limbs. Prune away any drooping branch ends as well as excessive side-shoots toward the outer ends of any lower branches annually as well. This ensures that the branches do not pull downward to the point of breaking under their full load of fruit.

Things You'll Need

  • Sharp hand pruners
  • Long-handled loppers
  • Short stepladder


  • University of California Sacramento County Cooperative Extension: Training and Pruning Fruit Trees
  • Oregon State University Extension: Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard
  • Utah State University Cooperative Extension: Pruning the Orchard
Keywords: fruit tree pruning, dwarf fruit tree, maintain fruit trees

About this Author

Cindy Hill has practiced law since 1987 and maintained a career in freelance writing since 1978. Hill has won numerous fiction and poetry awards and has published widely in the field of law and politics. She is an adjunct instructor of ethics and communications.