Cherry trees are grown for both fruit and as a flowering ornamental plant. The tree comes in a wide range of cultivators and many are grafted onto root stock to make them resistant to soil-borne pathogens and to help them produce fruit more abundantly. Like all fruit trees, pruning a cherry tree is key to producing both a strong ornamental tree and a tree that bears superior fruit in large quantities.
Time the pruning of your cherry tree for late spring before the tree emerges from dormancy. Trees that are pruned when dormant are less prone to diseases.
Select pruning tools that will make it easier to prune your tree. Hand-held pruning shears are perfect for saplings and twigs with a diameter smaller than ½ inch. Branch loppers with long handles are useful for removing limbs smaller than 1 ½ inch in diameter. A pruning saw is the perfect implement for larger branches. To safely remove a branch with a pruning saw, make a cut on the underside of the limb that extends 1/3 of the way through the limb. This cut should be located 4 inches from the point where the limb joins the tree's primary trunk. Then remove the limb by making a cut two inches further down the limb. This cut should extend from the top of the limb all the way through the limb. Finally remove the stub of the limb where it meets the tree's trunk by sawing through the limb from the top downward and outward at a 45-degree angle.
Sharpen your tools with a sharpening stone before using them. Point the blade of the tool away from you and draw the stone down the length of the blade. Always use gloves when sharpening your tools. Sharp tools will make clean cuts on your cherry tree and help it to recover from pruning faster.
Mix a solution containing one part bleach and 10 parts water. Coat a clean cloth with the solution and wipe your tools before using them. Wipe your tools in between pruning each tree and after removing any diseased limbs to help prevent the spread of disease among cherry trees.
Prune your cherry tree into an open center shape. Unlike a central leader or ladder system, all branches in an open center system originate from a single point. According to the University of Georgia, an open center shape is preferred for cherry trees because the trees are not prone to developing a strong central leader. Remove all limbs from the cherry tree except for the four strongest limbs. These limbs, which are called scaffold branches, should be positioned 1 to 3 feet above the soil on the tree. The limbs should be about 90 degrees apart and should point in different directions, like rays on the sun.
Remove all water spouts, which are short branches that grow upright from the larger, scaffold branches. Water spouts will steal energy from the fruit-bearing limbs of the tree. Remove branches that grow inward toward the trunk of the tree, cross other branches or rub. Cut back all dead, diseased or broken branches.