Bitter cherry trees (also called sour cherry trees) should be pruned to an open form. In this type of pruning, the center of the canopy is left bare of branches, letting air and light into the center of the tree and increasing fruit yields. Begin pruning and shaping your bitter cherry the first year you plant it.
Cut the top of the infant whip sapling so it stands about 24 to 36 inches high. There should be three to four buds evenly spaced around the circumference of the whip within eight inches of the severed top. Bitter cherry trees should be trained and pruned to a maximum of four lateral branches, which will grow from the top buds left on the whip.
Rub off any other buds closer to the ground with your fingers.
Prune in subsequent years to remove any newly formed side branches, leaving the chosen four laterals.
Cut off new growth on the central leader each year. Make the cut just above the highest of your chosen four lateral branches.
Remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches growing from the chosen lateral branches each year.
Prune out any suckers growing from the ground at the base of the tree every year.