How to Prune Apple & Pear Trees


Pruning apple and pear trees helps to keep the tree healthy and fruiting. Trees that are allowed to grow unrestricted frequently grow into shade trees that are poor fruit producers. Pruning to open up the tree allows light into the tree and onto lower branches, creating ideal conditions for fruit. After pruning, the quantity of fruit may decrease, but the quality of fruit should be better.

Step 1

Prune in late winter or very early spring, while the plant is dormant. During the first year, prune only to remove over-sized or damaged branches. Remove the entire branch with a clean cut.

Step 2

Prune the second winter to develop lateral branches and shape the tree. Remove over-sized branches and all but five to seven lateral branches. Remove branches that are too close to the ground to allow easy mowing and prevent sagging branches from dragging on the ground.

Step 3

Continue pruning in subsequent winters to shape the tree and eliminate too-large branches. Make all heading cuts above a bud or smaller branch. Thin the tree by removing the entire branch just above the base of the branch.

Step 4

Prune lightly during the growing season to remove injured or diseased branches and to control disease. Light pruning to open the tree to air circulation and sunlight can be done at this time.

Step 5

Remove suckers or watersprouts as they appear. Suckers and watersprouts grow from the roots or base of grafted trees. They sometimes appear at the site of pruning cuts.

Step 6

Perform regular pruning of apple and pear trees during the late winter or early spring. Prune branches that rub together, removing the less productive branch. Remove branches that grow taller than the trunk and branches growing downward.

Step 7

Remove branches that grow from the same point on the trunk or branch. Leave the best-located branch and remove the rest.

Step 8

Prune the tree to shape it. Ideally, an apple or pear tree should be shaped like a fat Christmas tree, narrow at the top and spreading out at the base. Remove branches that grow out of the bounds of the shape.

Step 9

Prune neglected apple and pear trees heavily, spreading the thinning over three years. Remove 1/3 of the growth each year.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not shear or "top" an apple or pear tree. The crown will grow back dense and crowd out the sunlight. It weakens the structure of the tree and makes it less productive.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Small hand saw


  • University of Rhode Island Horticulture Program: Pruning Apples and Pears
  • UNH Cooperative Extension: Training and Pruning Young Apple and Pear Trees (PDF)
  • Clemson University Extension: Pruning and Training Apple & Pear Trees
Keywords: prune apple tree, prune pear tree, pruning of apple and pear trees

About this Author

Diane Watkins has been writing since 1984, with experience in newspaper, newsletter and web content. She writes two electronic newsletters and content around the web. Watkins has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Clemson University. She has taken graduate courses in biochemistry and education.