How to Head Overgrown Fruit Trees


Once a fruit tree becomes overgrown, it can be very difficult to maintain. Overgrown fruit trees may produce fruit of an inferior quality. Additionally, the tree may be so tall that much of the fruit is unreachable by anyone who wants to pick it. Pruning a fruit tree will help to rejuvenate the tree and to reduce the size so that the fruit is easier to reach.

Step 1

Make a three-year pruning plan to prune your tree to the correct size. Trees respond to pruning with a flush of growth. Extensive pruning can lead to extensive growth. By pruning in stages, you prevent extensive growth and keep the tree healthy.

Step 2

Study your tree's overall shape to determine how high the tree should be. You should never just lop off branches at the top of the tree to reduce the height. This is called topping, and is unhealthy for the tree. Instead, remove whole branches near the trunk of the tree. Instead, cut back all branches to a lateral branch that is at least one-third the size of the tree trunk. Plan to remove one-third of the branches each year until the overgrown tree is the correct size.

Step 3

Wait until early spring to prune trees. At this time, trees are still dormant and will be less prone to disease.

Step 4

Pull on protective clothing, safety goggles, gloves and a hard hat before pruning your tree.

Step 5

Pour bleach onto a cleaning cloth and set aside. Swipe your tools in between cutting each branch with a cleaning cloth in order to sterilize them and prevent the spread of disease.

Step 6

Cut each branch near the fork where it splits off from a larger branch or from the trunk. Make your cut just outside of the ring of growth that forms a ridge or collar in the fork. The cut should be at a 45-degree angle, and should slant away from the larger branch.

Step 7

When using a pruning saw instead of loppers or shears, make several cuts to prevent the branch from splitting and damaging the tree or falling on your saw and binding it. Your first cut should be on the side next to the larger branch or tree trunk and should extend one-quarter of the way straight through the branch. Your second cut should start on the other side of this first cut, and should be about 1 inch further up the branch. This cut should extend straight through the branch. With your final cut, remove the remaining stub, at a 45-degree angle as outlined in step 6.

Step 8

Preserve branches that grow laterally from the tree wherever possible. These branches will provide the framework for your tree once it has been reduced in height.

Things You'll Need

  • Hard hat
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves
  • Protective clothing
  • Pruning saw
  • Branch Loppers
  • Pruning shears
  • Bleach
  • Cleaning cloth


  • USDA Forest Service PDF: How to Prune Trees
  • Consumer Information Center Website: How to Prune Trees
  • University of California PDF:

Who Can Help

  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Training and Pruning Fruit Trees
Keywords: Pruning a tree, cutting a branch, heading technique

About this Author

After 10 years experience in writing, Tracy S. Morris has countless articles and two novels to her credit. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets" and "CatFancy," as well as the "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World," and several websites.