How to Top Fruit Trees


Topping fruit trees reduces the overall height of the tree, making it possible to reach the top of the tree to remove fruit. Topping also allows light to better penetrate into the center of the tree, thereby increasing fruit production and improving the tree's health. Top your tree whenever you wish to reduce its height or when you are attempting to revive a severely neglected or growth-retarded fruit tree.

Step 1

Top fruit trees during the winter months when they are dormant. This will make it easier to see what you are doing and ensure even cuts. It also prevents fruit from becoming burned by the sun, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Step 2

Sterilize any tools before using them to top your tree. This reduces the likelihood of infection. Sterilize your tools using rubbing alcohol or heat.

Step 3

Remove smaller, outer branches first with pruning sheers. Work your way down the tree.

Step 4

Cut the top of the tree just above an outward lateral branch, using a chain saw or sharp pruning sheers, depending on the size of your tree. Top vertical branches to encourage growth and create a bush effect. This also allows more light to penetrate the center of the tree. North Dakota State University Cooperative Extension recommends removing no more than 5 feet of growth per year.

Step 5

Remove any water shoots or diseased or broken branches near the cut line.

Step 6

Remove horizontal branches to thin off excess fruit and renew fruiting wood.

Step 7

Check your topped tree regularly for signs of disease or poor health. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, topping impairs a tree's food-making ability and makes the tree more prone to infection and infestation.

Things You'll Need

  • Chain saw
  • Sharp pruning sheers


  • University of California Extension: The Basics of When and How to Prune Fruit Trees (PDF)
  • Arbor Day Foundation: Don't Top Trees
  • North Dakota State University Extension: Pruning Fruit Trees

Who Can Help

  • Home Orchard Society: How to Prune Fruit Trees
  • North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension: Training & Pruning Fruit Trees
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: Training and Pruning Apple Trees
Keywords: topping trees tree, fruit tree, pruning fruit

About this Author

Sandra Ketcham is a freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years experience writing for both print and online publications. She specializes in health and wellness, business and travel articles and currently serves as an editor for various ezines and company newsletters. Ketcham is currently pursuing a degree in psychology.