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.
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.
Sterilize any tools before using them to top your tree. This reduces the likelihood of infection. Sterilize your tools using rubbing alcohol or heat.
Remove smaller, outer branches first with pruning sheers. Work your way down the tree.
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.
Remove any water shoots or diseased or broken branches near the cut line.
Remove horizontal branches to thin off excess fruit and renew fruiting wood.
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.
Trim all the grass, weeds and brush growing from around the trunk to the dripline of the fruit tree with a mower or string trimmer to allow more nutrients to enter the root system. Remove all the suckers growing from the roots and around the base of the tree with hand pruners, as suckers divert water from the root system. Remove the branches closest to horizontal with ground level first. Trim back the majority of the largest, most vigorous new shoots where they attach to the trunk from the top one-third of the tree. Shorten the limbs above the lower new limbs enough to allow sunlight to reach them, trimming them back approximately 6 to 8 inches. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart vertically around the tree, cutting them back to their branch collars.
- Chain saw
- Sharp pruning sheers
- Arbor Day Foundation: Don't Top Trees
- North Dakota State University Extension: Pruning Fruit Trees
- Oregon State University Extension Service: Restore Tose Old Fruit Trees
- Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences: Pruning -- A Special Case -- Renovating Old Fruit Trees
- University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Care of Mature Backyard Apple Trees
- University of California: Pruning and Training