How to Prune and Plant Fruit Trees for Higher Yields
Fruit Trees are a great investment if they are looked after properly. The abundance of fruit on mature trees will make you a popular neighbor. Fresh fruit off the tree easily beats shop bought pesticide covered fruit. In this article you will learn how to prune and plant fruit trees in your garden.
Fruit tree types and when to prune:
In this article we will cover traditional North American fruit trees. There are two types of fruit trees that will flourish in your garden. The seed fruits such as apples and pears and the stone fruits, such as cherry, apricot, peaches and plums. All great for making homemade pies.
(This article doesn’t cover bush fruits such as gooseberries or blackcurrants or fruits that produce runners such as cranberries and strawberries.)
|Fruit type||When to plant||When to Prune||Soil ph|
|Apples / Pears||Nov-Mar||Nov-Mar||5.5 – 6.5|
|Cherry||Nov-Mar||July-Sept||6.5 – 7.0|
|Plum||Nov-Mar||July-Sept||7.0 – 8.5|
|Apricot / Peaches||Feb-April||Sept – Jan||6.0 – 7.5|
The above fruit trees all need planting in full sun.
To keep your fruit trees healthy and to get a great yield each year, your trees need pruning. Pruning reduces fruit rot, keeps leaf disease to a minimum and lets the glorious sun through to all leaves which is needed for creating the blossom which leads to the tasty fruits.
An unpruned fruit tree would still produce fruits but eventually the tree would start producing spindly little fruits as the branches would grow so close together and the inner fruits would not grow fully or may rot. This could then lead to disease and the tree would start to become unhealthy.
How should I prune fruit trees? The 3 step guide:
Pruning equals a healthier tree and should be done every year during the designated pruning season.
First of all, purchase some very sharp secateurs and a sharp branch saw. They need to be as sharp as possible. Branches that have been damaged due to blunt saws have an increased risk of disease setting into the wounds.
STEP 1: CLEAN: Look for diseased branches, branches that have snapped due to a heavy crop and infestations of bugs underneath branches. Clean by cutting these branches off and remember to burn or dispose safely any of the diseased wood.
STEP 2: THIN: Prune from the inside branches out. The inside branches need to be thinned to at least 6 inches from the nearest branch. This is to decrease the amount of foliage in this area so that the sun can reach the fruits for development and ripening and so that oxygen can flow freely around the fruit, to prevent damp and rotting.
Cut off any branches that have an angle below 2 o’clock or 10’oclock. This is because a lower angle heightens the risk of breakage under the weight of next year’s crops.
STEP 3: TRIM: Shape the tree by giving it a trim. The trees energy feeds the branches nearest to the main trunk first so if the tree has reached a desired height, locate the new growth and cut between 30-50% of that new growth back. Just snip it off above a bud.
Alternative ways of growing fruit trees: For people with less garden space
If you have a sunny wall in your garden, consider growing a 2D tree, which is called an espalier. An espalier is a fruit tree that is trained to grow flat against a wall, supported on a lattice. The fruit yield will be lower than a free standing fruit tree but they can look outstandingly pretty and it’s very easy to collect the fruits come harvest.
These espalier shapes can be more time consuming maintenance wise, as the plant needs to be coaxed into shape from a small plant.
Common espalier shapes:
Espaliers have a variety of shapes. Each espalier grower creates a shape that suits their environment and the space available.
Here are 3 easiest shapes that you can try at home:
Cordon: This is just one branch growing up a wire, usually diagonally. All the other branches are pruned off as they emerge. This is the easiest to maintain of the espalier shapes.
Candelabra: This is basically a tree carefully pruned into the shape of a candelabra. To start with, remove the straight up original branch and encourage side branches to form. These are then coaxed into shape using wire.
Fan: Branches are coaxed into a radiating pattern at various angles. The branches at angles lower than 10 or 2 o clock do not snap as they are pinned onto a trellis with wire.
Have a go with growing an espalier. After all if it becomes too much work you can always let it grow into a bush or tree. Use a sunny wall with a trellis attached or build a wire fence support as shown in the image above.
Watching a fruit tree grow fresh tasty crops is exciting. Just remember to check for diseases, and to prune yearly by thinning out the branches so that the sun can reach the leaves and fruit and trimming the height to a manageable size. Alternatively you can create an espalier if you are short of space. Remember to look after your fruit tree and it will fruit for years to come.
For more tips and tricks about gardening and inspiring garden ideas check out our gardening skills page.