Our District

Pruning fruit trees

Pruning tips:

“Think of your tree as a river of sap to be directed, rather than a block of stone to be carved.”

  • Tools must be sharp and clean. This is surgery.
  • Start with the ‘three D’s’ – remove dead, diseased and damaged branches.
  • Prune to an open vase shape for stone fruit and a central leader form for pip fruit trees.
  • Don’t be afraid. There is no one right way to prune a tree. No two people would prune a tree in exactly the same way. You learn to prune by pruning!
  • Use good quality secateurs and saws and seal all pruning cuts with bacseal/seal & heal.

Winter pruning: 

"Prune in June" - pruning hard, especially in winter, encourages extra strong growth in spring. If that’s not your desired effect, you can prune instead in spring or summer when the tree is in leaf.

Prune for structure: For a young tree, you need a vision of the end result- be it a central leader with a tier of waist-level lateral branches (apples), vase shape (stone fruit), or espalier. Don’t cut too much, but have a vision of the future.

Encourage flowering/fruiting wood: Know your varieties and learn the difference between fruit buds and leaf buds. Some plants (eg grapes) fruit on brand new wood, some (eg peaches) on 2nd-year wood, some (eg apples) on special spurs pruoduced after 2-3 years. So they all need different pruning.

Horizontal wood fruits best: Consider tying branches sideways after a few years, to encourage fruiting.

Hygiene: Clear away any fallen fruit and leaves (or get the chooks in). Spray with copper if you have had problems with leaf curl. Do this over winter, before buds burst in late winter.

For more details on individual fruits, see rhs.org.uk

  • Grapes: Prune hard, to a structural framework of vines with just a couple of buds on each lateral (branch). They fruit on new wood.
  • Roses: Prune out the oldest wood, then prune to an outward facing bud.
  • Figs: Prune hard over winter if you want to reduce the size, then pinch out tips over summer to create a many-branched tree. They too fruit on new season’s wood, so an unpruned tree may have lots of fruit but they’ll all be up in the air for the birds to eat!
  • Apples and pears: Fruit is borne on ‘spurs’ on two-to-three year old wood, so be careful not to take these off. Prune off the oldest wood, diseased wood and any branches that are crossing or rubbing. Winter pruning promotes a big response of new growth in spring, so new shoots may need thinning out mid-summer.
  • Plums: Don’t need heavy pruning- just thin out unwanted or inward-growing branches.
  • Citrus: Prune these any time through until September: take out the oldest branches and criss-crossing growth. Try to create good airflow to reduce fungal diseases. Pruning over the colder months reduces the chances of lemon tree borer entering the wounds.

Summer pruning: Kate Marshall, Waimea Nurseries

Think winter, think fruit tree pruning, right? On the traditional Kiwi quarter acre section, with a big old apple tree for the kids to climb and raid, this might have been a reasonable approach. However, these days with much smaller spaces for gardens, summer pruning of fruit trees is the best method to control size and vigour, and keep them to a manageable height for easy picking.
It is much easier to keep a small tree small than to reduce a large tree, so hobby orchardists need to take responsibility for tree size and decide on the ideal height (usually as tall as you can reach) and not let them grow any bigger. Simply willing your fruit trees not to get too big just won’t work – tree telepathy does not exist! Do not be intimidated by pruning. There are lots of methods and techniques and most are valid. The most important thing is to do it.

Summer pruning techniques can be applied to all deciduous fruit trees, including espaliered types. Summer pruning is a good way to remove the upright water shoots which can spoil to appearance of your formal espalier shape.

Why does summer pruning work?: Summer pruning reduces tree size and vigour because when you remove tree branches and therefore the leaves you shut down the energy production, as there are fewer leaves to make energy through photosynthesis. This decreases new growth and the energy available to be stored in the roots, which in turn reduces the available energy for growth in the following season.
There are other benefits of summer pruning. Keeping your fruit trees small means you can fit more of them in your garden. Choose varieties that spread your harvest season over as long a period as possible. . It is easy to choose varieties with fruit that ripen from early December until early winter. Small trees are also easier to cover with netting if needed and easier to spray to prevent pests and diseases. Pruning in summer also eliminates the risk of bacterial and fungal infections entering the tree, as can happen with pruning in cold and wet winter conditions. Using Bacseal or Seal & Heal to seal pruning cuts is still highly recommended no matter when you prune. Pruning in summer is also much more likely to get done, as it is so much more enjoyable to do in nice, warm weather, compared to rugging up to do battle with your trees in the depths of winter.

Three easy steps to summer pruning:

Years one and two (i.e. the and second summers first summer after planting)
Step 1: After the spring flush of growth, cut back new growth by half.
Step 2: In late summer, cut half of the subsequent growth back by half.
Year three onwards: Choose the maximum height you want the tree to grow to and do not let it grow any bigger. When there are vigorous shoots above the chosen height, cut them back or remove them altogether.

Want to learn more about fruit pruning? A good place to start is MOA community orchard at Jeep Rd Domain. The orchard demonstrates which trees do best in a sandy, windy dune situation, and shows how to care for trees with mulching, companion and shelter plantings. There are regular hands-on working bees - for more information contact raumatisouthresidents@gmail.com.

Or join your local Tree Crops Association, they hold regular information days: http://www.treecrops.org.nz/


The Council Green Gardener, Hannah Zwartz, offers sustainable and waterwise gardening advice to local residents, community groups and schools.

Community Visits and workshops are free. 

To contact the Greener Gardener, call the Council on 296 4700 or 0800 486 486 or see www.kapiticoast.govt.nz/greenservices

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