How To Prune An Apple & Pear Tree

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This article will teach you how to prune an Apple and Pear Tree.
by Brett · Zone 5A · -20° to -15° F to Zone 8B · 15° to 20° F · Pruning · 0 Comments · August 29, 2010 · 27,666 views

NOTE: This article provides instructions for pruning a common, European variety of pear tree.

Click here for instructions for pruning an Asian pear tree

Central Leader Method for Pruning Apple & Pear Trees

My preferred method for pruning and training apple and pear trees is the central leader method. A tree pruned using the central leader method takes on the shape of a Christmas tree. Pruned to this shape, the tree will be the tallest and will produce the greatest amount of fruit.

The purpose of pruning a young tree using the central leader method is to control its shape by developing a strong, well-balanced framework of scaffold (main) branches. Unwanted branches should be removed or cut back early to avoid the necessity of large cuts in later years.

Pruning should be done in late winter.

Newly Planted Young Trees Picture

These instructions do not apply to container-grown trees that have been properly pruned by a professional at the operation where they were grown and are over 1-years old.

Newly planted bareroot or undeveloped container trees should be cut back to 30 to 32 inches at planting time. When you cut the tree back to this height it helps to bring the top into balance, stimulates quick root development, and cause the buds just below the cut to grow and form what will be the main scaffold branches that will be the canopy of your tree over the long term. If you cut the tree off too low, at 24 inches, this will result in excessive vegetative growth. Cutting too high, at 36 inches, will result in weak growth in the top of the tree as well as in lower areas of the tree.

 PictureAfter having cut the new tree back to 30-32 inches, and a few weeks after new growth begins to develop, the buds below where you made your cut should be sending out shoots that will develop into branches. Plant to keep 5 or 6 of these developing shoots as the main branches of your tree. Select ones that are equally spaced around the trunk and which are arranged vertically on the trunk at 4 to 10 inches above or below each other. Looking downward on the tree the arrangement of the branches would look like the diagram to the right.

 PictureThese vigorous shoots are often upright growing, sometimes too upright. To develop a more open tree and balanced tree that will support itself, it's a good idea to force the new shoots to a more horizontal growth pattern. To accomplish this, when the new shoots have grown to 2 to 3 inches in length you can position wooden spring-type clothespins, or some other form of brace, between the main trunk or branch and the new shoot. Allow the most vigorous upright branch at the highest point on the trunk to remain growing straight up as this will become the central leader of your apple tree. It is important that the limbs are spread when they are young. If a limb is not spread a bark inclusion can develop. This occurs when the bark of the trunk and the branch have been pressed together. This structure weakens the branch and serves as an entry point for pathogens. The wide-angled branch however, allows for growth and expansion of both the trunk and the branch and produces a much stronger branch that can withstand future loads of heavy fruit.

One Year Old Trees

After having pruned your young, newly planted apple or pear tree, the 4 to 6 main branches should have developed after the first growing season. Your objective is to develop the central leader and the main scaffold branches. In late winter, before new growth begins, remove any broken limbs or limbs growing vertically. Prune the central leader about one-third the length that it grew the first year. Several new shoots should develop just below the cut you made on the central leader. If the first set of main branches have begun to grow too upright use wooden spreaders, weights, or string to bring them back to a 45- to 60-degree angle.

Second Growing Season

During the second growing season, develop a second set of branches on the central leader about 24 inches above the branches you established during the first year. Be sure to clothespin these new shoots to develop wide crotch angles. Remove any other undesirable shoots that are too vigorous or in competition with the central leader during the growing season.

Continue to next page for pruning instructions during the 2nd and following years...



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