All fruit trees, including apples and pears, need regular pruning to regulate new growth and encourage the formation of the stubby ‘spurs’ that bear fruit.
When to prune apple trees
The best time to prune apple trees is in the dormant season, from November to March. However this advice is generally designed for standard apple trees, which have little or no formal shaping. Espalier-, fan-trained and ‘stepover’ apple trees have a formal shape and should therefore be pruned again in summer – for apples up to about the end of August, and for pears a little earlier. In a nutshell: the current year’s shoots are ready to prune when the lower third of each shoot has turned woody and firm.
How to prune apple trees
Make sure you use the best tools for pruning – for clean cuts that heal quickly. Avoid loppers, as they can bruise the stems. If you’re looking to update your kit, our experts have been busy testing the best pruning saws and the best secateurs, so you can buy with confidence. In a hurry? Here are some of the best buys from these tests:
- ARS PM-21 folding pruning saw
- Felco 640 pruning saw
- Darlac Expert Bypass DP1030A
- Niwaki GR Pro
- Felco 8 Bypass Secateurs
- Draper Deluxe Anvil Secateurs
- Corona Ratchet Cut Comfort Gel Anvil Secateurs
In this practical No Fuss video guide, David Hurrion demonstrates how to prune apple trees in summer, to ensure a good crop the following year. This method is ideal for trained and restricted forms of both apples and pears:
In this video clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don demonstrates how to prune a step-over apple tree, which is designed to produce large quantities of fruit in a small space:
Find out how to prune trained apple trees in summer, as well as other fruit trees, in this simple step by step guide, below.
You Will Need
- Pruning saw
Take a good look at the whole tree and plan what you want to achieve. Start by removing all the stems that clearly must go: anything dead, diseased or damaged, and any vigorous upright shoots growing above the top tier of branches.
The shoots in need of pruning are those produced this year – usually laterals from the main branches – which are around 18-23cm long. Cut these back to within three to four leaves of last year’s growth.
Make your pruning cuts just above a leaf joint, slanting away from it. Shorten all side shoots, only leaving unpruned ones where needed to extend the main framework of the tree.
Where shoots have developed from laterals that were pruned last year, cut this year’s growth back to one leaf.
Prune with the aim of spacing the knobbly fruiting spurs around 10cm apart. Thinning overcrowded spurs is best done in winter, but some thinning can be done now if necessary to let more sun on to the ripening fruit.
Don’t prune tip-bearing cultivars
With apples, make sure your variety is a spurbearer. Tip-bearers mustn’t be pruned in summer, as you’ll remove the developing fruits.