The Why, When and How of Fruit Tree Pruning

The Why, When, and How of Fruit Tree Pruning

by Eric Bragg, Plant Health Care Specialist


It’s cold out. You’re numb. You may just want to sleep. In some ways, you can say the same for your trees. Winter is their dormant season. Growth has stopped, and the trees are biding their time for warmer weather and more sunlight to grow again and produce fruit. Now, during the trees’ dormant months of November through March, is the best time to prune them.

Why should fruit trees be pruned?

Pruning is the removal of branches or limbs that are unhealthy or are not serving the needs of the tree. This usually starts with removing any dead or diseased branches or limbs. After “deadwooding” is done, removing additional branches are removed to enhance the tree’s long-term health. Removing specific branches reallocates the tree’s energy towards a specific goal, whether it be fruit production, strong branching in shade trees, or simply to look exactly how you want it to on your property.

Why is it best to prune trees in the winter?

  1. Less chance of disease and insects harming the tree

    If you were to get a cut, you’ve opened a way for germs to get inside you. These germs could lead to infection or disease. The best way to avoid this happening is to keep the wound as sterile as possible. The same goes for trees. Pruning a tree exposes the inside of the branch making it easy for insects or diseases to attack. In the winter months, there are fewer insects, and diseases are also less active. In some ways, the winter months are almost sterilized by default. This lack of threats means less chance of something getting into the tree and harming it while it heals from pruning.

  2. Structural problems are more obvious

    The winter, when a tree is bare, is the best time to review a tree’s structure. This includes how the branches have grown, how much space there is between the limbs, if there are too many limbs, and if the tree is growing straight. All of these may present issues to the tree later. For example, too many limbs at the top of the tree may shade the interior branches, affecting their growth. This will cause the inside branches to elongate beyond what is healthy and sustainable. In heavy snow or wind or with heavy production of fruit, these limbs could break. While these problems are more evident, it is a good time to address them.

  3. More of the tree can be safely pruned

    While the tree is dormant, it is possible for an arborist to remove up to 25% of live branches without harming the tree. When the tree is growing, it is best to cut only up to 15%. Removing any more could jeopardize the health of the tree.

  4. Pruning typically costs less

    From a purely business perspective, it comes down to supply and demand. In the winter, there is less demand for the needs of an arborist, and therefore more open days on the calendar to fill. Like Henderson’s, many arborists may offer a discount on their services during the winter.


How should fruit trees be pruned?

You can prune your trees yourself, but I recommend doing a lot of research before you start. Fruit trees are especially resilient. Even if pruning is done incorrectly, the tree will likely survive. However, your tree’s fruit production may vary from year to year. In addition, your tree may grow incorrectly, which could lead to health issues later.

Skilled arborists can study a tree and anticipate how a tree will react to pruning. This is truly an art that is honed over many seasons of practice. Arborists can also prune the tree to more quickly reach the desired goal. Finally, for larger trees, pruning can be dangerous. An injured tree-owner is more serious than an injured tree. By hiring a skilled arborist, you can avoid both.

For more information on pruning your fruit trees or to schedule a consultation, contact us at 802-296-3771 or email us.