How, when and why to prune fruit trees

Fruit trees need to be cut regularly to stay productive – but getting it wrong it can do more harm than good. Find out how to prune them properly.

Green apples on a tree in the foreground, with bushes and other trees behind

Why do I need to prune my fruit trees?

If you have a fruit tree of your own, of course, you want a bountiful harvest. A regular pruning schedule makes all the difference to the tree's health and how much fruit it yields, and cutting back every year encourages new growth and maintains the vitality of your fruit tree. Proper fruit tree care will support a healthier plant and high-quality fruit. When you prune, you also open up the crown of the tree, which helps to allow sufficient airflow and prevent fungal diseases and pests.

The best time of year to prune trees

The best time to prune varies depending on the type of fruit tree and how much growth you want. Apple and pear trees will benefit from a prune between November and April – however, for the first few years, you shouldn’t touch young fruit trees before spring arrives, as the wood is still very vulnerable to heavy frost.

If you want to encourage growth, you would typically prune these fruit trees during the colder months. This is when the tree moves into a dormant phase and draws nutrients back into the roots, ready to release when the growing season starts again. Late winter, before the tree starts to bud, is an ideal time to prune pear and apple trees because the cuts you make will heal more quickly as the spring growth surge arrives so your fruit trees are less likely to become infected.

It’s also possible to prune in spring, but doing so will encourage less vigorous growth; this makes it a good choice if you have fruit trees that are already the right size for your space, as well as for formally trained fruit trees such as fan-trained cherries and espalier apples.

A tree branch being cut by a woman with STIHL secateurs

When to prune stone fruit trees

Fast-growing stone fruit trees, such as cherry and peach, benefit from having their seasonal prune during the warmer months. This stops them growing out of control by cutting away some of their energy reserves and slowing growth. You could even prune these varieties as you harvest, simply taking off the fruit and keeping the tree in bounds at the same time. You can prune a peach tree right up to until it flowers in April and May, while cherry trees are best cut back between June and August, after they finish fruiting.

Avoid giving any trees a dramatic prune from March to September during nesting season. A gentle trim is fine unless there are birds nesting in your tree, in which case you should not prune it at all.

A branch is cut with the STIHL GTA 26 cordless garden pruner, by someone wearing STIHL protective gloves

How to prune fruit trees: the right tools

The right tool for the job will make your work easier and should not damage the fruit tree. High-quality pruning shears will cut through branches cleanly, without causing damage that can lead to disease. If you have a lot of trees to care for, our GTA 26 garden pruner is ideal and will help you get the job done quickly.

Guide to proper pruning

The extent to which you prune your fruit tree hugely affects its growth: the more you cut back your tree in winter, the more it will bud in the summer – and less pruning means less growth. The method you use is just as important.

Tips for fruit tree pruning

  1. Always make cuts close to a bud. The buds are the source of your tree’s new growth and are where the sap that fuels that growth is most concentrated. Cutting too far from new buds risks making a wound that dries out and “blocks” the next growth point. You should find an outward-facing bud – to encourage an open shape – and prune 1–3 cm beyond it.
  2. Try not to leave short stumps behind when you prune off branches, as dead wood provides a breeding ground for rot and mould. Always cut as close as possible to the branch base without damaging the main stem.
  3. If you need to remove a large branch, tackle it in stages to avoid damaging the bark or causing any untidy tearing to the wood. Last of all, carefully cut back to the main trunk.
  4. Prune to maintain the shape of your fruit trees. A tree crown should typically be pyramid-shaped, made up of a central “leader” and three to four side stems – it is particularly important to establish this shape during the first year of growth. On young fruit trees, all side stems should be cut to around the same height, and the leader should be about 20 cm longer.
  5. Remove suckers in early summer. Fruit trees are often grafted to a rootstock to enable more successful growth than the fruit variety can manage on its own. After you prune a grafted fruit tree, you may see a lot of new shoots emerging at the base of the tree – these are suckers. They must be removed as they will steal energy from the fruiting part of your tree.
  6. Watering is important too! Particularly if they’ve suffered some frost, your fruit trees will desperately need water as they cannot absorb any from the frozen ground. New plantings, as well as older peach, nectarine, almond and apricot trees, will appreciate extra water.

How to prune fruit trees: expert techniques

When you come to prune your fruit trees, you need to consider the tree itself and what you want to achieve. Do you want to trim a young tree into shape, tidy up a mature tree and keep the beautiful blossom, or rejuvenate an older tree? Different outcomes call for different techniques.

A woman wearing proper PPE stands on a wooden scaffold cutting a branch with the STIHL GTA 26 cordless garden pruner

How to prune fruit trees: key points for success


There are a few key principles to remember when you prune your fruit trees:

  • It’s better to be too generous when you prune than too cautious, even with young trees.
  • Be a bit more restrained with older trees, though they still need to be thinned out properly.
  • Most fruit trees can be pruned in late winter, but don't prune young trees if there is still heavy frost.
  • Use a sharp tool for clean cuts.
  • For older trees, in particular, it is important to thin the crown so that there is enough airflow.


  • The pruning process is essential for a good harvest and the health of fruit trees.
  • Late winter is the best time to prune most fruit trees.
  • Make sure you use a sharp, suitable tool and wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for safety purposes.
  • Younger trees can be more generously pruned than older ones – though these still need to be thinned regularly too.

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