Feb 272018

Pruning fruit trees in summer results in less vigorous regrowth and maintains the trees’ general size and shape. When pruning apple trees, it is important to keep in mind that, from a pruning point of view, there are two types: spur bearing and tip bearing. Each type needs a different approach to pruning to achieve the best fruit yields.
Summer pruning of apples is really best carried out in late summer or early autumn, when the fruit has already been picked to avoid knocking them off. This also prevents the fruit and branches being exposed to too much full summer sun which might occur if pruning were carried out in the height of summer or late spring.

Prune According to Where Fruit is Borne

Heritage apple trees are mainly spur-bearing varieties, originating in the Northern hemisphere.

Spurs are produced on two-year-old wood which can persist for years but also needs to be renewed by pruning.






Many backyard trees such as Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pink Lady are all tip bearers or partial tip bearers. Do not prune these in the same way as spur bearing apples.

Pruning tip bearers requires you to leave lateral shoots of less than 20cm or “pencils’ to bear fruit on the tips. Head back other branches leaving buds to produce laterals for next year.

Pruning to Shape

For either type of tree, prune to whichever shape or style best fits the site – it could be vase, central leader or espalier.  Often that means pruning fairly hard to keep the tree compact and easy to pick or move past.  Also keep an open habit to give each branch, tip or set of spurs its own space in which to produce fruit.

Ensure the top of the tree and any vertical growth is headed back letting in some light to branches and fruit but beware … do not expose the branches and fruit to too much hot sun in the summer as both will burn and cause disease and decay.

Instead, leave an even distribution of branches and leaves in the canopy, preferably laterals which will produce more fruit, or, if you are considering making grafts from heritage trees, leaving some long tall branches to be harvested as scion wood for grafting in the winter.

In the backyard setting, I like to prune to a ‘tree shape’.  Even though the vase and central leader (pyramid) styles were developed for orchards, these styles are also often found or preferred in home gardens.  By tree shaped I mean that all the branches are evenly spaced and the overall shape of the tree fills the space in which it exists. Light can easily get to as much fruiting wood as possible.

General Rules

  • Prune dead, damaged, or diseased wood from the tree.
  • Remove crossing branches which might later become dead, damaged, or diseased.
  • Remove any branches which are intruding over paths or encroaching on other trees or plants.
  • Ensure the tree is not too high to pick the fruit or to throw a net over.
  • Consider the development of new scaffold branches if there is an unproductive gap in the tree.
  • Leave enough leaf on branches to produce energy for further growth and enough leaf in the canopy to protect the branches and fruit from sunburn.
  • Thin the canopy to allow air flow to the centre of the tree and light to the fruit-bearing branches.
  • Prune away unnecessary vertical or particularly leafy shoots, water shoots, and branches.
  • Prune vertical shoots off completely or leave just a few buds if fresh growth is required in the area.
  • Thin remaining laterals ensuring that there is ample room around each spur or fruiting tip.
  • Thin spurs (removing some buds) if they have become crowded or old and unproductive.
  • Dispose of prunings which show any signs of disease by burning or completely submerging in water until rotted.

By the time you have done all that there won’t be much left to worry about whether you are doing it correctly!

I believe that a well-pruned tree is aesthetically pleasing, certainly in the backyard setting.

  17 Responses to “Summer Pruning of Apple Trees”

  1. Please see the article on our website https://www.sgaonline.org.au/growing-apricots/ If you didn’t know about that article, perhaps it would help if you received our free newsletter Cuttings. You can sign up at https://www.sgaonline.org.au/get-involved/newsletter/

  2. When should apricots be pruned?
    I have an old tree that is far too big. I have a fruit fly net (square) canopy over it and the new growth top branches keep pushing on the top and sides of the net.
    I cannot reach the fruit at the top. Even after pruning, the new growth shoots up about a metre high. I wish I could tame it and keep it smaller!
    It bears far more fruit than I can possibly use.

  3. Hi Noel, thanks for your comment. I will consider writing some other similar articles on orchard culture. Sounds like you have a fair bit of reading to do…

  4. Yes, also there are many old English books available on pruning for fruit, you may find one or two in a library, with good illustrations on how to identify the different buds.

  5. When I was at Hort school I was asked to present an assignment on pruning apricots. I did loads of research on articles presenting conflicting information. The teacher gave me a fail on the paper stating that apricots should not be pruned at all! …later retracted.
    The point is I try to keep pruning apricots to a minimum as they do not respond well to too much pruning, reacting unpredictably, and become more susceptible to disease. They have a good natural form if given enough space.

  6. You’re welcome, I will try to write some more.

  7. Hi, I agree with SGA you can ‘espalier’ a fig, but actually you are really just pruning it flat, as a true espalier would require a tree with fruiting spurs. You can pull any branches flat against the surface of the trellis but will need to occasionally prune old branches off to renew the wood and create new 1 and 2 year old wood for fruiting.

  8. Similar principles apply to apricot trees since they bear fruit on both spurs and laterals – just take care that pruning is undertaken before the weather gets cold and damp. See http://www.cogs.asn.au/organic-gardening/techniques-and-tips/pruning-stone-fruit/ for a useful description of techniques.

  9. Yes, indeed it is. They have very flexible branches and can be easily trained. They will still produce the breba crop on last year,s wood and then fresh fruit on new wood. A useful guide re a number of aspects of fruit trees is http://www.flemings.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/fruit_trees_and_vines_guide.pdf

  10. is it worthwhile to espalier a fig tree? I have started but the growth is phenomenal and I’m not sure how severe I should be in pruning it this year. Does it fruit on 2nd year wood?

  11. Although spring is on the way here (U.S.A.), I am grateful for your article on the pruning of apple trees. I will keep it to help me tackle the tree in my back garden. Many thanks to you all.

  12. You are asking quite a few questions here and not all are easy to answer either in videos or words. Maybe you could ask a professional gardener to visit and help you out. In the mean time, we can say that apples and pears are easy to espalier because they form fruiting spurs on second year wood. These spurs are generally fairly stable and summer growth needs to be cut back to the spurs. Tie the end of the summer growth to the wire and spurs will develop in the second year. European plums such as the Gages, prunes and damsons can be treated like apples and pears. Stone fruit such as apricots and Japanese plums bear fruit on one year old growth so are more difficult to form into a classical espalier. After you have your framework let the tree make its seasonal growth. Allow shoots to stay on the framework as far apart as you think the tree can handle, remove all others, and shorten the saved shoots back to about 300 mm long. In the spring these shoots will flower and bear fruit. New shoots will grow beside and near them. In the winter remove all the shoots that have fruited and shorten back the newer ones for the following seasons crop. Repeat this so as to force new growth, for fruiting, each year.

    We did a quick online search and immediately found a useful video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36N4dUaUWMA Maybe you could other searches to yield information that will be helpful.

  13. What about apricot trees?

  14. Yes.

  15. Hello, Simon

    Being new to the art of espalier (I have planted heritage trees), I am struggling to find clear instructions on how to prune them for fruit. I have pruned the vertical above the next wire each year to induce the laterals with a reasonable amount of success, but am not confident about pruning for fruit.

    What I would love to see in instructions is a clear, close-up photo of someone pruning a spur/thinning spurs (I’m not clear how many you should remove or how many should remain, for instance). I am also not sure how to tell which is the fruiting part on a lateral (OK for apples, but apricots? plums?). Again, close-up images would be an enormous help.

    Are you able to direct me to a website that instructs in detail, please, for esaplier pruning (I have apples, pears, apricots, and plums)!!

  16. Can this apply to pear trees as well?

  17. Hi,
    Thanks for the interesting article on summer pruning Apple trees.
    If possible in the future can you include pruning of other fruit tree in summer & winter.
    I have just setting up a backyard orchard & also interested in the budding/grafting of fruit & citrus trees & there care (spraying & fertilising etc).
    Kind Regards

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons