© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Correct Pruning Yields More Fruit & A Healthier Tree

Lindsay Myers

Many people know that correct pruning of fruit trees and shrubs can lead to a more productive, and more beautiful, plant. Many people don't know how to prune their plants themselves. During the February meeting of the Pensacola Organic Gardener's Club George Shelton explained how to do it.

Before planning any pruning make sure you do some research on the type of plant or tree you are pruning! Each plant is different so you will want to look it up before getting started. This is a good reason to keep the tags on trees when you purchase them. (Here is a great guide to reading plant tags.)

First off, when to prune? Spring pruning ought to take place prior to bud break. Gardeners can also prune again in the summer which can encourage extra growth while also dwarfing the size of a tree. If you choose to prune multiple times per year you should examine the plant in May and cut back 1/2 inch for every 24 inches of growth. In July/August you can cut the plant back by about 1/3. This gives trees 2 years of growth in just 6 months.

Credit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP31600.pdf / University of Florida Extension
University of Florida Extension
This diagram demonstrates problematic areas which need attention.


  • One exception to this rule is trees that fruit only on new growth- of course you don't want to prune these until after they fruit!
  • Another exception is trees that "bleed" or seep sap from their cuts. Those trees will need pruning in the autumn.

Others may ask, why bother pruning? Pruning a tree allows the tree to be most efficient in its energy use to the advantage of the gardener. Most often the advantage is larger fruit. Another advantage is to take advantage of the space you have: you can get the most fruit for the smallest amount of area.
When you are approaching a tree to prune it follow these steps to help choose what to prune. You want to start at the bottom of the tree and work your way up. (Some helpful diagrams here.)

  1. Prune any "suckers" coming up from the roots of the tree.
  2. Clear out deadwood, but identify where the deadwood becomes live so you don't cut back too far.
  3. Take off any "water sprouts"- these are branches that are growing straight up from a larger limb, sometimes at a right angle. Branches from a limb should grow at a 30-60 degree angle from the limb, reaching for the sky.
  4. Prune any branches growing towards the ground rather than towards the sky.
  5. Prune upward growing interior branches, i.e. branches that interfere with air flow and block sunlight to lower branches.
  6. If you have a "competing leader" remove the errant "leader." A competing leader means the top of your tree has branches in a 'V' shape rather than a single top branch. Think of where a star would go on a Christmas tree- you want your tree to have that single leading branch. Remove the competitor.
  7. Remove branches that make narrow crotches with the limb; these are branches growing at a close angle to other branches stunting air movement and taking away nutrients from the main branch it sprouts from.

Many times, if you follow these steps, your pruning will be finished!
The result you are looking for is a tree with scaffolded limbs (this means limbs that are evenly spaced evenly, both 360 degrees around the trunk and from top to bottom): if you were to look straight down from the top of the tree you would want your tree's limbs to look like spokes on a wagon wheel. From farther away, your tree should have either a round shape or a shape like a sloped triangle. 

In terms of actual cutting of limbs you want to cut right along the branch collar on the side of the branch.

Credit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP31500.pdf / University of Florida Extension
University of Florida Extension
Correct placement of cut for pruning.

With correct pruning your trees will look more beautiful, be healthier, and produce more fruit!

The Pensacola Organic Gardener’s Club meets on the fourth Monday of the month at the Downtown Branch of the West Florida Public Library. Membership is $10/person or $15/family. Meetings begin at 6:30 pm and last until approximately 8:30 p.m. March’s topic is garden pests and disease.