When pruning, always cut to the main stem or trunk, or to above a well-placed outward-growing side branch.
Branches should not be cut back flush to the main trunk or left with a large snag as these will result in excessive dieback or poor callusing and healing.
The ideal point is immediately outside the 'collar', which is normally visible as a distinct bulge – occasionally continuing all the way around the branch. The 'collar' may extend some way out but should not be cut into even if a 'snag' appears to remain.
The objective is to improve branch spacing, so that light and air can reach all parts of the tree and picking and maintenance are made easier. Aim for an open, goblet-shaped branch structure.
Aim to remove no more than a quarter of the canopy in any one year, saving the rest for succeeding years if there is a lot to remove.
Mulch renovated trees in the spring following pruning, and feed with a general balanced fertiliser such as Growmore (at 70g per sq m/2½oz per 10 sq ft) to encourage good regrowth.
Here’s how to prune two types of old fruit tree, firstly a typically overgrown, large tree, and secondly an old, stunted and gnarled tree.
Overgrown, large trees
- First, remove all dead and broken branches and any low branches that obstruct passage
- Remove branches that are badly placed or crossing, and any tall, centrally placed branches that block air and light from the centre of the tree and are hard to reach for picking
- Remove or shorten any branches that are growing too close together - with less than 60cm (2ft) between them if next to each other, or with less than 90cm (3ft) between them if growing one above the other
Stunted, starved trees
These trees often have few new branches, but have overcrowded, dense spur systems (clusters of short, stubby branches producing flowers and fruit on older wood).
Thin out some of the spur systems, removing those that are unproductive or that are overshadowing others. This will give the remaining spurs more space, and allow the light to reach them, resulting in better fruit size and more even ripening. This will also encourage tree vigour, and new branches should grow. These will eventually replace the older, worn-out branches.