The type of pruning technique depends on whether the tree fruits on spurs or towards the tips of shoots made the previous summer.
No matter whether your tree is a spur- or tip-bearer, the first stage of winter pruning is the same for both:
- Always use a sharp pair of secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw
- Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches
- Keep the centre of the tree open by removing larger branches with a sharp pruning saw. If several large branches need to be removed, spread the work over two or three winters as very hard pruning encourages even more vigorous growth
- Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too large by cutting them back to a vigorous lower branch (making sure this lower branch is at least one-third of the diameter of the branch being removed)
Then continue for a spur- or tip-bearer.
- Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs
- Cut back any young laterals (sideshoots) growing from the main framework to five or six buds if there is not enough space to allow them to grow as secondary branches
- Remove any badly-placed shoots
- On older trees, remove any spur systems that have become overcrowded
- Prune the previous year’s growth on each main branch and the most vigorous laterals (sideshoots) to the first strong bud. Leave unpruned laterals less than 30cm (1ft) long
- Cut back a proportion of older fruited wood to a young shoot or leaf bud to reduce congestion
If you inherit an overgrown apple or pear tree it may be possible to bring it back into productive cropping by following the advice on our profile on renovation programmes.