Winter Pruning


We prune for several reasons: for plant health, better shape or size, or better flower or fruit production.

If nothing else, follow the “4 D’s”, and you will have a decently pruned trees.

  1. Dead: Cutting dead material out of the plant first not only gets it out of the way, but reduces opportunities for insects and disease to gain a foothold.
  2. Diseased: If it is weak, spindly, has visual symptoms of disease, or looks abnormal compared to the rest of the plant, get it out of there. Keep a solution of 10% bleach water handy to dip pruners in after each cut. This way, you won’t re-infect the plant at the new cut.
  3. Damaged: Remove branches and plant parts damaged by storms, animals, kids, and any other type of physical damage. In addition to being unattractive, damaged material is often an entry point for disease and insects, and can lead to problems down the road.
  4. Deranged: Remove “nonconformist” branches that rub against the trunk or other branches, that point the wrong way, that cross other branches, and those that arise from the base of the plant when they should not. This type of growth is not adding to the aesthetic value of your plant.


Then there is aesthetics. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, which explains the following quote I once heard:  “If you ask 10 arborists how to prune the same tree, you will get 11 answers”

Pruning Most Fruit and deciduous Trees in the Winter, before budding, inspires them to make new growth, which you can then direct and/or train where you want it it go. There are other reasons to make heading cuts, which helps make branches more sturdy for more fruit (what you want)

Summer is a great time to make larger cuts, control sucker growth, fruit-thinning cuts, and to focus on the stone fruits general pruning.  Stone fruits are more susceptible to fungi and bacterial infections that spread easier in the wet winter/spring.


  • Pruning shears: For use on branches up to about 3/4 inch in diameter, these hand pruners can trim tougher stems and branches with a clean cut.
  • Loppers: Reach for the lopping shears for thicker branches up to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, or for branches that take too much grip strength to cut with pruning shears.
  • Pruning saw: You can use a pruning saw for branches that are more than about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, or for branches too large and difficult for hand pruners or loppers.
  • For all pruning tools, keeping the blades sharp will make cleaner cuts and make your job easier.
Pruning Shears for cuts smaller than 1/2-3/4″. They also make ratchet pruners, but they are harder to use for detail cuts. Invest in a good pair, and treat them right and they will last you many years.
Needleose For finer work, generally we don’t use on fruit trees.
Side Note: Springs for hand pruners. This are critical to the functioning of your tool. Have an extra set on hand.
Nice little saw that cuts both ways. Be careful!
Pruning Saw- Longer Corona Brand which we use the most. Fairly inexpensive to replace blade every year or 2.
Bow saw for cutting larger branches by hand. Most often though, well use a chain saw or reciprocating saw
Loppers- even lower cost ones are pretty good these days. We always buy, and suggest you buy “professional grade” so they last longer.





Ratchet-style loppers- Good for cutting larger branches. They will be rated up to a certain diameter branch. After that, use a saw






Manual Pole Pruner. Helpful if the canopy is not too dense to maneuver.


Reciprocating saw. Great for medium sized branches. Cordless are WAY easier to use on a ladder.

Pole Pruning Chainsaw. Great for larger branches higher up.



Thinning is used to open the plant to light and air and sometimes to reduce the size by removing individual branches. Thinning cuts direct new growth into adjacent branches and spread new growth more evenly throughout the plant.

Begin with thinning out smaller branches first, then move on to the larger branches. Not only does this make it easier to see what needs to go as you proceed, but it can also lend confidence. By starting small, you’re less likely to take out larger chunks of limbs you may regret when you’re left with “holes” in the overall foliage look!



Heading concentrates vigorous upright new growth on buds below the cut, and is most often used for hedging or to maintain shrub size. Heading also encourages “bushiness” (denser branching).

There are two types of heading cuts:

  • Selective heading entails only cutting back to a side branch or bud.
  • Non-selective heading (hedging) is when cuts are made back anywhere along the length of a stem. The cut may be above or below a bud, and may even leave a stub.


The angle of cuts should be close to a bud or branch. If you leave too long a stub beyond the bud, the stub will die and rot.

pruning cuts.png

When pruning a branch with buds that alternate along the length, cut above the growth bud at a 45 degree angle, with the lowest point of the cut opposite the bud and even with it; the highest point about 1/4 inch above the bud.

When pruning a branch with buds that grow opposite each other in pairs, make a flat cut above the buds.


When pruning larger limbs (2″ diameter or more), there is a technique involving a series of three cuts that will prevent damage to the tree as the limbs fall.

  1. Undercut 12-24″ up from the branch collar. This stops the bark from tearing.
  2. Make a second cut from the top all the way through the branch, 2-3″ above the first cut.
  3. The final cut should be just beyond the branch collar. Support the stub so it does not tear the bark as it falls.

How to winter prune apples and pears

Traditionally spur- and tip- bearing trees were pruned in different ways. However, current pruning techniques are very similar for both as it does not involve the rigorous routine shortening of all young growth.

  • Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch (primary) by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction. This will encourage the development of new branches and spurs and maintain a good shape
  • Leave young laterals (side-shoots) unpruned so they can develop fruit buds in the second year
  • Only remove the young laterals if they are crossing or if the growth is too crowded, i.e. growing closer than 10-15cm (4-6in) at the base
  • Remove strong shoots (great than 15cm (6in) long) growing towards the centre of the tree
  • On older trees, remove or thin out any spur systems that have become congested. Where thinning or removal is required, remove spurs on the underside of the branches, where the developing fruit will not receive enough light, and produces inferior fruit

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