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Successful Fruit Tree Pruning

by Stark Bro's on 01/04/2011

To get a new fruit tree off to the right start, after choosing the right spot and ensuring your soil is suitable for the trees you’re planting, virtually nothing is as important as pruning at planting time. If left unpruned, fruit trees may struggle in growth, and, if you encounter an unfortunate drought, they may not grow at all. More importantly, unpruned trees take longer to bear fruit! All bare-root Stark Bro’s trees are pruned in the nursery row for proper shaping, and our trees are also pruned right before packing and shipping.

Why we take pruning seriously:

• Survival

First, a tree needs pruning to help it survive after planting. In digging, a bare-root trees’ roots have been disturbed. The trees have lost many of their tiny feeder roots, which are needed to absorb moisture and nutrients, but the top is still its full size! This imbalance can cause tree growth to be weak and slow.

• Stimulation

In addition, cutting the tree back stimulates stronger, more vigorous, growth from the remaining buds. After a single growing season, a pruned tree will be bigger than a matching unpruned tree.

• Shaping

The natural shape of a fruit tree is not always the best for maximum fruit production. It’s best to start the shaping process as early as possible, particularly to balance the top portion with the root system.

These are just a few reasons all eligible Stark Bro’s trees are professionally pruned before they arrive at your door: we want to get you off to the best start possible.  :)

Please note: When your Stark Bro’s bare-root trees arrive pre-pruned by our professionals, do not prune them again when you plant. Plan to prune your fruit trees during every dormant season. In Zone 6 and further north, you should wait until late winter. A good reference, such as our Pruning Made Easy book, is handy for addressing questions and guiding you through the pruning process.

Continue Pruning for Success

“The best time to prune is when the knife is sharp,” old-time gardeners say. Well, that’s not exactly true… fruit trees develop better if they’re pruned at the right times, in the right ways. Here’s how:

• Prune trees when they are dormant

Wait until a tree is dormant before pulling out the sheers! This is best for the tree and easiest for you. It’s easier to see where to make your cuts when the leaves have fallen. As mentioned above, pruning should be done in late fall, winter, or early spring. Exact timing will vary by zone, as winter months differ by zone.

Prune fruit trees to certain shapes

Prune into strong, bearing trees following the chart at right.  If you keep up with your pruning and shaping each year, you’ll make mostly small, easy-to-heal cuts.

• Help the tree form a strong framework

Remove weak, diseased, injured or narrow-angle branches (the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches), and one branch of forked limbs. Also remove upright branches and any that grow toward the center of tree. You want to keep your tree from becoming too thick and crowded and to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote improved bearing, which is your overall aim. Try to achieve the general shape of the trees in the drawings provided, but be sure to allow your tree to express its own individuality.

Tips for Pruning

• Apple, Pear, European Blue Plums & Cherry Trees

These trees do best when pruned and trained to a central leader tree. This type of tree has a pyramidal shape with a single upright leader limb as its highest point. This leader is the newest extension of a long, upright growing trunk from which all lateral branches arise. As with all strong growing branches, the leader should be headed back each year. The uppermost bud on the leader produces a vigorous new leader, and no other shoot should be allowed to grow taller. Lateral limbs should be selected from shoots growing out from the central leader. These should be spaced vertically 4-6” apart, have growth that is more horizontal than vertical and point in different compass directions from the trunk.

• Peach, Nectarine, Japanese Plums & Apricot Trees

These trees do best when pruned and trained to a vase-shape. This type of tree should have no central leader. The shape of the tree is controlled by selecting and maintaining three to five main scaffold limbs arising from the trunk. These limbs should point in different directions and originate no less than 18” and no more than 36” from the ground.  Prune as shown, balancing growth evenly between the scaffold limbs.

• Miniature Peach, Nectarine & Apricot Trees

These do not require shaping cuts. However, because they grow so densely, they require regular dormant thinning cuts to remove competing and crossing limbs.

• Whips (Unbranched Trees)

Prune back to 28-36” above the ground at planting time. After the new branches have grown 3-5”, select a shoot to become the leader and scaffold limbs

Off-Season Pruning

Sometimes pruning should be done even when the season isn’t the best. Such would be the case if a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit. Emergency treatment is necessary! Prune back the ragged edges, making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump. Fast-growing “water sprouts” can be removed as soon as you see them, rather than waiting until winter.

For more information, browse Stark Bro’s Growing Guide Plant Manuals.

Topics → Fruit Tree Care, Tips


  1. Jean Taylor permalink

    Thank you for Information on peach tree pruning. I have a tree that came up on Its on. First year had Two good Peaches ,did not prune It last winter was filled with peaches last summer but they were small. I want to prune It and get information on spraying,fruit was wormie last summer.
    Many Thanks,
    Jean Taylor

    • Meg permalink

      Thank you for stopping by, Jean! Glad you found the information helpful. :) If your peaches were small last year, that may be due to excessive rain. You may also want to pluck a few buds this spring- it will take away some potential fruit, but also let more sunlight through the branches.

      I’m sure we’ll have some spraying info up here in the future, be sure to check back! :) If you want to talk with someone about your peach tree growing, we’ve some of the sweetest, most knowledgeable gals in Customer Service: 800.325.4180/

      Best wishes!

      • Robert Cannon permalink

        Prefer sprays that are non-toxic to humans if any. Else no sprays- use other means- mechanical, or good bugs.

    • Jaine Deare permalink

      I have found that spraying WD 40 on the worms suffocates the worms & WD 40 is safe because it is a fish oil based product not petrollium…

  2. von permalink

    i have a orange tree and i need to prune it when is it best to prune it

    • Meg permalink

      Hi Von :)

      If your orange tree has a tendency to grow densely, try thinning the branches in late winter. Otherwise, citrus trees don’t need much shaping/pruning!

  3. Thanks for this article! We are pruning our backyard trees soon and I will share it with gardening friends of my blog Hounds in the Kitchen.

    • Meg permalink

      Hi Rachel! Great to see you on ‘this’ side of the internet. ;) Glad you found the information helpful, & yes, please feel free to share it!

  4. Robyn O'Neill permalink

    I need a simple chart of when each type of fruit tree should be pruned and how each tree should be pruned. Where should I find this chart on a web site to print out?

    • Meg permalink

      Robyn: it’s safe to assume that if you’re pruning fruit-bearing trees, they should all be pruned while dormant. Late winter is best, since the freshly-pruned branches will be seeing spring in the near future. :)

  5. Mary in Iowa permalink

    I’m ready to place an order of several dwarf trees. Do they arrive pre-pruned? Somewhere I saw something about paying extra to have them professionally pruned, but your info here appears to say that this is the normal practice.

    • Meg permalink

      Sorry for any confusion, Mary – see, last year we only pre-pruned our Supreme trees & would pre-prune regular trees at $1/tree. You may have read that in an older catalog.
      We’ve since evaluated the benefits of planting a pre-pruned tree. It’s one of the best ways we can help tree planters get off to a great start, so we now pre-prune *every tree* at no cost.

      Here you can see some of our pre-pruned trees, harvested & ready to ship:

  6. JAMES BEASLEY permalink


  7. JAMES BEASLEY permalink


    • Meg permalink

      Hi James! If you have a few trees that were not ‘properly’ pruned, your best bet is to let it grow a bit & then prune it evenly yourself. Wait until the tree is dormant to make these cuts, though, so the shock is lessened.

  8. Betty permalink

    I bought an older house that has quite a few apple/pear and cherry trees. They all need pruning and I’m an older person and will take some time to prune. I live in Elma Wa. and right now is the time I should be doing this. Do you know of anyone that would come to my home and volunteer to show me how to do this? I appreciate your help. I’ve gone on the internet and printed out the way to do this, but want someone to show me the first time. Thanks so much.

    • Meg permalink

      Thanks for commenting, Betty! I wish we had people over the country who could come out & show you how to prune (or do the pruning for you!), but we’re all located in Louisiana, MO. Your best bet will be to get in touch with your county extension agency. They may have someone who can come help you with pruning & caring for your trees. :)

      We should have a pruning video up here in the next few weeks, keep an eye out!


        • Thanks for the input, JT! We are planning on adding to our How-To videos here on our YouTube channel: Growing with Stark Bro’s so if you subscribe there, you’ll be alerted when new videos are added — you should probably prune before that happens though!

          In the meantime, it might help to know that as long as you have been pruning your trees while they’re dormant, you’re doing the right thing! It’s always better to prune than not to prune. Keep removing the inward-growing or crossed limbs, damaged/dead/diseased limbs, and prune back a third of the NEW growth from the past year to keep your fruit trees growing sturdy and healthy.

    • Martha permalink

      Betty, I’ll bet there is a Master Gardener group in your area that might send a volunteer to help you. Check with your local county extension agent to see if there is a MG group. They do gardening related volunteer work as part of their ongoing activities.

  9. Carol B/ Whelchel permalink

    ON our property a peach tree had been cut down, since we’ve been here the tree has grown in many branches or limbs. the tree has produced peaches but is growing like a wild bunch of limbs. This past summer the tree was fullof worms. A good tassting peach I;d like to know how to help this tree i.e. pruning, fertilizer, etc. when to do this.thank you for your help. Thank you, Mrs. Carol Whelchel

    • Meg permalink

      Hi Carol — have you given our Customer Service Reps a holler yet? They are exceptional at being able to trouble-shoot & figure out a plan just for your growing situation. I’d send Brenda an email at, or call the team at 800.325.4180. :)

  10. Christine permalink

    I have a dwarf weeping cherry tree that we got last year from Stark Brothers. The branches got so long last year that they were draping on the ground. We just cut them off, but I’m not sure that was the right way to do it. Could you give me some advice on whether or not we should cut them off in the future and also, how and when I should prune it before the growing season? Thank you!

    • Elmer permalink

      Christine, when you’re pruning your weeping cherry, you can just trim the skirt evenly at the desired height above ground. :)

  11. Robert Couture permalink

    I have a dwarf starkspur apple ,do you prune them the same as a regular apple tree. Thank you.

    • Meg permalink

      I just learned this myself the other day, Robert: spur-type trees will be pruned less than normal trees, because they don’t grow as vigorously. If there’s any dead branches, prune those off; if there are any crossing branches, prune one back lightly so they don’t cross each other any more. Your fruit is coming from all those spurs, though, so keep as many of them as possible! :)

  12. Allen permalink

    I’m not sure the type of plum tree we have. We have a peach tree that we’ve pruned three times now, and it’s doing wonderfully, but we haven’t pruned the plum tree at all. Do you have any advice as to keeping the plum tree to it’s “peak” performance? Or should we prune the plum tree at all?

    • Meg permalink

      Allen, you’ll definitely want to prune your plum tree. :) See any new (we call 1-year) growth on the inside branches? Snip those off. The fruit will come from the older, “substantial” wood, so we want to give that wood as much support & nutrients as possible. Plus, extra branches crowding near the trunk of your tree will only limit sunlight for leaves & fruit.

      Does your plum tree bear fruit yet? Is it red or purple/blue? That may help in figuring out if you have a Japanese or European plum on your hands. :)

  13. Herb Fogelberg permalink

    I purchased four apple, two cherry and a peach tree from Stark Brothers last year and they all did great. I actually kept them alive in spite of the deer using them for their salad plate. I am in MN zone 4 and am planning on trudging through the snow next week and do the pruning. I am so appreciative of your information on pruning and the pictures alomg with the instructions (yes I can read :-) ) as they clarify things that much more.
    A VERY satisfied Stark Brothers customer.

    • Meg permalink

      THANK YOU for stopping by, Herb! What an encouraging comment. I am so glad your trees are still growing strong, despite the critter-issues. :) We’d love to see pictures! If you have any digital ones, you can post them to our Facebook wall or email them to Brenda at

      Best wishes on pruning in the snow! ;)

  14. Rick permalink

    Love the article on pruning. Getting ready to do that this weekend. I have apple, peach, pear, plum and cherries. How about posting when and what to spray fruit trees with? Thanks.

    • Meg permalink

      You got it, Rick! We’ll be getting to tree-spraying here in the next couple of months.

      Sounds like you’ve got enough variety for a yummy fruit salad! ;)

  15. Debbie permalink

    I have a full size apple tree that desperately needs to be pruned. What do you recommend for me to do? I read somewhere else to prune it back to 8′. I live not far from Stark’s in central IL. Is now the correct time to prune? I’m so glad all of the SNOW is gone!

    • Meg permalink

      Debbie, now is a perfect time to prune! This weekend looks like it’s going to have some beautiful weather, too. :)

      Not sure about the 8′… how large is your tree now? Don’t prune back more than 1/3 of the tree. Do you have loppers that can get to the higher branches of your tree?

  16. jon permalink

    I let the suckers grow next to my original tree.Now it is bigger and better looking than the original, Should i cut it down..or go with it?

    • Meg permalink

      Jon, you’ll want to cut back the suckers to preserve the root stock & graft on the original tree. The root stock is going to determine the ultimate size of your tree, & the graft will ensure the fruit variety. :)

  17. David permalink

    In St. Louis we followed the orchards and pruned in mid February. I am now in Central Illinois, and wondered when I should be pruning here. We had a warm weekend but have snow again now so I think I still have plenty of time, but wanted to be sure.
    Also wondered about some pecan trees that are large but not bearing yet…how do I stimulate those to bear?

    • Hi David! You’re about half a zone colder so you may be able to prune a couple weeks earlier than you used to in St. Louis. Just keep an eye on the weather, because this will be a big factor for when you actually want to get out there and prune.

      Pecans may take anywhere from 7-20 years before they start bearing. It depends on the variety and on the age of the tree. Other than that, the trees need to be pollinated — some varieties are self-pollinating while others need a companion! :)

  18. Rick permalink

    Wish the posts were date stamped…comments like now is the best time have no meaning when oyou don’t know posting date.


    • Meg permalink

      Rick, if you go to the top of each post, you can see when it was written by the author’s name. : ) Hope that helps!

  19. Paula, Iowa permalink

    Meg- I purchased a Stark Blue Ribbon plum tree 6 years ago. Each year it blooms like crazy, forms small pea-sized fruit and then all of a sudden they all start falling off. Any idea what I could do to ensure fruit set?

    • Meg permalink

      Hi Paula! Try thinning the blooms out this year. It sounds like your plum tree is actually overbearing fruit, causing the nutrients to spread too thin- that would explain the small fruit & quick dropping. When your blooms appear this spring, pinch off 1/3 to 1/2 of them. That should help!

  20. Roddee permalink

    Hi Meg, Good info on pruning. How would you prune a 2 yr. old Misty blueberry after planting? Also, what fruit reference book do you all like to use? I read a previous reference to such a book in one of the post but, I can’t seem to find it.

    • Hi Roddee! You will want your blueberry plants to get well-established before trying to prune them and then you’ll really only be attempting to remove fruiting buds after planting. For plants up to 3 years of age,
      pruning should be moderately heavy to stimulate strong new growth on selected canes. You should not permit plants younger than three years of age to bear more than few fruit clusters, or the onset of the productive period may be delayed.

      The book referred to in the original post was linked to there but I’ll put it here to make it easy for you to find: Pruning Made Easy Book

  21. Carol Milhorn permalink

    When should I prune my knockout roses and how much should I leave?

    • Meg permalink

      Roses should be pruned when dormant as well, Carol. :) Unless they’re growing out of control, I’d not prune them too far back. Remember, the pruning will stimulate the roses to produce new growth this spring. Just prune far enough back for the roses to grow to the size you want this summer.

  22. nancy permalink

    I moved in with someone several years back. There is a pear tree at his place that several starts that had thorns on branches. I understand that this if from the root graft. I recently retired and now the starts are bigger than the actual tree. Is it to late after tree has bloomed to trim only these to ground level or should it also wait until winter?

    • Meg permalink

      Nancy, since you’re not wanting to nurture & grow the extra starts, you can cut those back any time. Dormancy pruning is to lessen the shock to your tree, which you care about & want to grow! :)

  23. We spraym our apple tree each spring, how many times do you spay in the season? Please is there away to straighten up an app;le tree that is really leaning over, when or how to do it?

    we have wolf river, grannie smith, gala, harralson
    thankyou. Sandy

    • Hello Sandy — Depending on what you’re spraying your apple trees with, the label will tell you how many times (and at what interval) to spray your trees. For example, the Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray says not to make more than 8 foliar applications per growing season and it recommends spraying at 10-14 day intervals.

      As for the leaned over apple tree, if you try pulling it back upright (slowly) and staking it, it may have a good chance of surviving. Depending on how big the tree is, you may be able to pull it back into its upright position either with your hands if the trees are smaller or with a truck, carefully, for larger trees. :)

  24. I have an esplaid Anjou pear tree that is several years old I trimed it last year of its watersprouts and had no fruit at all . This year I have Double the watersprouts . It is spring now . The tree is not in bloom yet. Can I still Prune all these watersprouts off without harming the tree or the possible fruit to come?

    • I have two Bartlet Pear trees. They a about 12 years old and have produced beautiful and delicious pears for several year. This spring I noticed many new shoots coming out of the mature limbs all over the trees. Should I prune all of these shoots and just leave the older limbs

      • Hi John! You will want to remove any and all watersprouts whenever you see them, even if they are on older limbs. They are fast-growing and energy-sapping, so the sooner they are gone, the better off the rest of your tree is. :)

    • Hello, Janice! Watersprouts can (and should) be removed any time you find them on your trees. They will do more damage leeching the tree’s nutrients/energy if they are left growing. :)

  25. Glenna Goodwin permalink

    Today is the 21 of March and we have not pruned our apple or peach trees. Is it to late to prune this year? Thank You for your time Glenna

    • Meg permalink

      Glenna, it’s been warming up a bit where I’m at (zone 5), but I would say you’re probably still safe to prune if your trees have not started budding or leafing out. :) If you’re in zone 5 or colder, you should be just fine!

  26. Jeremy permalink

    Meg I was told not to prune the bottom branches of a newer tree. Is that the case? Also I have a plum tree (not sure what kind) but every year it blooms sprouts flower and then nothing happens. It has never produces one good plum. One year we had really small plums but they didn’t grow and eventually fell off. Any suggestion?

    • Meg permalink

      Blooms that turn into small (or no) fruit usually means your tree is overbearing. Who ever thought *that* would be a problem! ;) It can be, though: when a tree has too many blooms & not enough sunlight/soil nutrients/general strength to efficiently generate sweet, full-size fruit. The solution? Nip some of those blooms away! When your tree is densely covered in pretty flowers, pluck off 1/3-1/2 of them.

      Also: pruning is important, especially when your trees are young– so I’m not sure why someone would tell you not to prune the bottom branches! You want to open up the area between the branches & the central leader. See, lack of sunlight can also contribute to your tree’s small-sized fruit. If you prune away the little branches growing towards the inside of your tree, & prune each branch about 1/4 the way down (right above a bud), you should notice a big difference as your tree ages & begins bearing fruit. : )

  27. Cathy Scudder permalink

    About ten years ago the lady next door gave me a little apple tree a bag. The label said it is a column apple tree. It is about 15ft. tall and does’nt produce any apples. Looks kind of cool but, I’d like some apples, I don’t know how to prune this tree. Can you help me? Don’t want to cut the tree down the lady has since passed away.

    • Hi Cathy. Typical apple trees take about 2-5 years to start producing apples, and the columnar trees may take even longer. That being said, your tree may simply be in need of a pollinator! If there are no other apple trees in your area (within a 1/4 mile) this could be the reason you have yet to see fruit. :)

      As far as pruning is concerned, generally you will prune while the tree is dormant aiming to remove damaged/diseased limbs and also pruning back 1/3 of what grew the previous season. Not 1/3 of the tree, mind you, just 1/3 of the most recent growth. Hope this helps! :)

  28. Melissa permalink

    I live in Buffalo, NY and forgot that I needed to prune my 2 year old apple trees by late winter! I’m new to this :) Is it too late? Should I wait until next winter? The branches did not seem to grow too much.

    • Melissa, great question! As long as your trees are still dormant and have not begun to leaf out (late winter/early spring) you should have no problems pruning them :)

  29. Pamela permalink

    Hello, I was given 15 fruit trees late last winter 2011, apple, pear, peach and apricot, we planted in Feb 2011 and they are all blooming this May I didnt not prune as I was waiting to see if they lived, what is the best time in the winter to prune mid or late we live in Olympia WA, the ages of the trees are 10 years pear and younger years for the rest, I do not know where to start on the big pear tree can you advise? Thank you and have a wonderful day~

    • Hello Pamela. The best time to prune is either late winter or very early spring — while your trees are still dormant and before they begin to leaf out. You may find help with a local tree service or your county extension agency to give you specific instruction on pruning your 10-year-old pear tree.

      Generally speaking, your annual pruning will be to remove 1/3 of the new growth from that past growing season. :)

  30. Vina permalink

    We bought 8 fruit trees this year, got them planted well, (peach, pear, apple, plum) and they now have a few leaves on them. I’m wondering if it’s too late to prune them? If so, how much can they be pruned next year? Thanks! I want to give them the best start.

    • Hello Vina! Your trees will have arrived pre-pruned so you won’t need to worry about pruning them until late winter/early spring. When the trees are dormant is the best time to get any pruning done, and each year you will want to prune 1/3 of the new growth. That means 1/3 of what grew the previous year, as well as anything diseased/damaged, gets removed. :)

  31. Pat permalink

    Hello Meg,

    You have great information available. I am getting ready to plant some apple trees. I have dug a hole that is 3 – 4 feet wide but can only get down to about 16 inches due to shale rock and clay soil. I dug the hole a little wider than normal to give the tree a little more room horizontally. My question has to do with staking. I have had numerous trees blow over here in the spring and summer when the trees have leaves. I have lost a silver dollar eucalyptus, a smoke tree, and numerous tree roses. I have a book called Grow Fruit which addresses the growing of fruit trees and they specifically suggest staking trees. I don’t see any recommendation on your website. I drove in some 2 inch X 4 foot stakes yesterday and will plant the trees near the stake with a loose tie. Do you see any problems with this? Do you normally plant without staking?


    • Meg permalink

      Pat, the book to which you refer is sitting on my desk as I type! :) It’s an excellent resource. Re: staking– especially if you’ve had trouble with wind knocking over your trees, it may be a good idea to stake them for the first year or two of new growth. Be careful not to tie your tree too closely to the stake; the trunk needs room to grow. We actually carry some tree stakes & adjustable ties on our website (

      Which apple varieties will be gracing your home orchard, & what do you plant to do with your apples: fresh eating, pies, cider? :)

      • Pat permalink

        Hi Meg,

        Thanks for the quick response.

        I also have a book by Stella Otto called The Backyard Orchardist. It is an excellent source of information, especially when it comes to pruning as the tree ages. I think that pruning is something that many people have little knowledge of. My friend prunes every tree the same, just hacks it way back and hopes for the best. I cringe sometimes at his methods. I pruned my oaks last week, that I planted 3 years ago, for the first time and spent a day on each tree. I bought them from Calaveras Nursery that specializes in oaks (They have over 30 varieties). He and his wife start from seed and keep replanting to larger containers, trimming each tree as they grow, until they are beautiful 5 year old specimens in larger boxes. They truely love their trees and I wanted to make sure I showed them the same respect they gave them.

        My fruit tree stakes are about 6 inches offset from the center of the planting hole. I planned on planting the trees in the center and giving them the 6 inches of room using a slack tie to let them move around in the breeze, but will still be held back in any strong winds. I am amending the soil, which is clay, with a topsoil/humus mix that I use in my garden. I tested my natural soil and it had a PH of 6.5. How does that sound for fruit trees? After I mixed the amendments, the PH stayed just about the same.

        So far I have only planted 1 Fuji tree, as it started to rain on Sunday. I can make PH changes if necessary for all of the rest of my trees. I have the holes spaced at 16 feet, as I am planting all semi-dwarf varieties. I thought that spacing would be okay. I have 1 1/3 acres and plan on doing a lot of planting this year. With the economy being as it is, I figured the time was right for changing to a self-sufficient lifestyle. Plus the produce you get in the market for the price is just sad. I plan on giving my neighbors some of my produce and selling all of my extra at Farmers Markets we have nearby.

        What do you think about my situation with the clay soil and shallow planting hole? I think this is why I have had wind damage problems in the past. I decided to try a wider planting hole to give the roots a little more room to establish some strength.

        I also have a huge problem with gophers here. I built raised beds for my veggies with hardware cloth bottoms to keep the gophers out. I have watched those pesky critters pull my Iris plants down as I stood there and watched. I am going to line my tree holes with hardware cloth cages on the bottom and sides of the hole. The wire has 1/2 inch slots to allow the roots to poke through but the gophers won’t be able to get to the larger root ball. Do you see any problems with that idea?

        So far, I am planting 2 Fuji, 1 Gala, 1 Granny Smith and 1 Golden Delicious. I will be ordering a couple of other apple varieties from you in the next week, plus some cherry, apricot, pear, peach and a couple of nut trees, like an almond and walnut. I plan to eat some and cook and bake with others.

        I live in the Mother Lode area of California, where the 1849 Gold Rush took place. About 10 miles from my house is the town of Linden that is known for its fruit and nut orchards. The cherry crop is the top producer but they also grow a lot of almonds and walnuts. Some of the roads around town have huge black walnut trees lining the roads that create 1/2 mile long tunnels during the summer. It is really something to see. They say the soil in Linden is the best on the planet, as the Calaveras River passes through the area and has been dumping silt for thousands of years. It sure looks good from the highway, with a dark brown fine structure. I wish I could get a couple of semi-truck loads of that brown gold!

        Thanks for your input.

  32. Poluska permalink

    Hello, I live in northern Cali (San Fran bay area) and this year we’ve had really weird winter, there was almost no rain and it is sunny and relatively warm (temps in 60), hence our fruit trees (mainly almonds) already started blooming (in mid February), which caught us unprepared as we were traveling a lot and now the trees are blooming and we’ve done no pruning over the winter.
    CAN we still PRUNE the trees, even if just about to start to bloom or some already IN full BLOOM (almonds)?

    • Hello Poluska. You should not have to worry about harming your trees by pruning them even if they are about to bloom (or are already blooming). It is important that they get light and air circulation to the whole tree, and pruning encourages this. It may even benefit your almond trees not to have to support so many blossoms, so that the ones that are pollinated can produce more quality nuts.

  33. Denise Smith permalink

    Good morning experts,
    I purchased 6 trees last fall and two weren’t pre-pruned (a Jonafree and a Golden Delicious). I’ve been waiting for cold weather but we haven’t had any to speak of. Is it too late to prune my two trees now?

    • Good morning, Denise. Have your trees stayed dormant since you received them from us? It’s usually recommended that you prune while the trees are still dormant before they start waking up for the spring, but it is certainly recommended that you prune (better now than later) rather than not prune at all! :)

  34. Elizabeth Hill permalink

    Hey Sarah!

    Sounds like I have a situation similar to many others out there. This winter has been very weird…and it is April 1st and our fruit trees are awake and budding and leafing out!!! Understand that in Minnesota (Zone 4) in years past we got “freak” Easter snow storms!!! Well, I have not pruned any of our 18 trees we bought last year yet..and I am feeling like I should??!!! What do you recommend we do? We have about 6 dwarf apple trees and 3 each of dwarf cherry, dwarf peach, dwarf plum, and dwarf pear trees. two of our trees died from some reason and are being replaced…1 apple and 1 pear. But…here we sit with 16 actively growing trees that “think” because it is 70+ degrees outside that spring is definately here!! (I suppose it IS now..I am even contemplating planting my cold weather veggied directly into my raised beds because it is so warm outside and temps really show no hint of dropping again!!) So this spring is a real anomally…and I am at a quandry as to what to do? As far as pruning goes what would you recommend I do? we even have “blossoms” a few trees….they are really mixed up I think? As am I…. LOL ;)

    • You’re not alone, Elizabeth! We like to recommend that you do your heavy pruning in late winter while the trees are still dormant but it is better to prune than not to prune your fruit trees, and better sooner than later. You don’t want them to grow out of control so annual pruning keeps them manageable.

      When you prune, you will want to prune about 1/3 of new growth. That means everything that grew last year needs to be cut back by 1/3 so you still have new growth but it is more sturdy instead of tall and lanky. You also want to prune out any branches that are damaged/diseased to keep the stress off the rest of the tree. Removing limbs that cross or grow in toward the center of the tree is ideal as well, as it opens up the tree to light and air circulation (which makes delicious fruit when the trees are bearing).

      I hope this helps!

  35. Cricket permalink

    I bought a dwarf apple tree this year put it in the ground and all the branches grew an inch and covered in leaves then they all just wilted and died now the tree doesn’t have any and it is only the beginning of May! Any ideas how to help it?

    • Hi Cricket! A lot of things could cause this to happen in a tree. Factors like when it was planted, the location, the weather since in was planted, and the color of the leaves when they wilted will all help determine what may have happened. If it was weather related, it could overcome that but if it is environmental, even if there is new growth it may happen again. If you have photos or more detail to share, it will greatly help! :)

      What is important now is knowing if the tree is still living. I would like you to go out to the tree and find a spot on the trunk about halfway up the tree. Take your thumbnail or a small knife and scratch just a layer of bark away to see if there is any green beneath that scratch. If so, your tree is still living. If it was simply the weather that stressed the tree to the point of defoliation, you might encourage it to put on new growth with fertilizer and time.

  36. Amy permalink

    I have two plum trees, one is a Stanley, and neither of them have produced any fruit just lots and lots of leaves. My Asian pears next to them are great producers. They were all planted at the same time. I have never pruned them, mostly out of fear fo too much or wrong pruning. What am I doing wrong with my plums?

    • Hi Amy! I’m not sure how old or developed your plum trees are, but they take about 3-6 years (on average) to begin bearing fruit after planting. Asian pears are a completely different kind of fruit tree so they won’t determine the expected activity of your plum trees. Asian pears also tend to bear prolifically even without pruning. Plums, and most other fruit trees, on the other hand can be encouraged to set fruiting buds on limbs that are pruned because they receive more sunlight and air circulation — important factors in fruiting.

      Your plum trees may simply need more time to mature but, if they have never been pruned, it will benefit the trees to be pruned as well. If you’re hesitant about doing something wrong, just remember: it’s better to prune than not to prune! It’s easier to avoid pruning off “too much” if you prune annually when the trees are dormant. It is easier to see the limbs that should be removed when the leaves have fallen, and it is also less stressful on the tree to be pruned while it’s dormant.

      What you should target when you’re pruning are damaged/diseased limbs (these can be completely removed — they do the tree no good) and also limbs that grow inward toward the center of the tree. These block light and air flow which are important to fruit production and fruit quality. This includes limbs that cross over one another. :)

  37. Stan permalink

    Hi Meg and Sarah,

    Pruning my fruit trees is an annual period of stress and anxiety for me so all this info is great–3 questions:

    I have a golden and red delicious, I believe spur-type, on dwarf root-stock, about 6 y.o.. I head back the leaders each year, but they seem to be shooting ever sky-ward. Will these trees naturally top out ~10 feet or should I expect to keep fighting upward growth?

    Moonglow and a Bartlett pear–both in the ground about 5 years…both flower, but can’t seem to get their acts coordinated any thoughts?

    Apricot, that I have never been able to successfully shape because of its growth pattern. Is there a way to stimulate side branches? It is too tall, top heavy maybe 80% of foliage and only 1 lateral branch at a good height. What do you think of (sounds horrible) decapitating the tree back to the lateral?

    Many Thanks

    • Hi there, Stan! Many people feel that pruning is a daunting task, but you’ll be happy to know that as long as you are pruning you are better off than if you avoided it all together.

      Dwarf apple trees, because of the dwarfing nature of their rootstocks, tend to keep to the 8-10 ft range, so you won’t have to fight a constant battle to keep them from growing too large.

      Pears take about 4-6 years (after planting) to begin bearing fruit. It may not be that they are uncoordinated but more along the lines of not quite developed enough to fruit just yet. You can read more about years-to-bear and see many common blooming and bearing questions answered in our blog posts here: How Many Years? and Blooming and bearing problems, and how to solve them!

      The best way to push new growth is to use fertilizer or soil nutrients (both natural and synthetic will encourage vegetative growth) — especially the kind that has a higher Nitrogen content. This is presented as the value for N in the NPK ratio on any fertilizer. For example, our Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer has a 22-24-12 NPK ratio. 22 is the Nitrogen content. Because fertilizers push new vegetative growth, we recommend not fertilizing after July to avoid your trees pushing new growth when they should be shutting down for the winter.

      In your situation, cutting the tree back to the more suitable lateral branches would be beneficial for it despite how drastic it sounds. For the overall health of the tree, a more sound structure is preferable to top-heavy growth that may be susceptible to wind or weight damage in the future. :)

      • Stan permalink

        Thanks Sarah! I love that you take the time to give detailed repsonses to everyone’s questions.

        The pears are flowering at different times–very little overlap (Moonglow first)–but I’ll read the other articles for tips.

        Would it be too stressful for the apricot to cut it back now and fertilize to allow time for new growth before the fall/winter…or should I wait for dormancy?

        • I’m happy to help, Stan, thank you! :D

          I would definitely recommend waiting for the apricot to go dormant to prune. If your weather has been dry and hot like it is in most areas, the additional heavy pruning may be too stressful for your tree. It would be ideal to prune *some* of that weight off the top now (to avoid breaking) and then do the more severe cutting once your tree is dormant.

          I would also recommend waiting to fertilize until just before the buds break dormancy this coming spring. We advise against fertilizing after July to avoid new growth being pushed while the trees should be going dormant. It could lead to winter injury of the new growth and leave your trees susceptible to disease. :)

  38. JOHN permalink

    My Stark Japanese plums have greenery and shoot out massive limbs….they are 2 years old…I cut the stalk to 4 branches, on the side…in a month or two I have a bushy bush, they are 10 feet tall….and the 4 side branches grow 3 more feet,each….they grow too much… 10 more would be side branches…. this is a mess….they have been pruned two times in 2 years but grow too had 5 plums this year..what do I do?. The trees look like they are ready to topple over when all these new branches come out like a bad dream….and they are heavy

    • Those sound like prolific trees, John! If you are fertilizing them at all, you might want to hold off on future applications for the time being so that they aren’t being encouraged to push new growth. Another thing to consider is that heavy pruning also encourages vigorous vegetative growth. If possible, try pruning your plum trees once when they appear to be most in need during the growing season (summer pruning) and once in the late fall/winter/early spring (dormant pruning).

      I have had the same experience with my peach and plum trees. The more I trim to maintain balance, the more they seem to grow to counter this. The older the trees get, the less you will have to worry about them seeming top-heavy. :)

  39. staceybeck01 permalink

    Thanks for the advice! I could use some serious tree care in St. Charles MO. When we first moved here the backyard was beautiful, but now things are just getting out of hand. Thanks for sharing, hopefully we can get things back to normal!

  40. Bryant permalink

    I planted some peach, apple and cherry trees in the fall when they arrived. They are now budding out nicely. It would appear from the article above and my Stark planting guide that I don’t need to prune this first year–with the exception of suckers and growth within a foot of the ground. Is that correct? Just let it be for this year and prune in the dormant season in the fall?

    • That’s correct, Bryant! When your trees arrived, they were professionally pruned by our experts here. You don’t need to be concerned with pruning them again until their second dormant season with you (during late fall/winter/early spring). :)

  41. Daniel Ortone permalink

    I would like to puchase a dwarf weeping cherry. I am not sure if this would be ok in Florida. I live in the middle of the east coast. Please bew good enough to send me a catolog.

  42. Rand Cherry permalink

    I just purchased a HoneyGlo Miniature Nectarine, and was wondering how this tree compares to a Goldmine Nectarine Ultra Dwarf Tree. In addition, all of the books I have discuss how to prune peach and nectarine trees, but the Ultra Dwarf Tree I got did not looked pruned, and when I called Miller’s they said not to prune it until it was 4-5 years old. Is this correct? And will I have to prune the HoneyGlo when I receive it? Thank you for your response.

    • I would go with the instructions that Miller gave you about their tree. There is likely a reason they recommend not pruning until year 4 or 5, and they would be able to tell you why.

      As for the HoneyGlo Miniature Nectarine, it won’t require pruning when you receive it. In fact, the tree really only needs pruning when there are dead/damaged/diseased limbs that need to be removed. Miniature fruit trees, and ultra dwarfs, don’t grow like their larger counterparts, so the pruning and maintenance is a bit different. In this case: easier!

  43. G. M. Park permalink

    I purchased a Winesap apple tree from you last year. Sproutzs are coming from the base of the tree. I cut them off in early spring, but they are coming back more profusely. Do I continue to cut these sprouts off? Thanks Park

    • You should continue pruning off these suckers as they appear, Park. Some trees have more of a suckering habit than others. I have one like that, so I just consider it a regular pruning process to remove them whenever I see them appear. You don’t want to leave them or let them get very large (more difficult to remove) — suckers are from the rootstock and will steal nutrients that should be going to your Winesap apple tree!

  44. Mike permalink

    I live in Aurora, Co and have a Green Apple tree that has yet to flower or bear fruit. The tree is about 6 years old and appears to be very healthy. I prune annually in late fall After the leaves have fallen. There are no other apple trees close by. Help….what can I do to encourage fruit production?

    • If your apple tree has yet to bloom in the spring, it may be getting too much nitrogen (either naturally from the soil, or from adding fertilizer). Nitrogen helps a tree put on green growth, but doesn’t encourage it to bloom. Another thing to consider is that the tree may not be mature enough to flower or fruit yet, and there isn’t much you can do to speed up that process! You can read more about the things you can control to get your tree to bloom and bear fruit in our article, Fruit Tree Blooming and Bearing Problems – And How to Solve Them!

      Your tree is more than likely going to need another apple tree planted and blooming nearby to produce fruit. Most apple trees are not self-pollinating so they need another kind of apple tree planted in the area to cross-pollinate with — usually within 50 feet as an ideal distance. You can read more about pollinators for fruit trees in our article, The Importance of Fruit Tree Pollination.

  45. wes barnes permalink

    i was given a peach tree when it was about 18 inches tall its been planted for 3 months and is now about 5 feet tall but it looks like a bush when & how do i prune this tree & how many branchs do i cut from the bottom

    • You should wait until the tree is dormant this late fall/winter/early spring before tackling any heavy pruning. You should remove any branches on the lower 18 inches or so of the trunk to give it more of a tree-like appearance.

      Also, prune back the tips of the remaining branches by a third of what grew this year. A peach tree does well if it is pruned to a “vase shape”. That means keep an open center and remove all branches that are growing toward the middle of the tree. Doing this each year will help generally maintain the shape and structure of your peach tree as it matures.

  46. J. G. : : permalink

    Have a serious question; pruning time at hand; appreciate asap response:

    I have carefully read up on the difference between cutting back leaders & shoots and/vs thinning. I’m pretty sure I have the grasp of that.

    However, I have yet not located a good list which shows, of all major varieties of fruit and nut, with which fruit and nut trees is it considered not to enhance spur production by heading back leaders and shoots?

    • Hi J.G. ~ thanks for stopping by! Sorry, but I’m confused by your question. Could you help me out? :)

  47. adil permalink

    I read your article and found it to be very helpful. Well written good job. I have a pretty bad situation which i would love to get some feedback on, i have about 50 orange trees 10 feet apart which are about 7 years old. The trees are stunted at about 3 feet and give about 3-5 oranges per tree and some dont even give any oranges but in the summer they are green but not bushy at all and so forth, since winter is ending how can i revive them in a away for them to start growing taller and giving more fruit. They get the recommended fertilizer at the recommended times i just dont get it and my soil test was excellent any suggestions? Thank you

    • I’m glad you found this article useful, Adil! Most citrus trees don’t require regular pruning as other fruit trees do. They may require you to remove dead, damaged, or diseased limbs, or that you prune to maintain a desired height, but not much more pruning than that is needed.

      There are a few factors that may be at work here, so I have a couple of questions regarding your orange trees that may help us get to the bottom of why they aren’t growing or fruiting as you would expect:

      1. Are you located in an area where orange trees are known to bear regularly? Some years have harsh winters and some are mild, and this will affect fruit yield, especially if fruit buds or flowers are damaged by late frosts, which happen.

      2. Are bees and other pollination helpers around when your trees are in bloom? I know it may seem like a silly question, but if your trees’ flowers aren’t being visited when they are open, adequate cross-pollination may not be taking place.

      3. Are the trees you planted grafted trees or were they grown from seed? Seed-grown trees may take many years before they regularly bear sizable crops, and if this is the case with your trees, they may be bearing small amounts of fruit because they are just coming into their fruiting maturity.

      Let me know! You should also check out our article, Fruit Tree Blooming and Bearing Problems — And How to Solve Them for more information.

  48. Colleen permalink

    Hello. I would appreciate some advice. We have a beautiful black walnut tree that is 21 years old and holds special meaning because it was planted the year our daughter was born. It was huge and bearing many wonderful nuts. A bad ice storm hit our area and when we visited our camp we were saddened to see that the tree broke right at the main branch about a third of the way up. Is there anything we can do to save it now? Thank you for anyhelp you can give us.

    • I might not have a good idea of how much damage was done, but a broken branch a third of the way up an established and otherwise healthy black walnut tree shouldn’t do the tree in. I recommend contacting a licensed tree-care professional in your area to come out and inspect the tree. They will be able to advise you on what needs to be done to preserve the tree (if it is off-balance or a danger to itself and surrounding structures). Your tree is probably fairly large, so I would suggest seeking an arborist or tree-care professional in your area for any maintenance needs.

      Here’s an example of what they will likely assess with your tree: How to Care for Ice-Damaged Trees

  49. Janice permalink

    Hello there, I have a 10 year old peach tree that has never been pruned and has produced small peaches. I was so excited about pruning this year, but with the crazy weather here freezing cold one week and then warm the few next weeks and freezing again I held off on the pruning. Now my peach tree is blooming and has some green leaves already. I don’t know if I should still prune and do any heavy pruning? what should I do? Thanks

    • Hi Janice! The best time to prune is when your trees are dormant. They are designed to know that it takes certain factors like light and temperature to break dormancy, so even if the weather seems different from week to week, pruning is something you can do regardless — without harming your tree.

      You can still prune now, especially since you were so looking forward to it! It might be more difficult for you to decide which limbs should be removed if they’re covered with blossoms, so you may choose to wait until after your tree has finished blooming — and it’ll give bees and other insects a food source in the meantime!

      When you see an opportunity to prune, aim to remove the dead, damaged, and diseased limbs. Also prune out any branches that are growing inward toward the center of the tree and limbs that are crossing into one another. All branches should be growing in a direction that points away from the center. This leaves the tree open to light and air circulation and helps increase fruit quality! If there are any long lanky limbs, prune them back so that they are more stocky and able to hold the weight of a fruit crop.

  50. Elizabeth permalink

    I’m confused about the age of a tree. If I planted it 2 years ago is it 2 years old? If not how do I know how old it was when I purchased it.

    • Good question, Elizabeth! Stark Bro’s trees are around 2 years old when we ship them. So, if you received and planted a 2-year-old tree 2 years ago, technically the tree may be as many as 4 years old now.

      If you’re wondering how to approach pruning, it has more to do with the individual growth and surface area (branches) of the trees you are working with, and not as much to do with the tree’s age. The growth rate of a tree has a lot to do with the environment, the weather, and the maintenance.

      If you’re thinking about age in regard to bearing fruit, the “years to bear” or “years until fruit” starts counting from the time you plant the tree (not from the beginning of the tree’s life).

      I hope this helps! :)

  51. hello I’ve been reading through the comments I think I got an idea what I should do but long story short I bought a house about a month back there is close to a dozen fruit trees its a guess but I think theres apple peach, cherry, apricots my best guess is the past 2-3 years they have not been maintained I would like to trim them but they are already showing buds is it too late to cut them back for this year? from what I’ve read I gather that I could probably do small little cuts right now and then wait to do the big major cuts until this coming winter… Thanks any advice would help

    • I live in western colorado

    • That’s right AJ! Pruning neglected fruit trees should happen in stages. If you can get some pruning done this spring, aiming to clean up the damaged, diseased, or dead limbs (as well as limbs that are rubbing/crossing one another), you will do the trees a big favor! Then later in the year after they’re dormant again, you can aim to prune for structure and shape — opening the trees up to light and air circulation.

      I’m not sure how old the trees are so keep this in mind: If you have to remove any limbs that are bigger than what your pruning shears or loppers can handle, please consult a licensed tree-care professional for advice and/or services. Most professionals will tell you that a chainsaw is not something you should consider as a pruning tool. If the job is that big, let the experts take care of it — for your safety and the safety of the tree! :)

  52. Norman permalink

    I have a 2 year old dwarf 5 in 1 peach tree that I will be trimming. I assume since these are grafted onto dwarf stock that they will have to be trimmed differently to maintain the different varieties of fruit. Where can I find information on doing these so the tree will remain productive.

    • There aren’t really separate pruning instructions for dwarf fruit trees. The biggest thing you will have to look out for is that you don’t remove one of the 5 peach variety branches that have been grafted onto your 5-in-1 peach tree. I’m hoping they were somehow marked for your reference.

      The different varieties will likely have different growth rates, so you might find that at least one variety is more vigorous than the others. In this case, prune to keep all 5 varieties in balance. This way, you won’t have one that is dominant over the rest. Along with pruning growth that points inward toward the center of the tree (to keep your tree open to light) and pruning dead, damaged, and diseased limbs, this will keep your tree maintained and productive!

  53. Kim permalink

    We just purchased a moonglow pear. We planted it in the ground and it has tones of small fruit. Someone told me I need to knock all of these tiny fruits off now so I don’t stress out the tree and it’s roots grow properly. I am so excited about my fruit that I really don’t want to do this, but understand it may be necessary for future growth. What so you suggest?

    • Fruit production takes a lot out of a tree. It actually stops growing so that it can use its nutrient reserves to sustain a fruit crop. Often when an older tree that already has flowers/fruit on it is transplanted, it will drop the young fruit before it can mature. Transplanting is a stress on the tree, especially the older/larger a tree is, and fruit drop is a tree’s common response to stress.

      The goal of any newly planted fruit tree its first season should be to grow and establish roots in its new environment.

      The tree you just planted has not had time to establish and grow its roots. If you allow it to put its energy into the tiny fruit you’re seeing now, it won’t be trying to establish itself properly. It will be out of balance.

      I know it’s difficult to have to remove the fruit, since that’s why you planted the fruit tree in the first place, but you have to consider your long-term goal of planting your tree: you want it to be as healthy as possible so that it continues to produce in years to come! Removing the young fruit now will greatly help give your newly planted fruit tree a good start, which is key to continued fruit production. :)

  54. Phil permalink

    Hi, thanks for all the info here! My wife and I bought a house last summer that has a tall neglected pear tree. Not sure on the variety, but we didn’t think to prune it in winter and we’re wondering if it is better to wait until this winter, or if it’s OK to do a little pruning now in late April. We never got to try any from last years production because we think squirrels got to them all, but hopefully we can avoid that and try some this year.

    • Congratulations on inheriting a pear tree, Phil! :) It’s probably a good idea to wait until winter when the tree is sure to be dormant before you do any intensive pruning. You can remove any damaged, diseased, or dead limbs that you see now — or any time.

      You can also prune out any branches that are growing in toward the center of the tree or its trunk, and any limbs that are touching/rubbing. Your tree will be better off if they are removed sooner than later.

      Since you mentioned that the pear tree is neglected and fruit bearing, I’m guessing it’s mature and could be fairly large. In this case, you might consider contacting a local licensed tree-care professional to assess what the tree needs, especially in the event that it has large limbs that should be removed. I hope this helps!

  55. Matt permalink


    I have newly planted trees (this past fall) which were pruned by Stark prior to shipping. What should I be doing during this season when they are starting to show growth and after the season? Should I just let everything go for a couple of years until the trees get larger?


    • You can let the trees grow for now, Matt. You shouldn’t need to prune anything until the trees are dormant this winter. When the trees are dormant, you’ll have a good view of the existing structure without leaves in the way. It’s best to do a little pruning every year so that nothing gets out of control.

      First-season pruning should target any limbs that are damaged, diseased, or dead. Those can be completely removed. Also, tip back/prune the new growth by a third — just the new growth; don’t cut the whole tree back by a third. This may not be a lot to remove, but it will definitely help your trees keep a good balance with their roots, a good structure for supporting fruit in the future, and also remove any potentially problematic branching to avoid damage later.

  56. Betty Fountaine permalink

    Four of my apple tress that I got from you only have leaves coming up from the new suckers at the bottom. The rest have NO leaves. Are these dead? I’m sure they are since one other tree has leaves at the top.

    • Hi Betty. You can always try the scratch test to see if the trees are living. We describe how to accurately* test for life in your trees here: How to do a Scratch Test. I hope this helps!

      *scratch the trunk, halfway up the tree — don’t scratch branches to check for life in the tree, since branches can die without the tree dying.

  57. Whitney H permalink

    Thank you for all these wonderful articles. We bought three trees (from a local nursery) in early spring. The leaves on all three of them fell off, and haven’t returned. There was a hard freeze a week after planting, but it’s been beautiful weather since. I did the scratch test, and all the trunks are alive. We didn’t prune them, and now I wonder if we should have. Do you think I should prune them?

    • Whitney H permalink

      I should say, do you think I should still prune them even though it’s off season?

    • Thank you for reading, Whitney!

      You can prune back any signs of damaged or dead branches now*. This will help stimulate growth from buds in living tissue while removing dead weight your trees don’t need to support as they recover from the stress of the weather earlier in the spring.

      *try to avoid pruning right before it rains, since rain may encourage diseases that can get into fresh pruning cuts

  58. mindy permalink

    I have a nectarine tree that turned 3 years old last year and produced beautiful fruit. We never pruned the tree (didn’t know we had to!) and this year (2nd fruiting year) NOTHING! Could this be because we didn’t prune? We had a lot of rain this spring, could that be a reason too?

    • I’m sorry to hear you haven’t seen any fruit from your nectarine tree this year, Mindy. :( It may have been caused by a combination of things:

      1. Pruning helps to balance fruiting wood with vegetative wood. If you have not pruned the tree, it may not have that balance, and it may not have fruited this year as a result. Be sure to prune this winter/early next spring to remove damaged, diseased, dead limbs, limbs that cross over one another, and limbs that grow inward toward the center of the tree. Then also prune back the tips of the limbs so that the remaining limbs are sturdier; this will help the tree support future fruit crops.

      2. Allowing a large* crop to mature, if it doesn’t result in premature fruit-drop, may result in biennial bearing. This means a tree fruits heavily one year and takes the next year off to rest. This can be remedied by thinning the fruit.

      *”Large” is a relative term here, since what may seem like a lot of fruit to your tree may not seem like a lot of fruit to you.

      3. The weather this past winter/spring was harsh in most areas. Low temperatures and fluctuating cold in the spring affected many “stone fruit” trees, like apricots, peaches, plums, and nectarines. If this was the culprit, your tree should be inclined to fruit for you next year, assuming the weather is a little nicer. :)

  59. Dianna permalink

    I have a double blossom cherry tree that seems to have been damaged with landscaping that was recently done in our yard. Only one of the main branches produced leaves and flowers this year, all of the other branches seem to be dead. Should I prune the dead branches or wait to see if they produce leaves at some point. If I do need to prune them, when should I do this? I live in California and it is mid summer. I really do not want to loose this tree, but I am not sure if it will ever look right with only one live branch. This tree is about 8 years old and is grafted. Thanks for any help you can give.

    • There would be no benefit to leaving dead limbs on your tree, but if you’re worried about the aesthetics of your tree with just one live branch, keep in mind that an otherwise healthy tree will be able to develop more new branches in time — if you can forgive an “awkward in-between phase”. :)

      Try pruning back the limbs in question to see if there is actually life in them. Start at the tips and snip a couple inches off. After you make your cut, look at the cut site to see if the wood inside the branch is dry and brown. Keep cutting back until you find green-to-white, wet (living) tissue within the branch.

      If you don’t find any life in the branches, removing the dead weight will help the tree put its energy into supporting the remaining living limb(s) and eventually stimulating new growth.

      If you do find life in the seemingly dead limbs, then give them time to eventually produce leaves. Some type of shock, possibly related to the landscaping damage you mentioned, may have delayed their development.

      Note: try to do any growing-season pruning when it is not forecast to rain. Rain can stir up possible fungal issues that may take advantage of the pruning cuts.

  60. Richard permalink

    I read (Fast-growing “water sprouts” can be removed as soon as you see them, rather than waiting until winter.). How do you identify “water sprouts”? I’m buy a house and want to have a edible yard. I’m trying to learn these things.

    • Watersprouts differ from typical branches because they often grow straight up, either out from a higher part of the trunk than suckers (which come from the rootstock) or they grow vertically, directly from an existing branch. They seem to appear “overnight” because they grow so quickly.

      We have a blog post that might help clear things up for you here: Fruit Tree Care: Removing Tree Suckers & Water Sprouts

  61. cptacek permalink

    We had an apple tree fall over in a wind storm about 8 years ago…and it is still producing fruit. It hadn’t ever been pruned and it still hasn’t been pruned. I am interested in getting more production out of this tree, larger fruit instead of the many many many smaller ones, and the inside of the foliage doesn’t produce, as I know it won’t unless wind and sun get in there. How do I prune a tree laying over on its side? I mean, what applies and what doesn’t with regards to shaping it, water spouts, etc?

    On the plus side, my 3 year old can pick fruit with me without using a ladder :)

    • Fruit trees never cease to amaze me! If you have any photos of this apple tree, I’d love to see them. You can post them here or on our Facebook Page if you’d rather.

      In any case, pruning will have mostly the same goal, even with a tree that is not perfectly upright: keep it open to light and air circulation to improve fruit quality and help avoid an environment for disease. You do this by removing branches that grow inward toward the center of the tree, removing branches that are crossing over one another or rubbing against one another, and removing all damaged, diseased, and dead limbs whenever they appear.

      I’d have to see the tree to be able to give more specific advice about shaping and whatnot, but it seems to be doing well so I wonder if it’s a situation where “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. :)

      You can help improve the size of the fruit you harvest by thinning the fruit that is on the tree. A smaller crop will receive more of the tree’s energy and will have less competition for nutrients, so it naturally improves the fruit size. You can read more about this concept in our article about The Benefits of Thinning Fruit here. I hope this helps!

      • cptacek permalink

        I will send you a picture when I get home. Thanks for the response. I’ll ask more questions when you get the picture :)

      • cptacek permalink

        er, I have the pictures…I just don’t know how to post it here.

  62. SouthDakotaPeach permalink

    I planted several bare root trees from Stark late this spring, my cherry and intrepid peach are doing great. My supreme Reliance peach is only growing branches/leaves from about an inch or two above the graft. The upper 3/4 off the tree has no leaves. Below what were buds is green bark so I believe the top is alive.Will new branches form near the top next year, or will this tree be permanently misshapen? Should I do anything?

    • The beauty of fruit trees is that, even if they don’t have limbs and leaves right now, it doesn’t mean they won’t develop this growing season, or in future growing seasons. I had a bare-root plum tree that started out with only branches on one side, but, by the end of the same growing season, it sent out new growth all over the place — so much that I had to prune it back midsummer!

      Peach trees have a highly vegetative nature, so I think yours will turn out more balanced even if it is going through an “awkward phase” at the moment. What you can do to encourage growth near the top is prune the tips of the existing branches in the upper 3/4 of the tree — just prune back a few inches (about 3″ or so) will help to stimulate growth in the remaining buds below the pruning cuts. If you find that the limbs are dead near the top (brown, dry, and brittle inside), prune back the dead wood until you find living tissue (whitish/greenish and wet inside). This will help remove the dead weight while still stimulating development in the healthy tissue.

      This should help this summer! If you find that your tree takes a turn for the worse and doesn’t survive, be sure to inform our customer support team at 800.325.4180 — we’ll be able to take care of you. :)

      • SouthDakotaPeach permalink

        I don’t know if I described it correctly.I just planted the tree this spring and the tree is a single stick a few leaves/branches just above the graft. There are no branches, leaves, or live buds above three inches above the graft. Should I trim the tip of the tree off?

        • If you scratch and find green near the top, trimming the tip back will stimulate growth below your pruning cut. This won’t really improve things if the entire top of the tree is dead, in which case I’d recommend trimming back until you find living tissue.

          If you find that pruning doesn’t help stimulate growth over the coming weeks that are left in this growing season, I’d suggest contacting our customer support team (800.325.4180) to discuss shipping a new tree at the next best available time so you can start fresh.

  63. Lynn permalink

    I have a double trunk peach tree. Probably 3 years old. the 2nd trunk grew very quickly and is now much larger than the first. The 2nd trunk is only 1 year old. The original trunk bore fruit this year, but the other larger one did not. Can they function together? If not, which should I remove? I want fruit, but I don’t want to lose the new growth if possible.

    • It sounds like the second trunk that grew was either a sucker (from the rootstock) or a watersprout (from the trunk above the graft). These types of growth are common, fast-growing, and they tend to steal nutrients away from the rest of the tree in order to grow so quickly. This is why we recommend removing tree suckers and watersprouts as soon as they appear.

      You may still be able to leave the second, bigger trunk if it’s not interfering with the first trunk of the original tree. If the second trunk is coming from the rootstock, it may not bear a good-quality fruit — if it develops fruit. If you decide to remove the second trunk, I’d recommend waiting until winter when the tree is dormant to avoid as much stress on the remaining tree as possible.

  64. Mike permalink

    I have a Owari Satsuma dwart tree that I planted last year and it produced about 10 oranges. This spring it didn’t grow at all (no leaves and branches were turning black), so I cut it down to about two inches above the graph, in the middle of June it started to grow and now it has about 8 limbs growing from below the graph, should I prune these during the winter so there is one main trunk or let it grow as is. also will this tree produce in 3-5 years seeing that the growth is coming from below the graph? I live in south Mississippi so I am not sure why it didn’t make it through the winter.

    • Hi Mike — If you’re not seeing any growth from above the graft, the winter may have killed your Owari Satsuma tree. If you’re seeing growth/life in the two inches left above the graft, you can encourage it to grow. You should prune off the limbs coming from below the graft (the rootstock), since these are “suckers” that will sap nutrients from the grafted variety that you want to grow. You don’t need to wait for winter to remove tree suckers; they should be removed whenever they appear.

      The growth from below the graft is from the tree’s rootstock. Rootstocks are chosen for size, hardiness, and other characteristics, but not really fruit quality or production. I don’t know what rootstock your tree is grafted to, but if the 3-5 “years to bear fruit” was recommended for your Owari Satsuma, it probably won’t apply to the rootstock.

      From what I’ve read, different rootstocks used for Owari Satsuma trees have varying levels of hardiness depending on whether the tree is growing in a pot or in the ground, so that might give you a starting point to find out why your tree had a hard time this past winter, even in Mississippi — although the winter was harsher than normal and extended well into spring in most places, which could be the culprit on its own.

      If you can find out what rootstock was used (the grower/supplier you got your tree from should have this information) it may help. You can read more about the different rootstocks commonly used for that tree here: Owari Satsuma Tangerine from Edible Landscaping.

      • Mike permalink

        Thanks, I don’t believe it is still alive above the graph. I may have to pull it out and start over. Thanks for the info.

  65. Bryan permalink

    Wow, I wish I found you when I planted my dwarf golden delicious tree 7 years ago :-)

    I’ve been waiting patiently for it to bear real fruit, but haven’t done anything other than keep it alive. It’s really grown well and is probably 10 feet high. I’ve never pruned it or had the soil tested. But always seemed healthy. Each year I’d get a bunch of small fruit that would never finish. I figured the tree just wasn’t mature. This year, in its 7th or maybe 8th season I have a single apple growing! Figured something was wrong and went searching. Found a wealth of info here on your site. Amazing stuff!

    So, is there a chance I might be able to get this tree to produce fruit yet? I don’t have any other apple trees nearby, or room to plant any for pollination. I live in zone 6b.

    Any tips?

    • Hey Bryan — good news! Golden Delicious apple trees are self-pollinating, which is why you’ve been able to see any fruit at all (even if small) without having a pollinator apple tree growing nearby.

      Pruning will keep your apple tree open to light (helps increase fruit production/quality) and air circulation (helps prevent disease). Pruning removes damaged, dead, and diseased limbs, limbs that grow inward toward the center of the tree, and limbs that create damage by crossing over or rubbing against one another. This simple, routine upkeep also keeps your tree in balance so that there is enough fruiting wood to develop flowers and fruit, and enough vegetative wood to develop leaves for fruit-sustaining “food production” (photosynthesis) and branches for leaves.

      Since your apple tree sounds healthy otherwise it probably doesn’t need fertilizer*, but I think pruning will help stimulate your tree into becoming more fruitful!

      *Try not to be tempted to fertilize a tree that doesn’t need it in order to get fruit. Most fertilizers tend to be high in nitrogen — an element that contributes to green, vegetative growth (leaves and branches) often at the expense of flower/fruit development.

      • Bryan H permalink

        Thank you Sarah! That’s great news. So sounds like the plan will be to do some good pruning this winter (late winter for me in 6b apparently) and hope for the best next spring? I cant think of what else might’ve happened for it to never produce good fruit or fruit at all??

  66. joy permalink

    I need help ! I have a new build house which means a new garden. this is the second year.
    The land was a field before and is mainly grey clay.I have put many bags of good compost in plus a good bucket of worms from a friends compost heap. Last year I planted a Christmas Pippin Apple tree (miniature) Last year it did well many apples but all had insects in them ,so none could be harvested. This year had leaves and flowers in the spring,all looked well.I then gave ,chicken fertilizer,and a few weeks later gave it blood and bone fertilizer.To my sadness a few days later all the flowers and leaves dried up.and today the tree is dead. How should I care for my next one and are there any bug free ones.

    • Hi Joy — sorry to hear about your troubles with your apple tree. :(

      There aren’t really “bug-free” trees, which is actually a good thing, since you want bugs (like bees and other beneficials) to pollinate the flowers to help produce fruit! It sounds like you’re already working to get your soil into good shape, which will be greatly helpful keeping your future trees healthy.

      When you try your next apple tree (or trees, since most apple trees need a second different apple variety to cross-pollinate for fruit production to take place), be sure to get a variety you want (highly important!) and then also get a good pest control spray. There are natural sprays that can be used in organic gardening if you’re concerned about that. Neem oil is a good spray to use that is derived from natural ingredients and repels many bug pests. Your local garden shop or other local experts would be a handy resource for what to use to see what’s available where you are located.

  67. Dan Persechino permalink

    I’m wondering…when I was a child in the 1960′s my father had many fruit trees he bought from
    Miller nurseries in Canandaigua NY. We lived in Syracuse NY, but one of the peach trees we had in the front yard was not from the nursery,,anyway it had all Red leaves, beautiful pink flowers and produced
    beautiful Red peaches,,not always very big but sweet.I ‘m pretty sure they weren’t a free stone like the more modern type. I would appreciate any info you might have on this “older” type tree. I cannot find any tree anywhere that has all red leaves like this tree did. Thanks a million, Dan

    • There weren’t too many red-leaf peach trees around back then, and there aren’t very many around even now. The tree you’re describing sounds like it may have been a seedling tree — grown from the pit of a peach rather than grafted like most peach varieties are. In this case, it wouldn’t have had a name and probably wasn’t sold by a fruit tree nursery.

      Many of our peach varieties are grafted onto “peach redleaf seedling” rootstocks. These peach rootstocks have an attractive purple-red leaf and they do develop a small fruit, but it is likely not the exact tree you remember from the 60s. You might have luck asking your local nurseries if they know of a source where you might be able to get a red-leafed peach tree that grows an edible peach, but be sure to specify that you don’t want an ornamental/flowering peach tree. The fruit on these wouldn’t get soft, or ripen, or be very tasty at all.

  68. Grace permalink

    I have 5 persimmon trees which were pruned not when they were dormant (Fall/Winter). Since then 4 out of 5 trees now produce several tiny (1 to 1 1/2 inch fruits). I researched that pruning (Summer time) can cause dwarfing. My question is” With time will this dwarfing be reversed back to regular sized fruits? Is there something I can do to encourage the tree to produce regular size again?

    • I haven’t heard of pruning causing dwarfing in fruit. The only things I am familiar with affecting fruit size are…

      1. weather – cold can keep the tree from putting energy into sizing up fruit.
      2. not pruning – light attributes to fruit development, so trees that are unpruned may cause shading issues that limit fruit size/quality.
      3. overbearing – a tree that has more fruit than it can handle is inclined to either drop the excess fruit or have a lot of small fruit instead of fewer, larger fruit.
      4. maturity of the tree – a tree that is bearing early may be “testing the waters” as far as fruit production is concerned. Its fruit size and quality is likely to improve with time as the tree matures as a fruit-bearing tree.

      I hope this helps you get to the bottom of the issue with your persimmon trees’ fruit size!

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