Pruning Fruit Trees: Central Leader

The central leader/main leader structure is based on a fruit tree's natural upright growth form. Central leader pruning benefits apples, pears, and more.

Central Leader Pruned & Limb Spreaders

There are different pruning and training structures for different types of fruit trees. The central leader, or main leader, structure is recommended for fruit trees whose branches naturally have more of an upright growth habit, rather than a spreading nature. This structure calls for a single trunk with scaffold limbs (think like a Christmas tree form), which allows for adequate light exposure throughout the tree's canopy. Light is essential for the development of quality fruit.

Before we get into the details of central leader pruning, let's discuss pruning fruit trees in general. Pruning is an easy task, although many fruit-tree growers hesitate or refrain from pruning for fear of making mistakes or hurting their fruit trees. We want to share our firm belief that it is better to prune (even a little) than not to prune at all. There isn't one right way to prune, but there are many recommendations for pruning wisely.

Feel confident in knowing what to prune:

  • Prune one-third of new growth from that growing season (not one-third of the tree's overall branching)
  • Prune to completely remove dead, damaged, and diseased limbs
  • Prune to completely remove limbs that are growing inward toward the center of the tree
  • Prune to completely remove tree suckers and watersprouts whenever they appear – not just when the tree is dormant

Central Leader Pruning

Once again, the central leader structure is based on the natural growth habit of the trees. These fruit trees tend to have more of an upright growth habit, and the central/main leader structure keeps the canopy open to light and air circulation so that fruit production and overall tree health are maintained.

When pruning your fruit tree, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Know the type of tree you will prune so that you know how to approach pruning it.
Trees like apples, sweet cherries, pears, and European plums benefit from a central leader pruning structure.
2. Know the recommended structure for the fruit trees you are growing and pruning. This article focuses on main leader/central leader pruning. Read about an open-center/vase shape pruning here: Pruning Fruit Trees: Open Center.
3. Know the best times to prune your fruit trees: winter or early spring – when trees are dormant.

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