Fruit Tree Care: Summer Pruning

There are several approaches to summer-pruning fruit trees, but they all have one goal in common: detecting what needs correcting. Here is what we recommend.

Despite being considered "off-season pruning", summer pruning of fruit trees has its place in the home orchard. For example, summer pruning may be necessary to repair damaged tree limbs. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, then prune back the ragged edges, making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump.

Plum Tree Needs Summer Pruning

Summer pruning, or pinching, of tender new branches is also recommended to encourage huskier growth in vigorously vegetative trees. This discourages long, weak, "leggy" growth from flourishing. Summer pinching helps manage the tree's overall size as well, which is especially handy if your dwarf fruit trees tend to be more on the robust side.

There are many reasons to consider summer pruning of fruit trees, but the ultimate purpose remains the same: detecting what needs correcting.

When to consider summer pruning:

July & early August. The active growing season, before things slow down in fall. This also takes into consideration cases where a harsh winter and spring may delay new growth.

Fruit trees commonly considered for summer pruning*:

*These fruit trees tend to grow vigorously, putting energy into lots of vegetative growth. They may reach their maximum height sooner than other fruit trees, but at the expense of sturdy, stocky limbs. They may also develop light and airflow issues that pruning addresses.

Summer Pruning: Pinching Example

Remove current problems. Dead, damaged, diseased limbs should be removed before they become bigger stress factors for your tree. Remove crossing/rubbing limbs, and limbs that grow inward toward the tree's center.

Create a sturdy structure. As mentioned earlier, long, weak growth should be pinched back. Hand pinch, or prune, 3 inches (or so) off the end of each soft, leafy shoot. Repeat in late summer if side shoots grow rapidly out.

Benefits to summer pruning of fruit trees:

  • Enhances light exposure. In young fruit trees, light improves the development of fruiting wood. In mature fruit-bearing trees, light improves fruit size/quality. In fruit trees of all ages, proper light and air circulation reduce the risk of fungal disease.
  • Encourages sturdier branch development. Through pruning, your tree will be left with stockier, sturdier growth that can better support fruit in future seasons.
  • Provides opportunity to check on tree status. Find and address pests/disease issues, ideally before they are bigger problems. Spread tree limbs if they are growing too vertically. Remove any suckers and watersprouts that may have appeared.
Summer Pinching: Before Pruning Cut
Summer Pinching: After Pruning Cut

Things to avoid when summer pruning:

Avoid pruning if rain is in the immediate forecast. Rain can stir up disease elements, like fungal spores, that may take advantage of fresh pruning cuts. Wait for the weather to be more cooperative.
Avoid heavy pruning in summer. Summer pruning should merely maintain the structure which you define with heavier pruning in winter/early spring. Heavy pruning should always be saved for when fruit trees are dormant and less prone to stress.
Avoid pruning too late. It may seem backward, but pruning actually encourages growth. If this growth is encouraged too late in the season, it could be at risk of winter injury. If you miss your "summer pruning window", just wait to prune in the winter/early spring instead.

Note: you do not need to wait to remove damaged, dead, or diseased limbs, or suckers and watersprouts. These should be removed as soon as possible.

With these things in mind, and pruners in hand, you are ready for summer pruning. Let us know how it goes!