Fruit Tree Pruning Guide

Before you tackle pruning your fruit trees, ensure you know why you are pruning and that you have the right tools for the job. Follow our guide below on why, when and how to prune.

Not all fruiting plants require an annual prune, and some new dwarf cultivars of apples, peaches, apricots and nectarines have been bred to eliminate the need for annual pruning and maintenance.

Why prune:

  • To reduce the size of the tree, to allow for easier picking and harvest.
  • To promote flowering and fruiting for an increased yield - pruning encourages fresh new stems, and therefore an increased harvest.
  • To allow more sunlight and air movement into the plant: a small bird should be able to fly through the centre of the tree. Improved air movement prevents pest and disease problems developing and more light encourages even ripening.
  • To remove dead and diseased branches and stems, rejuvenating trees.
  • For a desired shape.

When to prune:

  • Apples and pears - prune every winter to ensure a good crop of fruit the following season. Note that sometimes due to seasonal fluctuations, pears become biennial fruiters, fruiting better every second season.
  • Feijoas, olives, figs, Chilean guavas and citrus - prune after harvest finishes. In cold areas, don’t prune citrus until after the frosts have passed. It is not necessary to prune every year.
  • Nectarines, peaches, almonds and plums - we recommend to prune stone fruit trees in late summer after fruiting has finished, however it can be done in early-mid autumn if necessary. If you do prune in autumn protect cut wounds with a water based paint or pruning paint to seal the wound and prevent disease entering. These fruits don’t need pruning every season, and it’s important not to prune in winter as it can spread the spores of silver leaf, which is these stone fruits are prone to.
  • Grapes and kiwifruit - prune in winter, back to 3-5 buds and tie back any long new branches or canes to train into shape.
  • Cherries and blueberries - do not require a lot of pruning, other than to shape and to remove dead or diseased wood. Both fruit on the same wood for years. The best time to prune is after fruit appears in summer or autumn.

How to prune:

  • Research your tree variety and the best growing shape for fruit trees i.e. open vase, central leader, trellis, fan, espalier or bush.
  • Prune on a dry day, to limit the spread of fungal spores and diseases.
  • Use sharp secateurs to make clean cuts on an angle, above a bud or branch.
  • Prune lightly rather than excessively.
  • When trimming or reducing the canopy, make cuts just above an outward facing bud.
  • Cuts should always be on a 45 degree sloping angle so water doesn't pool and allow fungal disease to enter the wound.
  • When removing entire shoots cut close to the main branch, rather than leaving a stub.
  • Remove all clippings and prunings and dispose of dead and diseased material.
  • Clean tools after use.
  • Seal cuts larger than 2.5cm with a pruning paste or water-based paint.
  • Spray deciduous fruit trees in winter with a copper based spray to eradicate over wintering diseases. Spores can over-winter and are spread by air and moisture, as well as tools.

Click here for our Fruit Tree Espaliering Guide

When should I plant
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Harvest in 2-3 years

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Fruit Tree Pruning Guide Comments

  • Hi, can you please tell me what month to prune my lemon, lime and mandarin trees? 

    Rae Keightley

    • Hi Rae, the best time to prune your citrus is early summer - avoid pruning in winter and in September/October as you run the risk of lemon borer laying eggs in fresh cuts. Prune when your tree has finished fruiting but only in frost free regions. If you are in a frost prone area delay pruning as the soft new growth that regrows after pruning could get frosted and knock the tree back. 

      Tui Team

  • Hi there, I bought a Luisa plum tree a week ago (late September) and it has been planted in my backyard for a week. I have since read that it is better to plant plum trees in winter and to do a “first cut” immediately after planting. Is it still possible to do this cut now that it is spring and the tree is in leaf? What would be the best thing to do? Would appreciate any advice, thanks!



    • Hi Ruth, the ideal time to plant is when the tree is dormant over winter, however, with container grown plants it is fine to plant any time of year as long as the tree gets plenty of water once it is planted so that it can establish quickly. Assuming by first cut you mean prune to shape? It can be done after planting. We would suggest cutting the long branches (if there are any) back by one third, to an outside bud. You want to create an open outward vase shape and establish a frame work for the tree. Cut out any branches that are crossing over and growing inwards. At this stage, we  would recommend cutting back any long branches by one third and leave the pruning to shape until later.

      Tui Team

  • Can I be brutal with my cropping of my miniature orange?

    Brian E Gidley

    • Hi Brian 

      Generally citrus don’t need pruning, but it can be cut back by about one third if it is getting too big, this will also stimulate new growth. Take out diseased or dead wood and branches that criss-cross inwards, aim to open the tree up so that sun can ripen fruit on the tree.

      Tui Team

  • I am looking for information particularly on Apricot pruning. You don't mention apricots in any fruit info on your site. Is this available please

    Elly Campbell

    • Hi Elly,

      Apricots are one of the easier fruit trees to prune once the framework is established. A vase shape is the best system, the centre of the tree needs to be open to let light in to ripen fruit, and so the tree is maintained at a manageable height. Apricot trees fruit on two year old wood, which is last seasons new growth. The fruiting spurs are short lived so make sure there are enough thin branches left on the tree for the following years fruiting wood. The fruiting spurs will bear fruit for 3-4 years, older than this they will start bearing fruit every other year (bi-ennial bearing), so it is important to keep the skinny thin branches to have plenty of fruit each year.

      Prune after fruiting has finished in late summer, autumn. Do this on a dry day, thin out the centre of the tree, remove branches that are crossing over, dead or diseased. Prune to outside buds to encourage an open canopy. Remove vigorous growth (watershoots) and shorten branches back by about one third. Paint all cuts with a pruning paste or water based paint, this is important as a disease called Silver Leaf can enter through cuts and trees don't recover from Silver Leaf, for this reason pruning is done in late summer to prevent disease affecting the tree. Tui Team.


      Tui Team

  • Good morning, we planted apple, plum and peach trees two years ago and none of them flowered or had any fruit but they have grown well - should we feed or prune to assist flowering?


    • Hi Janine, there could be several reasons your trees are not flowering and fruiting. If your trees are seedling grown it will take them 7+ years to flower and fruit, but if they are grafted trees they will flower and fruit in 3-4 years. Assuming your trees are grafted, ensure they are planted in free draining soil, rich in organic matter, and in the sunniest position possible. Feed your trees in early spring at bud burst and again after fruiting has finished in late summer, early autumn using an all purpose fertiliser such as Tui General Garden fertiliser, it contains potash (potassium) which is what fruit trees need to promote flowering and fruiting. Late frosts can affect fruit yield, if there is a late frost at the time of flowering it can affect buds and fruit yield. Winter chilling is important as most fruit trees require winter chilling to initiate flowering and ultimately fruiting, do you live in a region where they get sufficient winter chilling? Pruning will help stimulate new growth, but take care not to prune the fruiting wood from the trees. Apples fruit on two year old fruiting spurs, and these will fruit for 3-4 years. Plum trees fruit on one to three old wood depending upon which variety is planted, and peaches fruit on two year old fruiting spurs. Give your trees time to establish, as long as they are planted in the right spot, they will bear fruit.

      Lianne, Tui Team

  • Hi, I have a nectarine and a peach tree that I planted into tubs last winter. I have now (spring 1 year later) done some landscaping and have planted the trees in the ground. So there's last summers growth and this years growth with fruit formed on the trees. I am after a vase shaped tree. I haven't done a first/formative prune yet. Is it too late? Can I snip my central leader off now and train my 3-4 scaffold branches? Thanks.

    Arrun Pancha

    • Hi Arrun, an open vase shape is ideal for nectarines. Nectarine trees fruit on second year wood, it is always good to let the tree establish a good root system in the first season and remove the fruit, especially if it is a heavy crop, as the plants energies are going to go into producing fruit rather than establishing a good root system. The best time to prune is after fruiting has finished, so mid summer (December/January), it is too early to do this at the moment. Pruning on a hot sunny day in summer to lessen the chance of disease entering the tree through the pruning wounds. Seal all pruning wounds with a pruning paste/paint or water based paint to seal against disease.