Pruning Fruit Trees

For the first few years after planting a young fruit tree, it will need pruning to ensure a balanced shape develops. If you are training a tree against a wall or fence, or along wires, it will need continual attention.

Maiden Trees

Fruit trees bought as maidens can be trained into any of the forms below:

Bush Trees

To grow from a maiden, when planting, prune off the lower laterals up to the height you wish the lowest branches to start. In the next 2 or 3 years prune the tree to establish the correct shape, in the early spring cut each shoot of last seasons growth by half and thin out over crowded and crossing branches. Little pruning will be required in subsequent years. Prune cherries, plums and peaches in early summer to avoid canker infection, and paint pruning wounds with a copper based wound paint.


A one year maiden tree will have a central leader, or trunk, and perhaps several side laterals growing along it. The lowest laterals should be removed when the tree is planted and the remainder cut to 10-15cm, always cut to a bud. This can be done for you at the nursery. After the first year the laterals on the lower half of the trunk should be removed. This should be done in early spring using sharp tools and cutting flush with the trunk. Check for, and remove, double leaders and basal shoots or suckers; and rim the head of the tree if necessary to maintain it's shape. In subsequent years remove laterals on the trunk until you have the height of clear stem you require.

Cordons and Pillars

Commonly used for apples and pears. Use M9 and Quince 'C' rootstocks respectively. Cordons can be planted at a 45° angle and tied to strained wires, or planted upright and pruned as pillars. To grow from a maiden tree cut all laterals back to 4-5cm, to a bud, when planting. For the first few years tie in the leader and reduce all laterals to three buds in late summer. Once the leader is the required height prune the new growth each year to 3cm.

Espaliers and Fans

See our espalier training guide and fan training guide.

Left to right: cordon trained tree silhouette, espalier trained tree silhouette and fan trained tree silhouette.

Mature Fruit Trees

Mature fruit trees typically require maintenance pruning to remove dead, diseased or damaged branches and to keep them the size desired.