GARDENING: The right way to prune

editorial image
Have your say

PRUNING apple and pear trees is confusing – why do you do it in summer and winter?

It depends on the type of tree and its age. Summer pruning is mainly for trained trees: cordons, espalier, fan, pyramid, or spindlebush, or if space is restricted and it is grown in a container.

Trees grown as standards or bushes are usually managed with winter pruning. 

Bush or standard apple and pear trees should be pruned every winter to ensure a good crop the following season.

The aim is to create an open goblet shape with a framework of about five main branches.

Pruning should be carried out when the tree is dormant, between November and early March.

You’ll need sharp secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw. Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased and damaged branches. If you do nothing else, this will improve your 

Keep the centre open by removing larger branches with a pruning saw. If a tree is neglected and several need to be removed, spread the work over two or three winters.

Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too big by cutting them back to a vigorous lower branch (make sure this is at least one-third of the diameter of the branch being cut out). From here, the next steps depend on whether the tree is a spur-bearer, tip-bearer, or partial tip bearer.

This is where things get REALLY complicated. Most cultivated apples are tip-bearers, but don’t leave it to chance – you don’t want to cut off all your potential fruit.

Look up your variety and find out which one it is. You’ll find more information on my website on some of the common apples and pears.

Even more confusingly, it’s best to prune a partial tip-bearer like a spur-bearer (it has spurs as well).

Spur-bearing varieties: Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch by about one-third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs.

Cut back any young laterals growing from the main framework to five or six buds.

On older trees, remove any spur systems that have become overcrowded.

Tip-bearing varieties: Prune the previous year’s growth on each main branch and the most vigorous laterals to the first strong bud.

Leave unpruned laterals less than 30cm (1ft) long. Cut back some older fruited wood to a young shoot or leaf bud to reduce congestion.

•FOR more on these topics, plus cook what you grow, traditional recipes, North East information, environmental news and more, visit

Follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on Facebook at Mandycanudigit