Pruning Bearing Apple and Pear Trees

For apples and pears, a cone-shaped tree—with longer scaffold branches at the bottom of the tree and shorter ones at the top—intercepts light most efficiently. While this shape is easy to maintain in a young tree, it is difficult to preserve as the tree ages. The top of the tree, which has the most vigorous growth, tends to spread and shade the lower limbs.

When pruning mature trees, avoid small cuts, which can encourage too much vigorous vegetative growth. Making one or two large cuts, either removing an entire branch or cutting a major portion back to a vigorous fruitful lateral, is more effective. For fruit-bearing central leader trees, follow these guidelines:

  • First, remove diseased, broken, or dead branches completely.
  • Make big strategic cuts first, especially high in the trees. Thinning cuts (removing entire branches at their bases) are almost always preferable to heading cuts, which can encourage unwanted vegetative growth just below them.
  • Iftwo limbs overshadow, cross, entangle, or otherwise compete with each other for the same space, don't head both of them. Instead, remove one of them completely with a thinning cut at its base.
  • To reduce overall tree height, cut off the top just above a weaker side limb or sucker. Often, the top of the tree will take care of itself, with upright suckers bending into more horizontal positions under the weight of fruit or even breaking off, limiting the height of the tree.
  • Remove any limb above the bottom tier of scaffolds that is more than half the diameter of the branch that it originates from.
  • Remove suckers or water sprouts (vigorous vertical limbs growing straight up from nearly horizontal branches) that are larger than 1/4 inch in diameter.
  • Use a pruning saw or bypass blade (not anvil-type) pruning shears. Make cuts close to the branch collar at the base of the limb. Under cut large limbs first to avoid tearing the bark, which can damage the tree.
  • Stand back from the tree frequently and check your work. Try to develop a clear mental image of what you want the tree to look like.

While the central leader system works with pears as well as apples, pears have some differences. They tend to grow more vertically, but branches with narrow crotch angles are less likely to split. Branches that spread more than 45 degrees tend to produce water sprouts from their bases. Because of the risk that fire blight may girdle the leader, pear trees are sometimes pruned to multiple leaders; if one dies it won't take the whole tree.

Step back and picture what you want the tree to look like.

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Responses

  • hending burrows
    Can you prune a bearing pear tree?
    5 years ago

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