How to Prune Trees

Pruning your trees is one of the first steps to prepare your yard for spring. Unlike many deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves every year), how and when to prune fruit trees varies. This is a general guide for pruning most types of deciduous trees and a few types of fruit trees.

When to Prune Trees

The best time to prune is when the weather is dry and temperatures are in the 40s. Because most viruses and bacteria that cause disease are dormant in temperatures below 50, pruning during this weather will prevent diseases from invading the cut parts of the tree.

How to Prune Your Tree

Pruning consists of three cuts (see diagram). Cutting the tree in this order is important because the weight of the limb can cause the branch to rip down the tree’s trunk. Doing the cuts in this order will prevent this damage.

  1. The first cut should be 6 to 12 inches from the trunk. The cut should start underneath the limb and end about 1/3 into the branch.
  2. The second cut should start about an inch farther from the first cut and above the branch. It should cut all the way through. If the branch starts to fall as you cut this part of the limb, it will break along the first cut instead of along the tree trunk.
  3. The third cut should start at the branch bark ridge (on the top of the limb where the branch meets the tree trunk) and slant slightly out a little past the branch collar. Avoid cutting the branch collar off straight down the tree trunk.

Benefits of Pruning Your Tree

  • Pruning improves the tree’s health. The tree can focus on sending more nutrients to fewer branches. Pruning also allows more airflow that prevents diseases.
  • Another reason to prune is to prevent heavy branches from breaking and falling on to houses, sheds, or other structures. Pruning also prevents trees from being knocked over by the wind.
  • Unhealthy trees need to be pruned to prevent diseases from spreading. After each cut, disinfect the pruning tool with bleach or alcohol to prevent the disease from spreading to other branches.
  • Pruning will also make your tree aesthetically pleasing. With a pruned tree, you’re closer to having a beautiful yard in the spring.

Important Tree Pruning Tips

  • Never remove more than 1/3 of the tree per year.
  • Avoid pruning around power lines—call an electrical company instead.
  • Pruning practices for fruit trees vary depending on the type of tree. 

How to Prune an Apple Tree

Pruning your apple tree will allow it to produce more fruit and grow to be a nicer shape. To prevent infection, apple trees are usually pruned when temperatures are low and the weather is dry.

However, tree branches that break mid-season and small branches that grow from the base of the trunk should be pruned immediately to prevent more serious damage.  You should also thin the fruit of your apple tree to allow the tree to produce a sweeter, better quality crop.

A few steps for pruning apple trees are as follows:

  1. Trim the tree so it follows the path of the central branch—all branches coming out from the central leader should be pruned back slightly. Cut right above outward-facing buds on the branches to allow the tree to grow fuller, and cut at a wider angle (see graphic). Trim the top of the central leader so it’s taller than the other branches.
  2. Space the branches that come out from the main leading branch (the lateral branches) about 4-6 inches apart from each other. Cut off any branches that are closer than 4 inches together on the trunk. 
  3. Trim any smaller branches that cross over each other—keep in mind the shape you want your tree to be. 
  4. Look for branches that form forks and cut off the smaller of the two branches.
  5. Trim any unhealthy, small offshoots that grow out from the trunk or straight up from branches—these can weaken the tree if they are left.

How to Prune a Cherry Tree

Follow many of the same suggestions given for pruning apple trees: thin your fruit, make wide-angle cuts when pruning, prune in cold weather, and trim small shoots at the base of the trunk immediately. Follow these steps to properly shape a cherry tree:

  1. The first year, trim the central leading branch and allow a few strong lateral branches to grow out.
  2. Prune little branches that grow too quickly and trim crossing branches.
  3. Periodically trim branches that bear fruit to keep them fresh.
  4. Prune stems about halfway down to allow them to continue bearing fruit.

How to Prune an Apricot Tree

Pruning apricot trees is similar to pruning cherry trees. Again, many of the same guidelines for pruning all fruit trees (do wide-angle cuts, thin your fruit, etc.) apply. Apricot trees can be pruned by following these steps:

  1. Prune so the tree has a few main branches that come out from the trunk and sit about 3 feet above the ground—these are called the scaffolding branches.
  2. Trim small shoots on scaffolding branches that are within 6 inches of the trunk to keep the tree strong.
  3. For balance, make sure the scaffolding branches grow at about the same rate—trim main branches back only if they grow faster than the others.


Stewarts doesn’t offer pruning services, but we do apply fertilizer, insecticide, and other treatments to allow your tree to grow healthy and strong. Stewarts also has certified arborists on staff who can diagnose problems with your trees. Call or text us at 801-226-2261 to speak with a specialist today!