The pruning of fruit trees in summer is often overlooked, but it is an important part of fruit tree maintenance. It reduces the height and width of the tree, keeping the growth under control and on apples and pears, encourages the development of short flowering shoots called spurs. Plums, gages and cherries should only be pruned in summer, because if they are pruned in winter a disease called silver leaf can enter the pruning wounds, and can kill the tree.
Apples and Pears: Most of the apple and pear trees we grow are spur forming, they flower and fruit on short shoots called spurs that form along the branches. They fruit on older wood made in previous years. In summer prune only the current seasons growth, this is the new growth made this year. It will be shiny, bright and pliable, and wont have carried any fruit. Prune the leading shoot on each branch back by half it’s length, if the growth is very long [ over 2 or 3 ft ] you can cut back by two-thirds, cutting to just above a leaf. Now prune back all the side shoots along the branch, to two or three leaves from the base of the new growth. Cut to just above a bud, always cutting to an outward facing bud. This is so new growth is directed outwards away from the centre of the tree. The pruning that is carried out in winter, when all the branches can be seen, is for shape. Removing any dead, diseased or crossing branches, creating an open framework of evenly spaced branches. If your apple is a tip-bearer with long slender branches carrying fruit only at the ends of the branches, only lightly prune to tidy up excess growth. Growth will be less than on the spur forming apple trees.
Plums, Gages and Cherries: These trees all produce fruit on older wood made in previous years. Only prune these trees in summer, when the wounds will heal, keeping out the silver leaf disease. Prune the current seasons growth on the end of the main shoots, reducing them by half their length to just above a leaf. Then prune the side shoots back by half their length on these main shoots. Again cut to an outward facing bud. It should be easy to tell this new pliable growth. Growth on cherries can be very vigorous, and can be pruned a little harder to keep them under control. Becareful of heavy crops on plums, the branches are quite brittle and prone to snapping. If your tree carries a heavy crop, make sure to prop up the branches to help carry the weight.
Always use clean and sharp secateurs, disinfecting them between each tree. Clean soft prunings can be added to your compost.