Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, Liam, Plants, Trees

Many of us are unaware of what a good, well-shaped fruit tree is supposed to look like. We all know that it is supposed to bear fruit but sometimes we neglect that the key to this is pruning.

Whether you have just brought your fruit tree or if you have let nature run its course over the last few years it’s a perfect time to start an annual pruning regiment. A well-shaped fruit tree can support the most fruit and is less susceptible to disease and pest infestation.

Fear not! Pruning is not as daunting as it sounds and with this guide you’ll know how to prune a fruit tree in no time. With just a few hours every year you’ll be sure to expect a bumper crop of your very own.

In this guide we’ll be covering the two main types of fruit tree; the pome (apples, pears, seed bearing fruit) and stone (cherries, apricots, plums) fruit varieties. The central premise for all is the same but there are some slight adjustments in method and timing dependant on the variety.

Pruning a Pome – The Winning Formula

To those that know, gardening is incredibly sentimental. But to yield the greatest crop you have to be clinical and professional. Cutting so many young fruitlets, branches and leaves may feel counter-intuitive but in the long-run your tree will thank you for it, trust me. With that being said you do not want to be reckless. Over-pruning equally leads to a decline in the abundance of fruit.

Pruning serves two main functions; training and maintenance. As the tree is growing you can train it through pruning out undesirable branches and guiding the tree to an evenly-spaced, goblet shape. Once this is done you’ll be left with branches capable of supporting fruit. The objective then is to maintain this shape and keep things tidy.

How to Prune a Fruit Tree Diagram
Step by Step to the Desired Shape

For Young Trees (2-4 yrs)

  • When pruning a Pome fruit tree it is best to carry this out during the winter while the tree is dormant.
  • Always remember to cut at a 45° angle and to wash any pruning equipment in a sterilising solution if you are dealing with anything diseased. This will help prevent the spread of contamination.
  • The priority is to get rid of anything dead, dying or diseased. The goal is to manage the plant’s growth so that energy is directed into establishing the roots and healthy branches.
  • You then want to remove any vertical and acute growing branches. These branches won’t be able to support the weight of fruit and usually end up getting damaged.
  • You also want to prune away any branches that cluster or cross over. When these grow larger they’ll damage one another and help the spread of disease and pests. 
  • This may require you to cut as much as a 1/3 of all your branches if the tree is particularly unkempt.
  • We are looking to train the tree as horizontally as possible. So with the branches you have left you should cut back to an outward facing bud. This will stimulate growth from this bud training the branch outwards.

In the early years pruning is a form of training designed to stimulate growth in branches capable of supplying fruit. Even though by this point the side shoots may be very small it is a good idea to cut them off if they’re growing inward to maintain the desired shape early on.

For Older Trees (5+ yrs)

As the tree gets older however, and especially if you’ve been suffering from poor harvests, the aim is to maintain the shape and branches which can support fruit maximising your yields.

  • After removing anything dead, dying or diseased you then want to pick out any unfavourable branches. These again include any vertical, acute or congested branches. This opens the tree up allowing for air and sunlight to reach it.
  • Additionally if there are any branches growing from below the rootstock these are ‘suckers’ and should be pruned out entirely.
How to cut diagram
The Perfect Pruning Cut
  • After this, prune back last year’s growth on each of the main branches roughly by about ⅓. Prune back to just above a bud which looks like it will grow outwards in the desired direction.
  • A cautionary note; an apple tree will respond to very heavy pruning by a vigorous regrowth the following year. So if you have a tree which needs some serious renovation it may be worth spacing the work out over a period of 2-3 years.

After this, when you have a neat and well-trained tree, simple annual maintenance should keep a great shape for growing fruit.

Pruning a Stone Fruit Tree

  • Unlike the Pome a stone fruit tree such as a cherry or apricot will prefer being pruned during spring for younger trees and early to mid-summer for established trees. This is to prevent your tree being contaminated with silver leaf or bacterial canker, both of which serious tree diseases.
  • When it comes to pruning a stone fruit tree the method is the same as for the Pome fruit tree and again you want the same result; a goblet-shaped tree with strong, evenly spaced branches growing out horizontally.

  • Pruning in spring and summer may require you to cut out buds and fruitlets. However traumatising this process may seem it is necessary. The key to good pruning is to be as professional as possible; in the long run you and your tree will reap the benefits.

Despite the fact cutting off developing fruit may see wholeheartedly counter-intuitive it must be done and can actually lead to a better crop. Many trees naturally want to produce as many seeds as possible which can lead the tree to exhaust itself. If this happens your tree could fall into a biennial harvest; only producing fruit every two or more years. See the section on ‘thinning’ in our  apple tree troubleshooter (coming soon) for how to do this. 

Pruning is the key to a healthy tree and fruit which develops and ripens beautifully. Hopefully by now you know how to prune a fruit tree. Over time though you may recognise specific trees respond to different kinds of treatment. This is all part of a personal learning experience with your garden.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Gardening, Jorge, Planting, Plants, Trees

For many, fast growing trees are a no brainer as they allow you to quickly achieve your dream garden or block out annoying eyesores. Although, it is not so simple as selecting a fast growing variety that you like the look of. It is important you choose a variety that is disease and pest free and suitable for your soil type and hardiness zone. You also need to consider whether you want an evergreen tree or a tree that will shed its leaves in winter. Often unconsidered factors include weak wood, invasive roots, short life spans, a tree’s width and interference – the effects of competition and allelopathy.

As with all trees, you will need to clip in order to keep it the size/shape you want. Growth can be staggering and certain varieties will be impossible to manage after a certain point. Hence, it is important to carry out formative pruning while the tree is still young. Fast-growing trees will need to be clipped at more often than their slower growing cousins with extra clipping in the warmer seasons.

With planting the usual advice still stands but for optimal growth a tree will need to be accustomed to the hardiness zone and fit the drainage profile of your soil type. Native trees are always a good bet, as well as trees from colder climates. Sandy soils tend to drain quickly, while clay soils hold moisture well, so thirsty trees in sandy soils will need frequent watering in the hottest months.

Often ignored, but important is the effects of interference – the effects of nearby plants – on tree growth. Unlike how tree roots are traditionally represented, most absorbing roots are in the upper few feet of soil and root systems tend to spread horizontally, often extending well beyond a tree’s circumference. It is here that a tree’s roots will come into contact with other plants roots, where they both will compete for nutrients and moisture.

Especially detrimental to trees is grass that is known to retard root growth. Hence, it is important to remove grass and mulch 4 inches deep 1 foot beyond the root ball when planting. (Make sure the mulch does not directly contact the tree trunk to prevent disease/pest problems.) Expand the radius of mulching 1-2 feet per year for 3 years that will allow the tree to establish its root system.

Now, without further ado, here are some fast growing tree suitable to the UK’s climate.

Eucalyptus gunnii

The Eucalyptus gunnii or cider tree is a beautiful tree with with peeling cream and brown bark and elliptic grey-green foliage. Originating from Tasmania, the gunnii is suitable to grow throughout the UK, being able to withstand temperatures of -15 Celsius for significant periods. Growing at a whopping 1.5-2m per year, the tree tends to take a columnar shape, reaching a maximum height of 25m. The tree is highly versatile and will flourish in all soil types.

Did you know? The gunnii produces a sugar-rich sweet sap that the aborigines ostensibly fermented into an alcoholic drink – the first of its kind in Australia.

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)


As a genus Salix trees (mostly willows) are all fast growing, but the weeping willow species is the most famous, known for its grace and often found on the banks of lakes and rivers. The tree is distinctive for its low, sweeping branches that droop to form a canopy. Commonly used as a shade tree, the babylonica will grow 1.2-2.4m per year, reaching about 15m high. Suitable for most soils, the tree will flourish in waterlogged soil and will even absorb standing water. Modern hybrids include the highly popular Golden Weeping Willow (Salix x sepulcralis), known for its ability to create luxurious curtains of gold light.

Saule pleureur (weeping willow) by Claude Monet (1918).

Did you know? Despite its name, the babylonica actually originates from China. It received its scientific alias from the botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who incorrectly believed it was the tree described in the bible in the opening of Psalm 137. In fact, the trees growing along the rivers of Babylon were the Euphrates poplar.

Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’)

Like the smaller Italian cypress, the Lombardy poplar is known for its dramatic upright form and is often planted in rows to form a screen and can be sometimes viewed lining roads. The Italica grows extremely quickly with reported yearly growth rates of 3.6m, although one can expect 2.4/3m. Reaching a maximum height of 20m, the tree is deciduous and is identifiable by its catkins that come in two forms: crimson red (male) and cottony white (female). Although, most trees sold will be male clones. It must be noted the plant is short lived (15 years) and susceptible to disease.

Did you know? While the Italica first spread around Europe in the 18th century, it exploded in popularity in the 19th. This was to the concern of Scottish horticulturist John Claudius Loudon who deemed it “a most dangerous tree”, due to its capacity to destroy the harmony of the landscape when left in the hands of the amateur landscaper.

Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

Native to the UK, the silver birch is instantly recognisable by its white peeling bark, triangular shaped leaves and various catkins. (The tree is monoecious and thus possesses male and female catkins with the former distinguishable by their greater length and appearance in clusters.) The tree is extremely hardy and grows as far north as Lapland, reaching a maximum height of 30m, although 15m can be expected. Paling in comparison to the previous trees, but certainly no slouch, the pendula will grow at an average rate of 40cm per year.  

A Silver Birch’s female catkins.

Did you know? While birch bark has long been used in construction, it actually contains substances that make it an extremely useful material. The compound betulin, for example, possesses fungicidal properties can help preserve food, making it perfect for storage containers. Currently, scientists are researching the bark’s various substances that may be of use in medicine.

Golden False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’)

A favourite at Primrose, the Frisia produces fantastic colour throughout the year with its pinnate leaves and gorgeous white flowers. Bushy in appearance, its leaves emerge golden-yellow in Spring, before turning greenish-yellow in Summer and orange-yellow in Autumn. Wonderfully fragrant, the tree will grow between 30-45cm per year and is suitable for most soil types. Extremely hardy, the Frisia can expect to grow to a maximum height of 25m, although 15m can be expected.

Did you know? Due to the high concentration of flavonoid pigments in the heartwood, the False Acacia’s wood can endure for up to a hundred years, and is extremely resistant to rot. It is also extremely hard, making it perfect household furniture and flooring.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

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