How To, Liam, Planting, Plants

Pruning is essential to a productive and healthy fruit bush. For that reason we have created this step-by-step guide on how to prune a fruit bush which looks at those with a bushy and sucker/cane growing habit.

Pruning a Bushy… Bush

Fruit bushes witha bushy growing habit are all those species with branches spreading from one main trunk usually close to the ground level. These include most varieties such as blueberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants etc.

Bushy fruit bushes produce the most fruit on 2-3 year old branches and lose their vigour after that third year. Pruning therefore is the art of facilitating a constant cycle of rejuvenation keeping the plant young, healthy and heavy with fruit.

  • Pruning should be carried out in the winter while the bush is still dormant. I would advise waiting until early spring as the buds begin to develop. This will give you a clearer indication of which branches are worth keeping. Fruit buds will be more round and fat than their thinner vegetative counterparts.
  • In the first two years pruning is a light exercise, simply ridding the plant of anything dead, dying or diseased – the three D’s. As always when dealing with anything diseased you need to sterilise your pruning equipment and burn any of the affected branches or leaves after they have been pruned out to prevent the spread of contamination.
Pruning A Bush Diagram
Before and After Pruning a Bush: The Desired Shape
  • As the bush has established itself pruning becomes a practice of training and increasing productivity. After removing the three d’s you want to maintain a good evenly spaced shape with the branches growing as horizontally as possible as these will be the branches capable of supplying the most fruit.
  •  As the bush grows older pruning should include cutting out any of the older more woody branches.
  • With this done you leave only the younger, more vigorous branches which crop the heaviest. This is better for fruit production and will help prevent the bush exhausting itself and falling into a biennial harvest.
  • Now you will want to prune out any crossing branches or areas of congestion. You need to open the bush up to sunlight and good airflow as to prevent the spread of pests and disease.  Suckers and low-hanging branches are more of an issue with a fruit bush.
  • If it appears as if the fruit will be resting on the floor cut out that branch. This helps prevent disease and pests from destroying your crop.

Pruning a Sucker Bush

Some bushes, mainly Raspberries and Blackberries, grow in a sucker fashion meaning that they grow new stems from the base of the plant year on year as opposed to having a truck or main branch. Both also only grow fruit on one year old canes and so it is essential to annually prune these bushes maintaining this cycle of rejuvenation.

Again this process should be carried out in late winter or early spring. More recently horticulturalists have realised that the old canes send carbohydrates back to the roots which can boost the plant’s vitality and therefore it may be worth waiting until spring time before you prune them out.

A Blackberry Bush After Its Winter Pruning
  • First of all tend to the 3 D’s.
  • Every year you need to monitor and remove those canes which have produced fruit during the harvest season. You can cut these out right at the base but leave a little length so the cut does not become contaminated from the soil and pests.
  • Lastly remove any weak or spindly looking branches. These won’t be able to bear much fruit and will simply limit air-flow and sunlight reaching the more productive canes.
  • You can now tie in these main canes to their support and expect a bumper crop as summer comes around!

Hopefully with this guide we have given you all the information on how to prune a fruit bush. As always check the specific requirement for your plant to ensure a healthy life and a bumper crop!

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.

Flowers, Gardening, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Planting

We all know that pruning is a very important task in your garden, but we’re often asked about pruning roses and other shrubs.

Rosa 'Iceberg' at the San Jose Heritage Rose GardenIf the shrub flowers on current year’s wood, then cut it back hard each winter. Buddleia is a good example – If you simply trim the plant it will become leggy and bare at the bottom. Cut each stem back from October onwards to within a foot from the ground and you will get vigorous, healthy growth in the new season.

If you have inherited an old shrub with little foliage on the lower half of the plant, take out the older branches thus leaving some newer ones to maintain health. Continue taking out the oldest branches each year and within two seasons you will have a new looking shrub.

There are some special cases, such as those roses in need of specialist pruning. Usually they are cut short – just above a bud which will grow into a new branch and consequently bear flowers.

Rosa 'Banzai 83' im Volksgarten in WienThere are lots of reasons for pruning shrubs. Unlike the rest of us, roses are not able to forecast the weather, and they take the mild weather as a trigger to put on new growth, and off they go doing what they do best – growing towards the sun.

Actually, roses are really glorified brambles, and if left alone they would soon become a tangled mess, impenetrable and thick – which might be good in a hedge, but not in the flower border. To keep them under control is the most important part of growing roses.

General rules for pruning roses:

  • Deadhead – and in the winter, go round pruning off the fruit that is rotting off on the plant. We all have them in our garden, and it is good to get rid before they cause infection.
  • Don’t leave a long piece of stem from a bud, it will only die and rot – cut as close to a bud as you can.
  • Always cut in a sloping direction away from the bud, so that any rain will actually run off the cut and not soak the bud – which can cause rotting.
  • Always take out branches that touch or threaten to touch another branch.
  • Always cut out dead wood back to good, healthy wood.
  • Do not leave your cuttings on the floor to rot, burn them and then compost the ashes – rose branches take ages to compost themselves.
  • Remember the goblet shape, and this goes for standard roses too, at the top of the central stem.
  • Always use good quality secateurs – so the cut is sharp and clean, ragged cuts provide a home for fungal infection.
  • Always disinfect your secateurs when you have finished a plant – I use a disinfectant baby wipe – you don’t need to pass infections from plant to plant.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Multicoloured RoseUnlike trees, a shrub can easily survive the lopping of its stems. Pruning stimulates growth and increases the vigour and productiveness of the plant.

To a plant, pruning is a stimulus. Although you have reduced its size by cutting it back, you stimulate the growth of buds on the plant that were once forced to be dormant by the dominance of the terminal bud.

Remove the bud and others below will start to grow resulting in a bushier plant.

What does pruning actually do?

Gardeners talk a lot of rot about pruning. They talk about all the plant’s energy being routed into certain directions and whereas this might be the end result, what is actually going on is the result of changes of hormone levels within the plant.

Large-sized, deep red Hybrid Tea roseEach bud, and the tip of each branch, as well as each flower, and in the roots too – as well as under the bark and deep in the branch, gives off a cocktail of hormones that determine how the plant will grow. If you remove a branch, the hormones produced by it are removed, and this has consequences for the rest of the plant.

So, if you cut the branch off just above a bud, the hormones from that branch that usually inhibit the bud from growing are suddenly removed, and the bud will start to grow!

Pruning can allow us to create a plant that will grow in a way we want it to, rather than how the plant might naturally wish to grow. And there are many advantages to this. You have to remember that a bud will grow in the direction it is pointing and therefore you can determine the overall shape of the plant.

For roses, one of the reasons for pruning is to cut down the amount of fungal problems by allowing the breeze to flow through the plant effectively. This is done by creating a plant that is goblet shaped.

When you are pruning you need to look. Which way is the bud you are cutting above pointing? if it is towards the inside of the plant, then choose another that points outwards.

Read part two – the practicalities of pruning.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

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