How to Prune Your Washington Fruit Trees

How to Prune Your Washington Fruit Trees

From Seattle to Spokane, keep your fruit trees healthy and manicured

By Susan Lundman

Clippers pruning bare tree
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Whether you grow apples in Seattle, cherries in the Yakima valley or peach trees in Spokane, you need to follow basic principles of pruning overall and also specific requirements for your type of fruit tree. Your ultimate goal of course is to increase the yield of flowers and fruit, as well as to maintain the tree's natural shape and to decrease the risks of disease. Sharp pruning tools make a gardener's job much easy and lead to sharp cuts, which leave less room for disease to gain a stronghold.

  • What You Need to Know
  • Pruning encourages fruit production because it directs growth into those parts of the tree that will bear fruit and removes parts of the tree that don't contribute to fruit production, according to Washington State University. Consequently, young fruit trees require less pruning than mature trees.
  • Low growing trees, such as apple, pear, cherry and prune will require less pruning than more vigorous growing fruit trees; only a small amount of new fruit-bearing wood appears yearly. The fastest growing trees, peach and nectarine, will require the most pruning, with apricot and plum trees following them in growth and the need for pruning.
  • Prune when the tree has lost all its leaves so that you can easily identify the natural structure. Wait until all danger from frost has past, but before the tree begins to bloom in the spring.

Step 1:

Cut back all branches for all fruit trees when you plant them to equalize the length of the top branches with the roots. This will encourage the tree to put its strength into developing a strong root system without the burden of supporting too much current growth.

Step 2:

Pinch off buds or suckers throughout the year as you see them. These are growths that either don't follow the direction of the tree's growth or that are branches starting to grow in places where you don't want a full branch to form, such as on the side of the tree below all the other branches.

Step 3:

Cut dead, overly twiggy and misplaced branches on all trees; this is the only pruning necessary for apples, cherries and prunes. Misplaced branches are those that interfere with walkways or that cross other branches at odd angles or rub against other branches.

Step 4:

Cut entire limbs from the tops of trees if you want to shorten the overall size of the tree to make fruit harvesting easier or to correct the shape of the tree.

Step 5:

Prune two-thirds down each branch from the previous year's growth. Use this method for quick growing trees such as apricot, peach, nectarine and plum. The previous year's growth is obvious because the branches are still green rather than woody.

Step 6:

Prune spur branches off completely every three to five years on apricots and plum trees which will encourage a new spur branch to form. Spurs are fruit bearing twigs growing off a branch that grow only slightly each year and then stop producing fruit.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • Before you begin to prune, be aware of the natural shape of your fruit tree by observing the tree itself or by looking at a visual reference.
  • Chose which branches to cut based on which ones do not maintain the overall natural shape of the tree.
  • When you prune, make each cut flush with the trunk -- don't leave a stub which is unattractive and which is also an invitation to pests and disease.
  • Be sure to clean up all the twigs and branches after pruning, as they can harbor pests and disease.

About the Author

Susan Lundman is a regular contributor to DexKnows, specializing in healthy living and gardening.

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