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Prune and train your fruit trees

 All fruit trees require training and pruning to develop proper shape and form, yield high-quality fruit and live significantly longer. It is important to begin training and pruning from planting to ensure good development and growth.


 Prune, train, fruit, trees



Step 1. Choose a location. Most fruit trees need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight, so a north-facing situation is best.
Step 2. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2-3 times as wide as the root ball.
Step 3. Loosen tree roots
Step 4. Mix compost and additional minerals into the soil extracted from the hole.
Step 5. Place the tree in the centre of the hole, and plant it at the same depth it was in its bag or container.
Step 6. Hold the tree upright and fill in with soil around the root ball. Firm gently by standing on the backfilled soil.
Step 7. Stake the tree to prevent wind rock while it’s getting established.
Step 8. Water well. The goal is not just to water the roots but to wash all the soil particles into the air gaps around the roots.


 Prune, train, fruit, trees

Pruning vs. Training 

Historically fruit tree form and structure has been maintained by pruning. Tree training is a much more efficient way to develop form and structure. Pruning is the removal of a portion of the tree to correct or maintain tree structure. Training is a relatively new practice in which tree growth is directed into a desired shape. Training young fruit trees is essential for proper tree development. It is better to direct tree growth with training than to correct it with pruning. Training includes summer training and summer pruning as well as dormant (winter) pruning. The goal of tree training is to direct tree growth and minimise cutting. 

Dormant vs. Summer

Dormant pruning increases the vigour of the tree and vegetative growth, which is usually not desirable. Pruning should begin as late in the winter as possible but before the sap begins to flow. Summer pruning normally starts after vegetative growth is several centimetres long with the removal of unwanted shoots. Main shoots and branches should be encouraged to grow where required by using weights and ties. Remove or trim back new growth to promote the desired shape of the tree.


Pruning to Shape


There are 3 main types of pruning, Central Leader, Open Centre/Vase and Espalier.


Central Leader

A central leader tree has one main, upright trunk with whorls of branches, usually beginning 60–90cm above the ground, then

 again, every 45–60cm up the trunk. The shape of a central leader tree is like that of a Christmas tree, where the lowest branches are the longest and the branches get shorter higher up the trunk.


Click here to watch our How To Video 


Open Centre/ Vase

An open centre or vase training has an open vase system, the leader is removed, and three to five major limbs are developed as the basic shape of the tree. This training system allows for light penetration.


Click here to watch our How To Video





Espalier is quite a different technique all together as the trees are often grown against a wall, traditionally brick or plaster, but wires between posts can be used to support and train the tree. Using this method, the tree creates a part-wall, perfect for dividing areas of a garden or edging a kitchen potager, but sunlight and visibility are maintained. There are two main ways to train an espaliered fruit tree, fan or horizontal cordon.


How to Espalier

Step 1: Plan your pattern. It is important to consider the type of fruit tree when planning the pattern as it is important to know what age of wood the fruit is borne on.

Step 2: Choose a location. Most fruit trees need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight, so a north facing situation is best.

Step 3: Choose the plant and appropriate rootstock. As most espaliered trees are subjected to intense pruning and ‘braking’ of growth with training, semi-dwarf or vigorous rootstocks should be used.

Step 4: Prepare the support. You will need to fix horizontal wires to a structure that will support your espalier. These will be used to train the branches at desired angles. Wires can be spaced 30 to 60cm apart. With fences and walls, fix the wires using eyebolts to keep the plant away from the structure. The incorporation of turnbuckles is recommended to keep the wires taut.

Step 5: Plant your tree. Set the plant in the ground about 30cm from the wall, fence or post structure.

Step 6: Start training your tree.



Fan Espalier


This pattern is ideal for stone fruit, quinces, berries, citrus, figs and persimmons – types that produce fruit on new wood.

Step 1: In spring cut the leader to where you want the lowest set of branches to form – usually at the first wire. Wires should be 

as close as 15cm apart.

Step 2: The tree will branch out from where you have cut it back. Select the shoots required to make your fan shape pattern. Train these shoots up bamboo canes tied between the wires.

Step 3: Branches off the main limbs will produce the fruit. These branches will need to be removed and renewal branches selected after fruit has been produced.



Triple Horizontal Cordon

This is the pattern ideal for apples, pears and nashi – trees that produce fruit on older wood.

Step 1: In spring, cut the whip or leader to where you want the lowest set of branches to form – usually at the first wire.

Step 2: The tree will branch out from where you have cut it back. Select the best three sprouts and pinch off the rest.

Step 3: When two of the sprouts have grown to about 7.5cm long, make them the horizontal arms and begin tying them along the bottom wire. Make sure to use material that will not damage or restrict the growing branches.

Step 4: Let the other sprout grow vertically to the next wire (you may need to use a bamboo stake) and cut it off again. Once this vertical limb has sprouted, repeat the process from step 3, selecting and tying horizontal sprouts, leaving one to grow vertically to the next wire.

Step 5: As the horizontal shoots grow, continue attaching them to the wires. Frequently pinch off shoots that grow toward or away from the wall.


Click here to watch our How To Video


How to identify Fruiting Wood

Fruit trees fruit each year but some flower and fruit on new growth and some on old growth. This is important to know as if you prune off the wrong branches, you may lose a whole year's fruit crop. Knowing which branches to prune allows you to prune fruiting branches shorter which helps thin out the fruit, to avoid biennial cropping. With yearly pruning, your tree will produce large, high-quality fruit, each year. Watch this video for more information.



Articles from Kate Marshall at Waimea on Fruit Tree Pruning


How and when to prune pit fruit trees 



Pruning a central leader and a modified central leader



Cordon espalier for apple and pear trees 





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