Summer pruning

There’s a lot of confusion about when is the best time to prune fruit trees, but we reckon it’s much easier to approach pruning with the mantra that there’s no “right” or “wrong”, there’s just cuts, and consequences.

There's no right or wrong way to prune, just cuts and consequences
There’s no right or wrong way to prune, just cuts and consequences

We think this approach takes the pressure off so you can feel like you can have a go, which is when the real learning starts.

So the question is, what’s the likely consequence of pruning your trees in summer?

We’re not big fans of rules when it comes to pruning — we find they actually confuse people, and can lead to inexperienced pruners making cuts that can have disastrous consequences.

It’s much better to understand the principles behind pruning, so that you can fall back on them to make up your mind about when to prune.

Our Pruning By Numbers system is based on 10 pruning principles, but the two that are most relevant here are #3: Winter pruning encourages vigour, and #4: Summer pruning slows growth.

Without getting too deeply into the physiological reasons behind these principles in this blog, you can use them to have a think about when you might want to either encourage vigour (i.e. vegetative growth) in your tree, and when you might want to slow growth down a bit.

And remember, they’re just principles — they just tell you what’s more likely to happen. There’s very few definites in the wonderful world of fruit growing!

Pruning young trees in winter encourages strong growth

So pruning your fruit tree when it’s dormant in winter is more likely to encourage the tree to grow strongly in response to the pruning cut — so this might be the best time to prune young trees that you want to encourage to grow big and strong (and then become fruitful) as quickly as possible.

Pruning your tree in summer tends to result in a smaller growth response from the tree — so this might suit a really big tree that you’re trying to renovate, for example.

Some other things to think about in deciding when to prune are:

  • disease — pruning in warm weather helps the cuts to heal quickly and reduce the introduction or spread of disease,
  • fruit quality — reducing leaf canopy with summer pruning can reduce the size and sugar content of the fruit,
  • fruit colour — less leaves allows better sun penetration to the tree and higher coloured fruit,
  • sunburn — a bushy leaf canopy can provide protection to vulnerable fruit,
  • root health — summer pruning can reduce root growth in a tree,
  • ease of pruning — it’s much easier to see what you’re doing in winter when there’s no leaves on the tree.
Summer pruning with fruit on the tree can affect both the fruit and the tree
Summer pruning with fruit on the tree can affect both the fruit and the tree

So for example, pruning a fruit tree in summer while it still has fruit can have a very different outcome to pruning it after harvest.

Summer pruning after harvest tends to slow the tree's growth without affecting fruit
Summer pruning after harvest tends to slow the tree’s growth without affecting fruit

So rather than stressing too much about when is the right time to prune, just remember that it doesn’t really matter, you’ll just get different consequences from doing it at different times of year.

And what a great way to learn! If you really think about when to prune and why, and then pay attention to what happens as a result (pro tip: take before and after shots), you’ll become quite an experienced pruner surprisingly quickly. If you still feel you need some help making the decision, take our Summer Pruning Short Course first.

Happy pruning!

Becoming an experienced pruner is an important part of getting great fruit yields
Becoming an experienced pruner is an important part of getting great fruit yields

4 thoughts on “Summer pruning”

    1. Hi John, again it’s best to think of the principles rather than rules, eg remove as little wood as possible to achieve the result you want, because the more wood you take off the more you encourage the tree to grow wood rather than fruit. So if you do it gradually you might be able to keep the tree fruitful while you renovate. The main thing is reduce the height of each branch by cutting back to a strong upright lateral. If you reduce the height by doing a heading cut you’ll just create bushiness at the top of the tree, which you don’t want. Good luck with it.

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