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How to Prune Apple and Pear Trees

We grow more apple trees than any other fruit here in Britain and pear trees aren’t far behind in their popularity. Apple and pear trees should be pruned every winter to ensure they produce a brilliant crop the next season. When you are pruning a bush or standard apple or pear tree you should do it annually in winter, certain unusual varieties can be pruned in summer so check your variety before you start.

Remove weak, diseased or dying branches to start and then cut back branches if they have become too large. Spur-bearing varieties need to be pruned differently than tip-bearing varieties. Spur-bearing varieties should be cut back to the tree’s main branches by about a third and any side shoots growing from the main branches need to be cut to about five buds if there isn’t much room.

Tip-bearing varieties should have the previous year’s growth pruned back along with side shoots unless they are less than 30cm long. Reduce congestion by cutting back older fruited wood.

Pruning Apple and Pear Trees In Pots
Apple and pear trees in pots are perfect for a smaller garden and many of you may have a few on your patio. Pruning apple trees in pots are simple but must be done annually. The idea is to cut the tree back to about five main branches and make a similar shape to a tree planted in the ground.

When training a young tree, make sure you first get rid of any weak branches that aren’t needed for the framework. The leader and upper branches can be cut by about six inches from where it stems from the trunk. Lower branches can be cut back about 10 inches from the central trunk.

If you are pruning an established tree in a pot, it’s a similar process. Cut out weak branches and then start to cut away at the main branches. The leader branch can be cut back to a bud on the opposite side of the last year’s direction; this maintains its vertical habit. Cut back upper branches by six inches from where it stems from the trunk and cut back lower branches by 10 inches.

Pruning Neglected Trees
If your tree is neglected you must check that it has a solid, healthy framework before attempting to prune it. Often trees which are diseased and crusty barked with matted branches are not worth trying to save. Neglected trees take a lot of work and even then they may not ever fully recover.

If you are willing to tackle a neglected tree, first you must consider spacing. If you have a collection of trees, they may be overcrowded. You must remove some to create more space for one to recover. Don’t shock the plant by pruning it too harshly at first. You must spread pruning evenly over about three years if you want the tree to survive.

Cut back dead and diseased branches first and then get to work on branches that are crossed over, and overcrowded. Make sure that the branches that are left are strong and stable enough to support any new growth. Keep cutting back branches in the next few winters and mulch when needed.

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