Pruning Neglected Fruit Trees

When pruning is neglected, it doesn’t take long for fruit trees to become overgrown. The outer branches become dense and eventually shade the inner branches, limiting fruit yields. To bring these neglected trees back to full production, it is necessary to reduce their height, spread, and density.

First thin undesirable interior branches that cross or crowd other branches. Generally it’s better to eliminate all of these branches at one time unless there are more than four large branches to cut. If so, remove them gradually over two years. Next, prune off downward-growing, broken, diseased, or dead branches.

To reduce tree height cut upward-growing branches off at an outward-growing branch that is nearly the same diameter and about the height desired for the tree. On severely overgrown trees that are much taller than desired, make no more than three or four of these cuts each year until the height is sufficiently reduced. If too many branches are removed at one time, the tree responds with many water sprouts, which must then be removed.

Continue to thin remaining branches throughout the tree, targeting weak growth, water sprouts, and underhanging branches. Begin thinning at the periphery of the tree and work back toward the trunk, leaving some fruit-bearing wood in the interior.