Pruning a mature apple or pear tree

Pruning our mature and neglected pear tree has been on the to do list for ages. Having done a bit of research, we decided now is the time.

I stumbled upon a super fact sheet created by the Ohio State University Extension programme – they allow their material to be copied given appropriate credit. And credit is indeed due! I paraphrase their suggestions here.

—    A good fruit tree should not make a good shade tree!
—    Prune late in the dormant season to minimize cold injury.
—    Prune heavily on neglected/vigorous trees, less so on less vigorous cultivars.
—    Make all heading back cuts just beyond a bud or branch.
—    Make all thinning cuts just beyond the base of the branch being removed.
—    Avoid pruning too close (See Figure 1.)
—    Don’t prune a “shade tree” back to a fruit tree in one year. Do it over a few.
—    Wound dressings are unnecessary for trees pruned in dormant season.
—    Match pruning tools to the size wood being removed. Shears for twigs, loppers for branches, and a saw for larger limbs.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 1. Flesh cuts heal slowly; so leave the collar.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 2. Pictured from above, space scaffold branches to allow access.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 3. The suggested pruning cuts.

And finally they add: backyard trees are rarely over-pruned, but inexperienced growers often procrastinate on pruning for fear of damaging trees. ‘Topping’ or shearing a fruit tree is about the worst thing that can be done, but even that may result in better fruit for a year or two. Ultimately shearing will produce a dense crown that inhibits access for sunlight, sprays, and harvest, and invites weak structure and breakage. As long as pruning cuts are made to remove, head back, or thin as the examples illustrated and discussed, no nightmares are necessary. Don’t use hedge shears. ‘Just do it.’

And with those final words of encouragement, we went for it. Here is the tree first thing in the morning:

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And here is the result, a bit obscured by the trees in background.

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And now to tidy up the mess we’ve made.


9 responses to “Pruning a mature apple or pear tree

  1. Very much like the diagrams.

    I have an espaliered apple tree and have decided to let it grow out from the wall – so it will be less of an espalier than a one-sided tree against a wall.

    What do you think?

    Esther Montgomery

    • Esther, how interesting! I envisage it like a little overhang off the side of the wall – perhaps you could prune it to be a canopy, ensuring it doesn’t block any walk ways if relevant. Sounds really unique. Definitely post something in the next year or two to show your progress.

  2. As Esther wrote, I thought the diagrams were well done.

    Pruning is more or less my favorite aspect of landscape care.

    MDV ~ Oregon

  3. Thanks for this – am pruning a mature neglected tree for first time and this really helps.

  4. Pingback: Winter Prune Apples and Pears «

  5. Hi,
    I have a question about pruning apple trees. Why do I get so many new suckers/new growth on my mature trees every year. I prune them in the spring when they are still dormant. Any thoughts?
    Dave Bushmaker

  6. I don’t have an apple tree but I learned a lot about pruning them in your article. Thanks! they can be of help in the future.

  7. I am glad you found it a great reference. Happy Gardening

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