Summer Tree Pruning: Which Trees to Prune & Why

By on July 11, 2012

Modified Central Leader system for cherry, apricots and pluots

Prune cherry, apricot, and pluot trees in the summer, not the winter. These trees are susceptible to water-borne diseases and winter pruning cuts provide dangerous openings for damage in rainy weather.

What is it about fruit tree pruning that paralyzes otherwise confident gardeners?

Once you have your long-term shape in mind, and know what time of year to prune, you’re almost there.

When you have fruit tree questions, always come to our Fruit Tree Central, a well-organized source of research-based videos and articles about the selection, planting, pruning, and care of fruit trees.

There are a handful of basic fruit tree shapes. The shape that works best for cherry, apricot, and pluot trees is the Modified Central Leader. The filled in shape and leaves offer more protection from sunscald—in fact, in the sunny Southwest this is an ideal shape for any fruit tree. Modified Central Leader can also be used for walnut, pomegranate, persimmon, apple, and pear trees.

How to Prune and Train a Fruit Tree fro a Modified Central Leader Shape

In our video, Tricia trains and prunes a fruit tree with a Modified Central Leader. You can begin this process even with a young tree. A “central leader” is the traditional, vertical trunk we are used to seeing; the shape will include horizontal “scaffolding” branches.

Choose Four Permanent Scaffold Branches

Height: The first scaffold branches should grow from the trunk starting 18 to 24 inches above the ground.
Angles: For strong branches, find those growing from the trunk at 45 degrees to 60 degrees. If you don’t have enough branches with good angles, find a perfectly placed branch with a narrow crotch and make a wooden spreader (as Tricia does in the video) to widen the crotch angle—or use a wooden clothespin as a small spreader.
Placement around the clock (or trunk): Select branches that don’t overlap each other. The ideal would be branches at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
Vertical separation: It’s best if the branches have vertical distance from each other of 8 to 10 inches.

Label the Scaffold Brances

A simple tip, that saves a lot of pruning heartache, is to tie ribbons to the scaffold branches you’ve chosen. That way when you get flying with the loppers or pruners you can whiz along without worrying about accidentally chopping off a special branch. Tie ribbon or bird-scare tape to the branches you want to save—use something wide and colorful, not just garden twine that you could overlook.

Head Back the Non-Scaffold Branches

What’s a heading cut? It’s a pruning cut that takes off part of the branch, but does not cut all the way to where the branch connects with the trunk. Go ahead and make heading cuts (to a length of 6 inches) on all the horizontal branches EXCEPT your labeled scaffold branches.

Heading cuts stimulate growth.

Thin Branches to One Strong Leader

Choose a leader—the strongest, vertical shoot. Prune away the other vertical shoots, using a “thinning cut” where you remove the branch (instead of just shortening it). Do NOT cut right next to the trunk when you make a thinning cut, but cut outside the “collar” of the branch (the collar is the ridge where the branch joins the trunk).

Head Back the Central Leader

To stimulate growth, make a heading cut on your leader, taking it down to 20 inches above the TOP scaffolding branch.

Head Back the Scaffold Branches

Stimulate growth in your scaffolding branches too, with heading cuts. Cut them back by half or less to stimulate branching.

See? Pruning is easy when you:
1) take your time
2) know what shape you’re aiming for
3) have your tools sharp and ready to use
4) go one step at a time.

Whether you want fruit trees, pruning tools, orchard ladders, or the latest information on organic gardening—we have it for you!

  Comments (15)


This is one of the best guides I’ve ever seen.

Posted by Darryl Hattenhauer on Jul. 15, 2012 at 10:42:07 AM


I sure have learned a lot watching Tricia videos. Many thanks for the info on pruning the Cherry trees in May/June - very good video.

Posted by Larry - Mt. Vernon, WA on Jul. 15, 2012 at 3:06:21 PM


Before I moved to my current house, someone dropped or planted an apricot seed right next to a Ponderosa pine. The pine was planted years ago by a friend’s mother. I don’t know where the apricot pit came from, but it is growing heartily right next to the pine on sort of the s.w. side. I don’t mind it growing there, but have wondered . . .is there a way to prune it so that the apricots it will eventually produce (I hope) will be larger than the general run of the mill apricots grown here at 6,000’ in the high desert? Most are an inch to inch and a quarter, tasty, but mostly pit. Also, is there a way to prune this tree so that it becomes only a dwarf or semi-dwarf? Does growing under a pine do something bad to the taste of the fruit? Thank you for ANY help you can give me. Warmly, gg

Posted by Gale Green on Jul. 15, 2012 at 9:42:31 PM

Hello Gale Green,
The apricot should not be affected by growing next to a pine. The fruit taste may be more a function of when the apricots are picked. Apricots do not continue to improve in flavor after they are off the tree so picking them when they are ripe, and not before, is important. It is also a function of the tree. Most commercial apricot varieties are focused on large size and color over flavor of the fruit. Since this apricot is from a seed and not a clone it’s a genetic lottery which characteristics it has. It may just not have good flavor but I’d try making sure I picked it ripe before I gave the tree over as bad flavored.

Yes, you can prune the tree to maintain it a shorter height than it will naturally grow to, but it will always have the potential to be a standard size. Standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf refer to the size potential of the tree, not how tall you prune it. Summer pruning is the best way to control the size of a tree. A hight of 6-8 ft. is ideal for a home orchard.

For fruit size, thin the fruit on the tree and they will likely grow to a larger size. When the fruit is about 1” in diameter thin to 4-5 inches apart. Focus on damaged fruit first. This will increase size and reduce the apricot’s tendency to alternate bearing.

I hope this is helpful, good luck with your tree!

Posted by on Jul. 16, 2012 at 10:22:51 AM

Larry and Darryl,

Thanks for your kind words!

Posted by on Jul. 18, 2012 at 3:41:15 PM


Many thanks. I learn so much from these messages

Posted by Elizabeth on Jul. 20, 2012 at 9:37:39 AM


I have one very old American Persimmon that is 60 feet tall and was here when we bought the farm.  It would probably bear better had it been pruned at sometime in its life.  Is it too late to do anything with it?

I have a two-year old modern hybrid American Persimmon tree that is not in a good place.  I’d like to move it and prune it.  When is the best time to move the tree, and how should I go about it.  It has grown to about 15 feet tall with a central leader.

Thanks for any help you can give.

Posted by Norma D Burns on Jul. 24, 2012 at 5:39:14 PM


I have a large double-flowered pomegranate tree that has taken a bush form.  It was supposed to bear good fruit, but I have had it 7 years, and no fruit.  I have been told a) that the double-flowered pomegranate don’t bear, and b) that if allowed to grow as a bush, they won’t bear.  Is there any truth to that information?


Posted by Norma D Burns on Jul. 24, 2012 at 5:43:11 PM


1) Your 15 foot American Persimmon is unlikely to survive a move, since the root mass is large. If you want to try, wait until full dormancy (January most places) then dig up the roots starting at the drip line (do you have a tractor on your farm?). Once transplanted, prune the tree so the tree is reduced by the same percentage that the root mass was reduced because of the move.

2) Your 60 foot American Persimmon could be pruned, by 1 of 3 methods. For details on how to reduce the size of a mature persimmon, and how to choose the method, I recommend the UC Davis book The Home Orchard (in our Books section). There are too many variables involved for me to be able to give you the best advice here online.

3) Typically, double-flowered pomegranates do not fruit. The bush habit should not be a problem. I don’t know which state you’re in, but here is some basic pomegranate info from Clemson in South Carolina. The details of the article are focused on South Carolina gardening, but it is helpful overall

Hope this is helpful !


Posted by on Jul. 26, 2012 at 3:32:39 PM


Elizabeth, Thank you for watching our video series!

Posted by Charlotte, Peaceful Valley on Jun. 20, 2013 at 2:34:18 PM


Thanks so much for your helpful site!
I feel like I’m in a bit of a pinch with my trees. I’ve nursed our small orchard of persimmon and pluot back from near extinction when we bought or house 2 years ago.
However, the pluot is way overgrown and badly needs pruning.  It’s super thick with branches, and some drift very near to ground.  I figured I’d do this in the winter, until reading your site.
Should I just risk waiting until after harvesting in the summer, and prune back those which do touch ground, or is there a way to protect the open areas when pruning in winter?

Posted by Chris on Feb. 15, 2014 at 1:10:06 PM

Hello Chris,
If you are expecting a dry winter it should be ok. You can also delay winter pruning until just before bud break to minimize exposure to wet. Make sure you disinfect pruning tools between trees. Good luck with renovating those trees! If you want some more detailed information this article by Penn State is very useful:

Posted by on Feb. 17, 2014 at 9:59:47 AM


I have a 10-year old Hachiya persimmon tree which has been bearing pretty heavily for the last several years. Last week I found to my dismay that several main branches had broken from the fruit load—not clean breaks, but gradual “peel-downs” which I know will gather water(and possible fungi/diseases?), Part of the problem is that I didn’t support the branches with the heaviest load well—couldn’t find good stakes—, but also the tree’s sun exposure is such that the southwest side gets more sun and grows more rapidly than the other sides. Can a tree that size be transplanted? Would that work? or would it be better to try pruning a tree behind it that is causing a lot of the shade? In any case, what should I do about those peeled-off branches now, since it’s not time for dormancy pruning yet? I hope I’ve explained that clearly!! Your advice is always so astute.

Posted by Nancy Hilty on Nov. 04, 2014 at 10:15:28 PM

I would not recommend transplanting a tree that size. I would remove the damaged branches even though the tree is not dormant. You might want to consider pruning the neighboring tree that is shading the persimmon. Persimmons can get huge so give it enough space and prune it in the winter to control its size.

Next year when the tree starts to put on fruit you may want to consider thinning the fruit so you won’t get any further broken branches. When the time comes to thinning, we have a great video on summer pruning and thinning.

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