Pruning an apple tree in winter

How to prune apple and pear trees in winter

Find out how to prune apple and pear trees in winter to improve their overall shape, size and health.

Do it:

Jan, Feb, Dec

Takes just:

one hour

Keeping fruit trees in good shape is the most reliable way to achieve high yields every year. Without pruning, apples, pears and other fruit trees can become straggly and less productive.

While summer-pruning fruit trees encourages flowering and fruiting, pruning in winter controls the overall shape, size and health of your tree. This is because the trees are dormant in winter, so by cutting back branches and shoots, you are concentrating the flow of sap in spring into fewer buds, resulting in stronger growth.

Find out all you need to know about growing apples in our apple Grow Guide.

Apples that are grown on dwarfing rootstocks (M9 and M27) need little pruning, but medium or large trees benefit from being cut back hard. You should aim to open up the centre of your tree so that air can circulate between the branches. This will help to minimise pests and diseases, and enable more sunlight to reach the developing fruit in summer.

Once your tree has reached the required size and shape, most pruning can be done in summer, although a small amount is still needed every winter for maintenance. So, whether your tree is fully established or newly planted, follow our tips below on how to prune your fruit trees.

You will need

  • Loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Secateurs


Start by removing any dead, damaged or diseased branches. Cut these back to a healthy bud on the stem or remove them altogether, back to the base. Then take out old, unproductive branches, cutting back close to where they join a thicker branch or the trunk. Where established apples and pears have been pruned in this way in previous years, the mass of strong regrowth that follows can be removed or thinned out now, to prevent overcrowding. Prune out additional unwanted growth, to let in light and air.

Reduce the height of the leading shoot and cut back side branches to channel sap into a few buds lower down. This will encourage stronger, thicker main shoots, prevent unnecessary top growth and redirect energy to other growth points. This is the method to follow if you are training your trees as cordons, as this will promote vigorous, pliable shoots that can be bent into place on training wires.

Identify the previous year’s shoots by tracing down from the tips to find the growing point. Shorten these stems to around half their length, cutting just above an outward-facing bud. Remember that once the tree is more mature you’ll want to give it an open structure to maintain good air circulation, so it’s remove any inward-growing branches.

Keeping fruit trees in good shape is the most reliable way to achieve high yields every year.

Look for vigorous shoots towards the ends of all the main branches. Cut these back by between half and two-thirds of their length. Make your cuts just above a bud – if possible one that’s pointing away from the centre of the plant, so the resulting new shoot grows outwards. Check short fruit spurs, identified by their rounded flower buds, and prune out any vigorous shoots that have grown from them. Cut them back to the point from which they grew. On old trees, remove congested fruit spurs, so the flowers and fruits have room to develop without getting damaged.


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