How to summer prune stonefruit

tamaki plum fruiting at ediblebackyard

Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Almonds and Cherries are best pruned in summer when they finish fruiting. There’s a few good reasons to prune them now rather than winter. Number one is disease prevention – there are no silver leaf spores on the wing at this time of year. Number 2 – to slow down that crazy wild, stonefruit style cause pruning now elicits a less vigorous response lessening the amount of leggy watershoots the following season. For beginner pruners a summer prune is easier because you can see the true density of the canopy when all the leaves are on.

A vase shape

I like a vase shape for plums et all – it best suits their spreading tendencies.

The open centre of a vase lets the light pour in to ripen fruit and inspire productive wood. It also lets the air flow for best health.

4 – 6 evenly spaced main branches (scaffolds) come from the trunk at about 1m off the ground. This low centre of gravity means that with annual pruning you can keep your fully grown tree to 3m – 4m. A compact stonefruit like this begins with the prune you do at planting. If your plum or peach is a wild overgrown beast then slowly, slowly reduce it over 4 or 5 years. It’ll be a gorgeous character, not a text book specimen.

Cherries and Almonds are hard to tame. Hamper their ever upward tendencies by tying scaffold branches horizontal or growing them in Evergrow bags.

5 Golden Rules

  1. Always prune on a dry day
  2. Before cutting begins,  study your tree to find the framework – identifying the scaffolds.  Notice where light needs to penetrate, notice where vigour has faded and renewal is required. If you are new to pruning it’s a good idea to mark limbs for removal with a squirt of spray paint, a rag or a clothes peg. Stand back and double check your vision before getting into it.
  3. Don’t prune off more than a quarter of your tree. Stack the pruning’s up beside your tree so you can clearly see how much you’ve taken off.
  4. Use clean tools. Cleaning your tools with meths or vinegar between each tree is basic hygiene that saves spreading bacteria from tree to tree.
  5. Use sharp tools. Sharp blades slice through wood making a healthy cut with no raggedy edges for bacteria to cling to. They also save you straining yourself and getting RSI or OOS or whatever term is latest.

Every variety grows differently, so use this as a guide in tandem with commonsense/ intuition and your own sharp observations.

Make a strong frame

plum trees coming into blossom

Start with the big wood – the main branches/ scaffolds,  loppers and pruning saw to hand. Allow up to 6 main branches for your main frame. Choose ones coming off the trunk at about hip height and well spaced around the trunk. Remove other branches.

Shorten longer branches back to similar lengths as shorter ones to create a strong balanced shape. Don’t remove more than a third off each branch.

Old, weak or broken branches need to be removed.  If a replacement shoot is available then pull it down and train it into into the space. If not, wait for a well placed growth next season.

Remove all growth in the shade under the main branches.

Remove all growth heading to the middle and growing in the middle. Fruit grows where the light is, if the middle is cluttered all the fruit will grow around the outside. By letting light right into the centre you’ll get fruit all the way along the branches.

Make fruit

Prune vigorous laterals back and thin out the clutter

Finish your prune with the fruit producing, seceteur size wood. These are the laterals, the fruiting shoots that grow along the branches. Create a 20cm-ish space between each lateral by completely cutting off (thinning) laterals that cramp the space.

Shorten any laterals that are longer than 40cm. Prune back vigorous ones to a similar length to shorter ones.


If your tree has put on loads of upright growth don’t remove all of it or you’ll send the tree into a frenzy, ending up with three times more shoots next year (and not much fruit to boot). It’s better to remove some and reduce the rest. As a starting point for you, completely remove every third upright growth (choose the most vigorous ones) and reduce the others back to a couple of buds. With any luck they develop into fruiting spurs.

tie a branch down
Tie a shoot into the gap

Occasionally these over zealous growths are useful to fill a gap. Tie the growth down so it fills the space, and cut it back to balance with the rest of the tree.

Assess your beautiful prune

kays peach seedling 3 yr

Take three steps back, and slowly walk all the way round the tree to check it’s a balanced shape and light shines forth into every nook and cranny.

Chop up the prunings and if they are healthy, lay them beneath the tree to return the carbs. Job tidy.

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  1. This is a brilliant pruning guide. Off to mum’s to start the slow re shape, of her large old orchard and get the Sea-Hume Granules on while those apples are dropping!
    Thanks Katherine, for your knowledge bank.

  2. I had heard that pruning in Summer in Auckland could encourage the wood boring insects? Is that true? I have a huge plum tree and a massively unruly pear tree

  3. Loved seeing Nellie

  4. Peter Miller says

    Hi Kath.
    I love your simple and confidence-inspiring writing!
    i wonder if the paragraph below the heading water spouts is clear. do you intend us to remove the most vigorous or keep those ones/

    • Thanks Peter – I agree, it’s a bit of a mouthful that paragraph. I’ll rework it! In the meantime I hope this is clearer… where there is a cluster of upright shoots completely remove one in three, or there about. Removing all the shoots results in 3 times as many the season following. Avoid this headache by tricking the tree.
      Choose the longest, most vigorous to remove and head back the others to a couple of buds. The only time you’d retain the most vigorous shoot is if you were going to use it as a replacement branch and pull it down to fill a gap.

  5. Hi Kath! Love your guide to pruning. We planted our plum trees last winter. Their branches start around shoulder height but being in a small garden we’ve realised they really need to start much lower down – knee height! Would you recommend starting again this winter and lopping off all of the summers growth (above one bud) to knee height?

    • I agree shoulder height is way to tall for scaffolds to begin, but howza bout a halfway negotiation and going hip height?! Depending on where you live knee height is just as tricky … all that bending, well lying down even!! to get fruit plus fruit laden branches will end up in the grass, oh how the slugs and snails will love you! Also airflow will be an issue for you as the first scaffolds branches will be living right in the herbal ley beneath, but like I said this all depends on where you live my friend. What do you reckon?

  6. Hi,
    I love your guide. One of the best I’ve come across.
    I was wondering though, are we too far into the ‘winter months’ to prune? Or should I wait? If so till when?
    I’ve never had a stone fruit true and we just brought a house with a old Black Doris Plum tree and it’s very out of control looking.
    Now that I’ve got time on my hands, I’m wondering if I should tame it back a little?

    • Hiya Leah, You can prune it now for sure. Depending on where you are, winter hasn’t started yet! Take it easy on those older plums so you dont stiulate a tonne of watershoots next year. Choose the biggest branch up the centre that you can clear out to create a lovely space. Good luck!