How to Summer Prune Stonefruit

tamaki plum fruiting at ediblebackyard

Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Almonds and Cherries are all stonefruit and 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 of your stonefruit 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 for stonefruit pruning

  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.


  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!

  7. angi buettner says

    Thank you so much, Kath, as always, for your blogs. So clear and also always inspiring. I’m finally back to gardening and reading your monthly newsletter!
    Could you give us a tiny hint about how – and even whether – to prune dwarf peaches? Angi

    • Hey Angi! For sure – its good to prune those dwarf peaches for airflow and light – esp in Wellys! Summer prune them is good, after fruiting and what they need is a big old thin out to create lovely spaces between each shoot. Enough to let the light shine through onto the fruits and so that no shoots or indeed branches are tangled and dense. Dont think too hard about it just stand back every now and then for perspective and snip a bit here and then. You can easily do a progressive prune and infact in spring when the leaves return you can do a bit more if they seem cluttered. Enjoy your garden 🙂

  8. Chris Taylor says

    Highly recommend everyone get a copy of the book it’s great, glad I did.

  9. HI Kath,

    We have an apple montys surprise, a great tree but its certainly difficult to tame. Has endless vertical shoots. Any thoughts of pruning it once we have harvested the apples – will probably be start of April. Would this slow its growth down a bit more than pruning it in winter/spring. Appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Also on a different matter, when using Garden boost produce ( Fish Hydrolysate + Effective Microorganisms (EM) ) do you know if there is a whiholding period before picking the veggies. Do you usually only use it on the soil around the plant or just pour it over the entire plant e.g with a courgette would you just do around the roots, avoiding the leafs and fruits?



    • Hey Mel – no withholding period at all. It can be foliar or soil – either is sweet – I just pour it all over. As for our friend Monty summer pruning helps, as does leaving lots of new shoots – take a thinning approach rather than heading back too much and the weight of the apples on the shoots pulls the branches down and this slows its growth as does a big crop of apples, so keep as may fruitful bits of wood as you can without cluttering the tree. I have given up on a shape and focus on just thinning out the shoots. And when finished reduce the height. Done.

  10. Hi Kath. Thanks for your great guide. We have recently purchase a property here in the Hawkes Bay with two enormous apricot trees. I want to do some significant pruning without damaging the trees as they produce a lot of fruit. Any suggestions on how to best approach the job?

    • So lucky to have good apricots! Dont go too hard ok. Especialy on apricots, they’re sensitive souls. Stagger the prune over 3 or 4 years to bring them to a more manageable size. Remove one of two big branches a time. Choose the tallest of longest network, or the one cluttering up the centre to kill 2 birds with one stone. Be relaxed about an unbalanced shape – its all too easy to go nuts and take it all back, thing is the tree will respond with lots of upright growth which is harder for the pruner in ensuing years and will remove all the fruiting spurs as well leaving you apricot-less for a few years. To keep good fruiting going on throughout its renovation, go forward gently. All the best!

  11. Thanks Kath, always appreciate yoru advice!

  12. Thanks for this great guide, love your book too.. I’ve done my nectarines now. Just one question. My scaffolds generally start at around a meter height. But two of the nectarines has grown a long and rather strong shoot/branch from around half a meter. Do I keep this? Head it back? Or remove it?

    I’m just north of Auckland and planted my small orchard with trees 3 metres apart in August. I know that’s a bit tight but there was just so many fruit trees I “needed” to fit in on so little space!

    • I hear ya!, so hard not to squash them all in – they’ll be fine! even if they tangle up a bit. I cant imagine the shoot – is it heading straight up? Its impossible for me to say without seeing it in 3D an this is the fun of being a [pruner Rebecka! These curly things the trees throw at us. You can do no wrong. Whether you remove it or head it back or pull it down and create a branch with it – the awesome thing is whatever you do, you will learn so much as you watch what the tree does in response. Perhaps try one way with one tree and one with the other. If it turns to custard and doesn’t behave how you wish you can always chop it off next year. Enjoy!

      • Rebecka Keeling says

        Awesome, I’ll have a play with it, and if it all turns to custard I shall give it the chop next year 🙂 Thank you!

  13. Hi Kath
    I have planted 7 plum trees and a sloe tree in a small orchard at my property in Taupo. I was / am a novice gardener and the first three plum trees I planted three years ago were shorter trees, and by luck rather than my skill, have naturally grown into the desirable vase / bowl shape with a little pruning from myself. The issue I have with the latest 4 plum trees is that when I purchased them, last year, they were a lot more spindly and I would guess that the point at which the scaffold / bows spread begins is approximately 1.6m high (chest height). If I wish to ‘retrain’ them to spread at a more acceptable height (waist height) do I simply chop the top off above a bud at that acceptable height and regrow them? They have now developed a decent set of 3-5 spreading branches. It concerns me that I will potentially kill them? Your thoughts please 🙂

    • The good news is it doesn’t have to be one way or the other – you can rewind to a lower height in a gradual fashion. You could take it all off – its highly unlikely you’ll harm a vigorous plum, but rather send it into a flurry of shoots – which will give you options. Or go gradual and remove a couple of scaffolds and head the rest back by about a third. Give notching a go at the end of the next few winters to stimulate new branches further down. Its likely a new shoot or 2 will come lower down anyway from the prune back. Tie new shoots down in spring to create branches where you want them. Perhaps choosing the most vigorous to take back and the least vigorous to do gradually. You really learn pruning and your trees when you experiment. The bottom line, and always the best answer is to follow your gut.

  14. Hmm, I got a bit carried away and pruned more than a quarter of my very bushy 2 year old nectarine. It produced 12 perfect fruit this season – I was trying to reshape it as it was a bit lopsided. Have I harmed it? What will happen next year?
    Love your blog Kath and am making attempts to ‘wild’ my whole backyard with edibles!
    Thanks, Robyn

    • And so we all have. I still go too hard. Usually when I’m having a bad hair day! You just wait and see – that nectarine will shoot away – a big haircut inspires more growth in a young tree than less. Trees are super forgiving. Each year you get another shot at it. Watch your tree and how it responds to your cuts. This more than any book is what will teach you to prune well. There is no end to learning – I still am!