How to Summer Prune Stonefruit

tamaki plum fruiting at ediblebackyard

Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Almonds and Cherries are all best pruned in summer after they finish fruiting. Pruning them now:

  • gives you surety against silverleaf disease because there are no spores on the wing at this time of year
  • spreads out the pruning jobs (which I am grateful for every year)
  • but best of all – it reduces the trees growth response, alot less shoots in spring!
  • is especially great for beginners because it’s really clear, when all the leaves are on, exactly where light needs to penetrate.

Revisit your 5 golden pruning rules here.
Remember that less is more, that every cut you make elicits a response from the tree.
The more you cut, the more trees shoot.
The less you cut, the less they shoot.
Stonefruit, in particular Cherries and Almonds, are near un-tamable – it is their nature to spread up and out. Make your goal to steady growth with a few well chosen cuts, rather than ‘control’ the tree.

Rest easy knowing that in time you’ll have pruning sorted. It’s alot at the beginning I know – you’ll have loads of questions as you work your trees, but try not to get tangled up in knots. My little pruning book takes you step by step

A vase shape for stonefruit

Before we get pruning, its useful for you to understand how to create and manage a vase shape – the best shape for naturally spreading stone fruits. It begins at planting, and in the ensuing early years with training and a few targeted cuts.

The end goal is 4 – 6 evenly spaced main branches – these are called scaffolds and ideally come off the trunk at about 1m off the ground. This makes for a lovely low centre of gravity and lower trees that are easier to birdnet, pick and prune.

The scaffolds (main branches), and trunk make up the framework of the tree.

  • From the trunk springs the scaffolds
  • From the scaffolds spring secondary branches, and sometimes tertiary in gorgeous big old specimens.
  • From both scaffolds and secondary branches spring the lateral shoots that bear the flowers and fruits.

Go out to your tree and work out what is what. Start with the easy bit – the trunk. From there identify the scaffolds, the secondary branches and finally the laterals.

Such a valuable practice if pruning addles you! Run through this sequence every time you are with your trees. It’s makes a huge difference, when you understand the framework and how its made up. Over time, you’ll get your eye in.

Start with the frame

plum trees coming into blossom
Can you identify the scaffolds + secondary branches + lateral shoots in these plum trees?

Begin your prune with the scaffolds. Ignore all the fiddly little laterals for now. Have loppers and pruning saw to hand, unless of course its a young tree you are working on.

Remove weak or broken branches.

Remove all growth in the shade under the main branches.

Identify the scaffolds to keep. Choose 4 – 6 well spaced branches that come off the trunk at about hip height through shoulder height.

Identify scaffolds to remove, bearing in mind that you don’t want to remove too much in one go. In a young tree this wont equate to too much wood, but in an older tree – one a year is more than enough.

Only shorten branches if you need to bring balance and have one that’s alot longer than the others. Don’t remove more than a third off the end.

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 along the branches.

Lets make fruit!

Head back vigorous laterals 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 thinning (completely cutting off) laterals that cramp the space. Remove spindly, weak damaged growths or big fat ones as a preference. Like goldilocks – our preference is in the middle.

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


tie a branch down
This upright watershoot, tied into the gap will become a scaffold branch

If your tree has loads of upright growths, don’t remove all of them or you’ll send it into a frenzy, ending up with three times more shoots next year.

Start by tying down as many as you can into whatever gaps you have. Pull them over into the gap and tie the growth down into the space.

Then thin out (remove) the tallest, most vigorous shoots and reduce the rest back to a couple of buds. With any luck they develop into fruiting spurs.

Lots of watershoots are a response to hard pruning and/or overfeeding. So bear this in mind.

Assess your beautiful prune

Let the light shine in for plenty of productive, fruitful wood

Step 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 pruning’s and 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!

    • Hi Cath,

      Is there an optimal angle to train branches (scaffold or others) to help with fruit production? Have read a few different sources, but all seem to differ.

      Thanks, Greg

      • Hey Greg, Somewhere in the realm of 45 – 90 degrees is perfect. Branches, you’ll find cannot be trained to an exact degree – as close as is great. The thing is that they are no longer straight up and down. Hope this helps!

  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!

  15. Hi Kath,
    Inspired to get pruning now! Our nectarine had some leaf curl and brown rust this year, despite copper and oil spray. Should I still compost the leaves and branches (usually put them through the shredder) or let them go to landfill?

    • oh yes David – keep them for sure. Chuck them through the mulcher and mix them with a variety of organic matter. Spray your nectarine with 1T cider vinegar per 1 litre water a couple times a week and get a lovely woody type mulch around the base. Hopefully you have underplanted with a mix of dynamic accumulator herbs too like comfrey and yarrow.

  16. Is it too late in the season to bend down scaffold branches?

    • In the tree calendar, the best time is spring, as sap rises and a new growth ring begins to form. You could however go now while the sap is still flowing and flexibility there.

  17. Hi Kath – I have 2 avocado trees – one produces really well the other produces nothing. They are both very healthy looking and about 10 years old. Both are grafted trees. The one that doesn’t produce has a lot of growth – someone suggested I shock it with a really hard prune – what do you think???
    I’m in south Auckland.

    • Worth a shot for sure. Avocados are happy to be cut back really hard. What variety is it? I wonder – as a first port of call – is it flowering?

      • Yep I guess nothing to lose ah!! Both trees are Hass and the one that doesn’t fruit always gets covered in flowers and we have bees on the property!!

  18. Hi Kath,
    We have just moved to Richmond, Nelson and the section we have moved onto has an enormous pear tree. There were lots of pears but as the tree was so big, we couldn’t cover it and the birds ate the lot!
    I’d like to get rid of 2/3rds of the tree as its blocking sun to the vege garden and also to make it more manageable to pick the fruit. Would this completely kill the tree? I think its been quite neglected the last couple of years so has grown like crazy!
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hiya Jess. You can totally reduce a fruit trees height – no killing required! Thing is to do it gradually over a few years. Big cuts elicit big growth response so cut alot and the next year it shoots lot. Take it down gradually to avoid lots of tricky shooting next year.

  19. James Storrie says

    Hi kath, loving the helpful tips, James here in Waipu – a property I recently purchased has an incredible amount of fully grown fruit trees but sadly have been neglected over the years. Most are all topping at 6m or more and to tall to net. They are/ have produced some fruit this past summer although not probably their best crops. Most of the fruit is/ was small and i have collected what I could but the birds have been enjoying the banquet during the past years. The trees have all sprouted some (the peach) up to 9m. Is there any specific months when to prune back and should I continuewith the 1/3 theory or could I take out abit more . I have peach, plum, guava, cranberry, lime, pear, orange, lemon, apple, fejoa, mandarin and banana thx

    • Hiya James – For stone fruit and pip after harvest prune has the advantage of less vigorous growth. For citrus, prune late winter. My little pruning handbook may help you out with calendars and basic pruning know how – otherwise use the search bar to find out how to prune feijoas + my pruning basics videos. Take the prune back slow – over a few years to reduce a vigorous shoot production the following season. It’ll definately improve your fruit quality! Enjoy K

  20. Hi Kath,
    Your books have been an absolute blessing to us starting out in our new lifestyle property! Oh the beautiful visions and exciting plans we are making 🙂
    I had a question specific to citrus pruning. My mother has a Morrisons Grapefruit that has a beautiful thick canopy at almost 2 stories high! We harvest by shaking the enormous branches to get them to fall! You advise that we can go ahead and prune back to 2m high with citrus that are “wild and old”… I’m just worried this is REALLY old and my mum is terrified that it wont survive… I think I’m just looking for some reassurance that I’m not going to kill my mother’s beloved tree by helping her prune it so heavily. 😀 Thank you!

    • Its totally natural for your mum to be terrified – that tree is her old friend. For sure you can go hard on grapefruits, but just as viable is to go with your inclination of softly – either is fine. As a start choose a few of the longest/ tallest branches and just remove them. Drag them away, chop them up and then have another look at the tree to see how you feel. Perhaps thats enough for now or perhaps you think – I’ll do a few more. Pruning stimulates shooting, trust this and follow your intuition. You and that tree are connected, if you listen carefully you’ll pick up on the perfect amount to prune 🙂

      • Thank you Kath! Can I clarify with you… if we took a few of the tallest down say 2/3 of their height, will the stimulated growth come up on these pruned branches too, or would the ‘growth energy’ be focused into the unpruned branches? I’m wondering if we could in theory prune 1/2 the tree, leaving the other 1/2 to fruit as usual for a couple years, then after a few years prune the other 1/2 down to the height of the first…? Am I sounding hopeful or desperate? 😀

        • Its impossible with words my friends – honestly, trust yourself. Start. After each cut stand back and check. If its too tricky this time round, find someone to come in and prune for you 🙂

  21. judith akkirman says

    Hello Kath,

    My large fig tree has just about finished fruiting, and I’d like to reduce its size, bearing in mind your quarter to a third rule of course. Is this the right time to do it? I thought I’d seen mention of it somewhere on your website a while ago, but can’t find it now.


  22. Hi Kath! Hope your travels are going well. I have a question not related to pruning but to fruit trees in general. We’re looking at buying a property that has a septic tank with a drip line through the garden (as in the tank doesn’t need manually emptying, it filters through the garden somehow). They have native grasses planted in a biggish area where the drip line is. I know very little about septic tanks but I’m keen to cram any garden I get full of fruit trees. Would you have any issues with growing fruit trees in soil with this kind of stuff flowing through it? I don’t know if it would be like super manure or just quite gross. It seems an otherwise sheltered and warm space, though it’s probably quite sandy soil. Thank you!

    • Hey Alana. There’s many variations of those fields, but I’m very sorry to say – mostly they don’t recommend fruit trees – the soaker fields are best suited to shallow rooting plants to stop them bogging up with roots and keep the field clear – bit of a waste aye. The council consents should tell you more info regards what type was installed.

  23. Kia ora Kath, in 2022 we had an awesome plum harvest for the first year in our new house. My husband then gave it a very generous prune and in 2023 season we had 3 plums and have shot hole disease. We’ve now agreed that I’m going to take over the care of the plum tree. It had become very cluttered (think more round ball than vase shape) with laterals starting very low on the trunk. Would you suggest thinning out the laterals to open up the tree to be able to see the branches and scaffolds? the. treat the shot hole? we’re in Christchurch. Love your work!

    • Hey Cara, its always an adventure coming back from a hard prune! I cant speak to the tree without seeing it – its hard to visualise from a few sentences. Trust your gut feeling. Stick to less is more. Train branches down where you can to limit cutting (my pruning book runs through this), and let light lead the way.
      Re shot hole – its a fungal disease, possibly a result of stress from the prune combined with last springs weather. Keep building a strong robust environment for your trees – – that’s where long term health lies.