Pruning Tips + A Pruning Video

Today, I’m offering up a little video and an excerpt from my pruning book. I hope you discover one or two gems that’ll help you through this seasons pruning missions.

From “A Beginners Guide To Pruning”

(Please respect the hard work that has gone into this and don’t copy it without checking in with me first – thanks!)

  • How to Make a Good Cut

When making a cut be sure to cut back to either a bud or branch that is heading outward or downward. Not inward or upward (just making sure you got it). Outward keeps your tree open, fills it with light. Outward is where you want the tree to grow.

When pruning a branch off, cut just above the collar, leaving it slightly raised to allow for shrink back. Don’t leave stubs – they’re potential entry points for disease, death and all sorts of avoidable drama.

Pruning 1

Keep it sharp
A good cut is one that heals rapidly. It begins with sharp tools. A sharp blade is a beautiful thing to use – no straining required! More importantly, it makes a clean cut. A clean cut heals fast and has no raggedy edges for bacteria to stick to.

Get your tools sharpened each year and carry a secateurs sharpener with you to tickle your blade up as required.

Keep it clean
Wiping your tools with vinegar or meths between trees is a simple way to prevent spreading disease through all your trees. Carry a bottle of vinegar and a rag in your bucket of pruning tools.

  • Be Brave and Thin

2 Types of Pruning Cuts

Thinning is the removal of a whole shoot or branch, taking it back to its point of origin. The majority of your cuts should be thinning cuts. This makes for a lovely open tree – light pours in and air flows. Light thinning invigorates a tree, encouraging plenty of new shoots and buds. Which is, just the thing. A regular supply of gentle new shoots provides options for renewal, a fruit trees version of insurance in future fruits.

Heading back is to shorten a shoot, branch or leader. A useful cut to stop, or redirect growth or to stimulate spurs on laterals. Here’s the thing – shoots fork after being headed back, so take it easy. Heavy handed heading can stunt your tree and make it twiggy. This is why you get scratched up picking lemons – too much heading has made it dense and twiggy – get thinning!

types of cuts

Thinning small laterals is one thing, but branches require bravery. Because light is our goal, there will be times when you need to saw the odd branch off to let the light shine in. Should a branch over shadow another (as in the photo below) be brave and thin it out. This apple needs at least 400mm between branches.


Pre prune – Branches at 200mm – too close!


Let there be light! Branch pruned off

  • Tree Trickery

Training is about shaping your tree minus the cutting, and is an important strategy when developing young trees.

Cutting elicits a growth response. More cutting = more response. Less cutting = less response.

The less responses, the calmer the tree. The calmer the tree the less vegetative growth ergo the less pruning you need do. Altogether equalling more fruit and less work for you!

Tying Branches Down

encourage growth

The more horizontal the branch, the more fruitful it is.

The more horizontal the branch, the less inclined towards lush unproductive growth it is. It’s how the tree’s hormones roll.

All the fruitful energy in a vertical branch, happens at its’ tip. Tie that branch down and the energy shifts. Laterals pop up out of the branch and where there was one, there are now many fruitful tips.

Young branches are flexible in spring when the sap rises, making it the perfect time to tie them down. By time Autumn rolls around the wood has thickened, the year’s growth ring has locked the new angle into place and the tie can be removed.

• Use soft tie, or wrap a cloth around the branch under a tie.
• Make your loop twice the diameter of the branch to prevent it cutting into the bark.
• Attach the other end to a stone or peg or to the trunk.
• Keep an eye on the ties to be sure they stay in place.

  • What To Do With Watershoots

Over vigorous upright shoots (watershoots) are unproductive and clutter up the tree blocking light and air. They can be an indicator of over zealous pruning or over zealous feeding – so take note.

They have one redeeming feature – watershoots are very useful gap fillers. In an older tree – to replace an old branch that’s lost its vigour, as a scaffold branch in a young tree that’s developing its framework, or to replace a broken/ damaged branch. Just bend the shoot over into the gap and tie it off to a rock or peg in the ground.

Other than that – they need to go. If there are but a few dotted through the tree, just whip them off. If there is a heap – you must be cunning. To whip them all off means you’ll be faced with three times as many the year following. Work with the tree to keep it calm – thin every third (or so) shoot, and head back the others. With pruning, the shoots you head back will eventually become fruit spurs.

  • Taming The Tree Top

Un-pruned single leader fruit trees end up with an ugly mess of upright, unproductive shoots at the top of the tree. It’s a childish thing that apples and pears, in particular, do – they race to be the leader. Your job is to calm them down, to stop the racing.

Two options here

  1. Carry on with your single leader path and choose one to be the leader. Then thin, and head back and tie down competing shoots to give your leader a clear lead. 30cm will do it. Just enough to let it know it’s the boss, and send a clear message to the rest of the tree to stay down. One clear leader keeps the rest of the tree calm.
  2. Switch paths and go vase style. Whack out the middle. Do this over a few years if need be, so as not to remove more than a third of the canopy in one prune otherwise risk upsetting the trees equilibrium and stimulating a heap of watershoots.


  1. Jennifer says

    This is amazing, Kath!!! Thank you so much, you are a wealth of knowledge! I have two of your books, but this video and epxlanation really made the penny drop for me. I feel much more empowered to finally tackle pruning of the new trees we planted 18 months ago!

  2. I two have both your books and I’ve attended one of your pruning workshops but this video is great.

    I got the fruit spur close the tree bit! That is going to be very helpful.


  3. Annie Cochrane says

    I feel the same (as Jennifer). I have your books too, but somehow the simplicity of this pruning 101 and the reasons behind it, have finally (I hope) taken hold. The test will be when I set out to prune one of my rather wild fruit trees and don’t stand back in dismay. I will remember to think of pruning, as returning equilibrium and calm to my trees!!!. Thank you Kath

  4. Hi Kath. I have two peach trees that are 2-3 years old. They spent their first few years in big pots while we were doing earthworks on our land. Last winter for my paragon peach, I made a dramatic heading cut to the central leader and it did wonders and prompted the growth of three well placed scaffold branches. I would now like to use notching to create two more scaffold branches, but I cannot see any buds on the central leader where I could do this (only callouses from where branches have been thinned). Any suggestions? My second peach tree, has two average scaffold branches (that are getting quite high), they do have a few spurs but very little lateral growth. Would you recommend I make some heading cuts to promote growth of shoots on the laterals? I also can’t see any buds on this central leader to do notching. Thanks so much.

  5. Hi Kath,

    My question is regarding pruning fruit trees when there is potential for frost at this time of year – apples, plums, cherry & nectarine?

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