By Jonathan van Wiltenburg |

One of the best bang-for-your-buck summer garden tasks is to summer prune your fruit trees. Many of us have slipped into the habit of pruning only during the dead of winter, however summer pruning in July and August can provide a few extra advantages that winter pruning does not offer.

This is the act of taking smallish unwanted branches out of the tree’s canopy. It’s an extremely useful task if you have trees that have been heavily pruned in the past and are constantly sending up unproductive water shoots.

One thing to mention is summer pruning does not replace winter pruning. Think of it as supplemental to winter pruning.

Winter is still the best time to view the tree as a whole, as it is bare. And winter is the time when you can make larger drastic cuts without causing significant stress to the tree. If you are only going to prune once a year, make it the winter.

Why do we summer prune? 

Done right, summer pruning will decrease the amount of bulk leaf growth and provide a dwarfing effect to the tree. This is extremely important if you have fruit trees that have been hard pruned in the past and are constantly sending up unwanted, unproductive vegetative shoots called water shoots.

Also, it will promote fruit forming branches, and provide selective growth to fruit producing areas. Furthermore by opening up the canopy, you will allow more air movement and that will also increase the amount of light filtering into the fruit.

How to summer prune

First off, sharpen up your pruners and get the ladder ready. It can be a bit of a hairy job moving in and around a tree in full leaf.

Begin by taking off all the water shoots. These are the long shoots going straight up that have no fruit. Then move on to crisscrossing branches, branches growing in the wrong direction, and dead or diseased branches. It is very important not to make larger cuts at this time of year.

As a good rule, do not make cuts larger than what is possible with hand pruners. No saws allowed! This will ensure nothing larger than your thumb will be removed.

Do not take too much off; you can always do more in the winter.

Summer pruning can be hard on a tree. Too much can cause severe dwarfing and some hard pruned trees may not recover.

Happy gardening!

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