Getting to know the different parts of your fruit tree makes everything else about fruit growing much easier.

For example, fruit tree anatomy is a very useful thing to know before you start making any pruning cuts. You definitely don’t want to accidentally remove all the fruit buds with overzealous pruning.

In particular, it’s important that you feel confident to identify fruit buds.

One of the mistakes we see regularly is people accidentally cutting fruit buds off. It’s one of the issues we deal with in the Pruning Mature Fruit Trees online course.

It’s also pretty important to understand the difference between limbs, laterals, and spurs.

If you’re not sure, they’re explained in this winter pruning blog.

Learning to spot the difference

Learning how to tell the difference between leaf buds and fruit buds confuses a lot of fruit growers, especially beginners.

In fact, many new fruit growers are not aware of the buds on their fruit trees at all.

The best way we can explain them is to show you…

fruit bud on a peach tree
A fruit bud on a peach tree just starting to open up in spring

Some key differences to look for

Generally speaking, fruit buds are plumper and furrier than leaf buds.

Leaf buds tend to be slim, flat and smooth.

It’s probably easiest to see this on peach and nectarine trees. The photo above shows a lovely fat and furry fruit bud on a peach tree. You can even see the pink flower petals showing through, which is a dead giveaway.

The apple shoot (below) also shows the difference. The terminal bud is a fat, furry fruit bud. Below that are leaf buds—you can see clearly that they are much flatter.

buds on an apple tree
An apple tree showing the terminal fruit bud and leaf buds

Peaches often have triple buds. These have a skinny leaf bud in the middle flanked by two fruit buds on either side, as you can clearly see in this photo.

Different types of fruit trees

The buds look a bit different on every fruit type. It’s harder to tell the difference between fruit buds and leaf buds on a pear tree, for example.

We’ve added coloured arrows to the photo of a pear tree (below) so you know what you’re looking at.

Fruit buds (red arrows) and leaf buds (blue arrows) on a pear tree
Fruit buds (red arrows) and leaf buds (blue arrows) on a pear tree

The red arrows indicate fruit buds and the blue arrows are pointing to leaf buds.

Even though it’s less distinct, you can once again see that there’s a clear difference in the size and shape.

What do different types of buds actually do?

The most simple explanation is that fruit buds produce flowers, which (usually) turn into fruit.

Leaf buds (which are sometimes called vegetative buds) grow leaves. Some of those vegetative buds may extend to become shoots. That’s why these buds are also sometimes called ‘growth buds’.

The shoots may remain as a bunch of leaves, or may grow into spurs, laterals, or even branches. This depends on a few variables:

  • where they are on the tree
  • how you prune the the tree
  • how vigorously the tree is growing
  • the type of fruit tree
  • the age of the tree

How are fruit trees like people?

Fruit buds (also sometimes called flower buds) contain embryonic flower parts. The flower is the reproductive part of the plant. If you want to delve deeper into the parts of a flower check out this fantastic diagram.

Flowers contain both male and female parts. In some fruit types they’re in the same flower, in others they’re in different flowers.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of ways that fruit trees and people are similar.

The first is that fruit trees reproduce sexually. This means that the ovary (deep inside the flower) needs to be fertilised by pollen. Some trees are self-fertile, but usually for fertilisation to occur the pollen must come from a different variety altogether.

Why do some buds turn into fruit buds?

Branches or laterals that are horizontal are more likely to form fruit buds. Vertical wood on the other hand is more likely to develop leaf (or growth) buds. The buds on the end of laterals—called apical buds—are likely to be fruit buds.

But what’s behind all of this?

Well, it’s all driven by hormones, in yet another similarity between fruit trees and people.