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Summer pruning seems to create a lot of confusion. For a start, why is it called “summer” pruning if you’re actually doing it in autumn?

Other questions we hear all the time are: Should I prune all my trees in summer, or just apricots and cherries (and why are those two singled out?)

And if I’m meant to prune my apricot tree in summer (or is it autumn…) then why is it OK to prune my baby apricot trees in winter when I plant them?

So many questions, right?

We reckon that rather than get caught up with figuring out the perfect time to prune, it’s easier to remember the mantra that there’s no “right” or “wrong”, there are just cuts and consequences.

This approach takes the pressure off so you can feel like you can have a go, which is when real learning starts.

Katie pretending to be a tree at a summer pruning workshop
Katie pretending to be a tree at a summer pruning workshop

How will your trees respond if you prune them in summer?

Pruning your tree in summer tends to result in a smaller growth response from the tree.

On the other hand, pruning your fruit tree while it’s dormant in winter is more likely to encourage the tree to grow strongly in response.

And when we say summer, then yes, we also mean early autumn. The point is to do the pruning in warm, dry weather after the tree has finished growing for the season.

Once you understand those principles, it becomes obvious that pruning in summer might suit a really big tree that you’re trying to renovate, for example.

Whereas winter is clearly the best time to prune young trees that you want to encourage to grow big and strong (and then become fruitful) as quickly as possible.

Pruning young trees in winter encourages strong growth

Do pruning “rules” work?

We’re not big fans of rules when it comes to pruning — we find they actually confuse people. Rules can also lead to inexperienced pruners making cuts that can have less than ideal consequences.

It’s much better to understand the principles behind pruning. Then you can fall back on them to make up your mind about when to prune.

Our Foolproof 7-step pruning method is based on 10 pruning principles, but the two that are most relevant here are #3: prune in winter to encourage growth, and #4: trim your trees in summer to slow growth.

Without getting too deeply into the physiological reasons behind these principles in this blog, you can use them to think about when you might want to either encourage vigour (i.e. vegetative growth) in your tree and when you might want to slow growth down a bit.

And remember, they’re just principles — they just tell you what’s more likely to happen. There are very few definites in the wonderful world of fruit growing!

Summer pruning with fruit on the tree can affect both the fruit and the tree
Summer pruning with fruit on the tree can affect both the fruit and the tree

Summer pruning pros and cons

Some other things to think about in deciding whether to prune in summer are:

  • disease — pruning in warm weather helps the cuts to heal quickly and reduce the introduction or spread of disease. Summer pruning might be the best option for a tree that has been severely disease-compromised;
  • fruit quality — reducing leaf canopy with summer pruning can reduce the size and sugar content of the fruit;
  • fruit colour — removing some of the leaves in summer by pruning allows better sun penetration to the tree and can result in better coloured fruit;
  • sunburn — a bushy leaf canopy can provide protection to vulnerable fruit;
  • root health — summer pruning can reduce root growth in a tree (which is not usually a good thing, unless you’re trying to reduce the size of a monster tree, for example);
  • ease of pruning — it’s much easier to see what you’re doing in winter when there are no leaves on the tree.

You can quickly see that pruning a fruit tree in summer while it still has fruit can have a very different outcome to pruning it after harvest.

Summer pruning after harvest tends to slow the tree's growth without affecting fruit
Summer pruning after harvest tends to slow the tree’s growth without affecting the fruit

Does it really matter?

Rather than stressing too much about when is the right time to prune, just remember that it doesn’t really matter.

You’ll just get different consequences from doing it at different times of the year.

And what a great way to learn!

If you really think about when to prune and why, and then pay attention to what happens as a result (pro tip: take before and after shots), you’ll become quite an experienced pruner surprisingly quickly.

Becoming an experienced pruner is an important part of getting great fruit yields
Becoming an experienced pruner is an important part of getting great fruit yields

If you still feel you need some help making the decision, take our Summer Pruning Short Course first.

Happy pruning!

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