Pruning: The Art and Science of Shaping Trees

Pruning: The Art and Science of Shaping Trees

By: Ryanne Welch

The thought of pruning can be overwhelming. At times, it feels that you’re preparing to perform brain surgery. But fear not; we’re looking more at a haircut than a lobotomy. It’s a science but also an art. Let’s talk tips, tricks, and basics of pruning to get you happy, healthy, luscious fruit trees in no time.

Know Your Species

Like any good barber, a gardener must know their client, their history, needs, preferences, and trouble spots. It’s a case-by-case service. Not only is it important to know the history of each tree as an individual, but their species as well. Your species will dictate your pruning style, how much to prune, where to prune, and when to prune. There are lots of good resources for getting the down-low on your species. For Utah orchards, we love USU Extension.

Timing is Everything

Unlike our split ends that can be trimmed in any season, different species do better with a spruce-up in specific seasons due to their seasonal growth patterns. Here are some general timing guidelines.

Late Winter/ Early Spring

 Trees are hibernating during this time, resting up and preparing for the Spring blooms. This is a perfect time to shape and remove dead or diseased branches. The bulk of your pruning should be done during this time to help give your tree a growth boost for the Spring and reduce the spread of disease.


When your tree is in its prime growing time, you should be pruning to slow growth and increase tree health and fruit production. It seems a little counterintuitive, but trust us, it works. Just don’t go crazy.

Tools of the Trade

Just as our barbers, the outcome of our work is only as good as the tools we use to execute it. Sharp tools will lead to cleaner, healthier cuts, as well as less injury to the gardener and tree. A clean cut always looks and feels better. On top of keeping your tools sharp, it’s crucial that they be clean. You may think, “They’re just like my office scissors, but bigger. What’s the big deal?”  It all comes down to the health of your tree. Uncleaned pruners can spread disease and viruses from tree to tree. It’s like a barber not cleaning the razor after shaving the guy with the weird skin rash all over his face. Not cool.

When cleaning, be sure to remove any visible debris like mud, leaves, or wood. Once the big bits are gone wipe down the blade with a rag and rubbing alcohol to help disinfect. 

Basics for Beginners

Loppers: The big guns. These guys are designed to cut through branches that are a couple of inches thick. How thick of a branch you’ll be able to cut depends on your blade length. These guys will typically have long handles, allowing you to reach higher.

Pull Saw: Even bigger guns. Have a branch more than a few inches thick? That’s where this puppy comes in. Be sure to use extra caution with these.

Pruners: Small but mighty. These are best for the small details. They’re a great all-purpose tool. We’re obsessed with ours. 

Benefits Galore

Your tree may be beautiful all bushy and wild, but a proper style and shape can make a world of difference. Think of the scene in Princess Diaries when Paolo is revealing Princess Mia after her makeover and says “Only Paolo can take this and this and give you…a princess”.

The main benefit of pruning your fruit tree is a better fruit yield. The tree can now put more energy into the fruit because the unnecessary part has been removed and isn’t taking that energy.

Pruning will also help prevent future damage. Branches that are overlapping or overgrown are prone to breakage. Which only leads to headaches and messes.

A good prune can also help you fit the tree into your space better. Is your tree near a sidewalk? Your tall neighbors would appreciate it if they could walk underneath without having to awkwardly crouch over. It’s like maintaining a mustache. You don’t want it to get too long and get in the way of your mouth. That’s prime cheesecake real-estate.

With your newfound knowledge, it's time to step into your orchard and get pruning. Your trees are waiting for a new ‘do.

Want some hands-on help learning how to prune? Come volunteer in the garden this Spring. We could use your help and will gladly give you are tips and tricks in return.'re,need%20longer%20blades%2C%20of%20course.