PRUNING: Stonefruit Trees

Published on June 13th 2019
A close up of a fruit hanging from a branch
Before you jump right into pruning your fruit trees, ensure you know why pruning is important, and that you have the right tools for the job.
Stonefruit, such as peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots, are often pruned into a ‘Vase-shaped’ form with 4-5 well-spaced, main branches (scaffolds/leaders). This vase-shape creates an open centre and allows for better light penetration, increased airflow for less fungal disease problems, better pollination and fruit production.
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Within the first 3-5 years, the shape and size of the tree are established, therefore it is better, and much easier, to prune fruit trees while still young.
Stonefruits can be pruned after the flowering season in April/May or after harvesting fruit in August/September. It is not favourable to prune stonefruit trees in winter, as they can be infected by mildew. However, during late winter, when the trees have lost their leaves, it is easier to see the tree structure which allows you to plan where you want to make pruning cuts.

Pruning the V-shape

  • To form the first framework, choose the strongest 4-5 branches that are evenly spaced around the primary stem (trunk) and at around the same height.
  • After identifying the main branches (leaders), cut the trunk immediately above the highest branch.
  • Prune out any other large branches, besides the leaders, to develop the open vase structure.
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Maintenance pruning

  • Prune all dead, damaged or diseased branches.
  • Prune the suckers or shoots at the base of the tree.
  • Remove shoots developing in the centre of the tree. These shoots cause congestion in the middle of the tree, preventing light and air from getting to the fruits.
  • Thin out weak shoots and branches that did not push vigorous shoots when headed back last year.
  • Prune branches that cross one or two other branches.

Prune for fruit production

  • Keep the tree at a height you can harvest fruit by topping off all the branches you can comfortably reach.
  • Prevent forks that may split under the weight of the fruit. Forks are formed when the angle of the shoots attached to the main stem is less than 45 degrees.
An apple hanging from a branch
Peaches & Nectarine
  • Peaches and nectarines only crop on one-year-old wood, so keep strong, unbranched one-year-old shoots for fruit production.
  • Aim to retain as much one-year-old wood as close as possible to the main leader limb.
  • Once the shoot has borne its crop, it will not bear again and can be removed.
  • Ideally, the one-year-old wood should be 30 cm long and not longer than 60 cm.
  • Very thin one-year-old wood can also be removed as they use up scarce reserves that can be allocated to the stronger buds.
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  • Pruning of plum trees is comparable across the different plum varieties.
  • Plums can also be a strong central leading tree.
  • Plums bear on spurs so you want as much two-year-old and older wood.
  • Remove any branches that are thicker than 1\3 of the structural branch.
  • Plums are very competitive for energy between fruit and vegetative growth, therefore it is important not to cut back into the two-year-old or older wood, or to make any heading cuts as this will stimulate vegetative growth.
  • Summer pruning is often done on plums, removing strong upright shoots that compete directly with the tree for its energy reserves.
A close up of a fruit
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