Tree pruning – basic principles

We prune fruit trees to keep them at a manageable size, optimizing their shape, improving cropping by increasing the light reaching the centre of the tree and increasing the production of fruit bud. If you don’t prune, the tree puts a lot of its energy into making new wood. If you prune, you redirect some of this energy into making fruit. Here are some basic tips on pruning fruit trees:

1. It is best to prune on a dry day to prevent the risk of infection by bacterial or fungal disease.
2. Slant cuts so that rainwater can run off.
3. Use heal and seal to protect the wounds on larger branches.
4. Remove and dispose of prunings, which may harbour fungal diseases and other pests.

How to prune fruit trees depends on the type of tree, the age of the tree, the time of year, and its vigour. In this section, we provide basic information on pruning fruit trees. Scroll down for links on how to prune different types of fruit trees.

Watch a video tutorial on winter pruning an apple tree.

Fruit tree pruning tools

Pruning saws

For fruit tree pruning, you need a pruning saw for large branches. It has a fairly narrow, curving blade so that it is easy to use in the restricted space of a fruit tree. Its teeth are specially designed for cutting green wood. Folding saws are more compact but less robust than saws with a fixed blade.


Loppers are like secateurs with long handles, and their size increases their cutting power and reach. They may have scissor-action blades or an anvil and blade, so that the branch rests on the anvil and is cut by just one blade. In both cases, it is important to keep the blade sharp so that branches are cut cleanly and not crushed. Blades in stainless steel or carbon steel stay sharper for longer with respect to coated steel.


Secateurs, or hand pruners, are like a heavy-duty pair of scissors, made for cutting branches up to about 1 cm thick. The best and most comfortable models have one handle that rolls as you cut, reducing effort and increasing comfort. They have a safety catch to keep them closed when not in use, and a spring that opens them after each cut. They may have bypass (scissor-action) blades, or a blade that closes onto a flat surface or anvil. Anvil secateurs are better for cutting thicker, hard branches, because they are less likely to jam while cutting.

There are also a wide range of electrically power-assisted secateurs available. These make tree pruning easier by reducing the muscle power required. They vary in cutting power and in the time needed before recharging the batteries.

Garden scissors

Garden scissors or thinning scissors are light and can be useful for small twigs.


If you have a large, mature bush tree, you may need a ladder. For safety, don’t use a normal domestic ladder, which is unstable on soft or uneven ground. Use an orchard ladder, which has three legs for good stability, and gives you a stable platform. It should be in aluminium for durability, strength and easy maintenance. Take great care.

Tool belt

A belt with pouches for a saw, secateurs and pruning scissors is very useful.

Heal and Seal

Heal and Seal is a liquid applied to pruning cuts on fruit trees to prevent fungal and bacterial infection and the insurgence of diseases. It is important to seal wounds particularly on large branches, in winter when the tree is dormant, and in damp conditions.

Read more about pruning fruit trees:

How to prune an apple tree

How to prune espalier apple trees

Pear tree pruning – how to prune pear trees

How to prune espalier pear trees

How to prune cordon trees

How to prune plum trees

Fig tree pruning – how to trim a fig tree

Pruning cherry trees

Pruning apricot trees

How to prune an espalier apricot tree

How to prune a mulberry tree

How to prune crab apple trees

How to prune quince trees

How to prune medlar trees

How to prune walnut trees

Radical pruning for restoration

How to remove fruit tree stumps

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