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A Guide to Winter Pruning for Fruit Bushes & Trees

Written by Sarah Talbot

Winter pruning serves several crucial purposes. It helps maintain the shape and size of your plants, encourages robust spring growth, removes dead or diseased wood, and allows better air circulation. Additionally, winter is a dormant period for many plants, minimising stress and aiding recovery. 
Another advantage is that it is easy to see your tree's structure and to decide which cuts to make. 

The Best Time to Prune Fruit Trees & Bushes

Bare apple tree and hands in white gardening gloves pruning it with secateursDon't prune too early.  Especially with the odd weather patterns that we have at the moment.  If you prune in Autumn while the plant is still active then it could promote new growth that would then be vulnerable to frost.
Don't be tempted to prune in early winter either. Root growth still happens but branch growth is almost non existant in early winter and the tree cannot heal the wounds caused by pruning cuts. Later in winter, the tree is better able to cope as spring is close and your tree will soon have the energy to heal those wounds. 

Don't Prune during Freezing Conditions

Bare raspberry canes after pruning

Pruning during freezing conditions can lead to unintended damage. Frozen wood is more brittle, and pruning may cause splits or cracks.  Choose mild, frost-free days for winter pruning.

How to Prune Different Types of Fruit Bushes and Trees

The specific timing and method of pruning can vary depending on the type of fruit tree or bush. Here are some common fruit bushes and guidelines for winter pruning.

Pruning Blueberries
  • Best pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
  • Remove dead or damaged wood and thin out crowded branches.
  • Trim back excessively long stems to encourage branching.
Pruning Raspberries Canes and Blackberry bushes
  • Summer-bearing varieties are typically pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth.
  • Remove dead canes and thin out crowded or weak canes.
  • Cut back lateral branches to encourage fruiting.
Pruning Currants and Gooseberries Bushes
  • Prune in late winter or early spring.
  • Remove old, unproductive wood, and thin out crowded branches to improve air circulation.
  • Trim back long shoots to encourage branching
Pruning Apple and Pear Trees
  • Prune in late winter when the tree is dormant, before bud break.
  • Remove dead, diseased, or crossing branches.
  • Thin out the center of the tree to improve air circulation.
  • Shape the tree to an open centre or modified central leader structure

  • Learn more here Pruning Apple Trees
Pruning Cherry Trees
  • Prune sweet cherries in late winter or early spring.
  • Remove dead or diseased wood and thin out branches to improve air circulation.
  • Tart cherries are usually pruned in late winter as well.

  • Learn more here Pruning Cherry Tree 

    What are the best tools for pruning?

    Always use clean, sharp pruning tools, and make clean cuts to minimise the risk of disease and promote faster healing. After making larger cuts, especially on fruit trees, consider using a pruning sealant. This helps prevent disease entry and promotes faster healing. Especially importand - disinfect your tools between plants to prevent the spread of infections.  

    Secateurs and gardening gloves on a tableHow much should I prune off?

    Don't overprune in one session. If your fruit bush or tree has got out of hand then don't try and put it right in one year.  Excessive cutting can stress the plant so focus on the most critical aspects of shaping and health and plan to come back the folowing year to continue the job.

    Additionally, be aware that specific pruning techniques may vary based on the growth habit and variety of the fruit bush. Some may benefit from lighter pruning, while others may require more extensive shaping. It's a good idea to consult with local garden centre for guidance tailored to your specific climate and growing conditions.

    Fleece Jackets for winter plant protection of newly pruned fruit treesProtecting Fruit Trees and Bushes after pruning

    After pruning, vulnerable fresh cuts may be at risk during subsequent frost. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and use Fleece Jackets or Fleece Blankets to provide temporary protection for recently pruned plants, when frost is expected.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Pruning

    Q1: Can I Prune Fruit Trees in Late Winter? Yes, late winter, before the active growing season begins, is an acceptable time for pruning. However, ensure you complete the process before new growth starts.

    Q2: What Should I Do If I Prune Too Much? If you've accidentally pruned too much, don't panic. Many plants are resilient and can bounce back. Provide proper care, such as adequate watering and fertilization, to support recovery.

    Q3: Can I Prune Young Fruit Trees? Yes, young fruit trees benefit from pruning to establish a strong framework. However, be mindful not to overprune, as they need some branches to support healthy growth.

    Q4: Do I Need Special Tools for Winter Pruning? While not absolutely necessary, investing in quality pruning tools designed for the job can make the process smoother and more efficient. Clean, sharp tools contribute to the overall health of your plants.

    For more information on the do's and don't of pruning trees check out this 

    The essential Guide to Winter Pruning for Trees

    In conclusion, winter pruning is a vital practice for maintaining the health and vitality of your edible plants. Happy pruning, and may your garden bloom!



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