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Young apple and pear trees need good formative pruning to establish productive trees with a balanced branch system. Pruning is not difficult and taking the time to get it right in the early years should lead to fewer problems later on.
Winter pruning of a young apple tree
This method of pruning is suitable for one- and two-year-old apple and pear trees that are to be trained into the traditional shape of a free-standing bush. Correct formative pruning of young trees creates an attractive specimen, with a balanced branch system, that is easy to manage and has a long and productive life.
This pruning form can also be used for training half-standard and standard apple trees, the crown simply being developed on a taller clear trunk - about 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) for half-standard and 1.8-2.1m (6-7ft) for standard - than the normal bush tree. Vigorous rootstocks are required; MM111 or M25. Though mostly found as mature trees in gardens, such tree forms may be needed for filling gaps in old orchards or for specimen trees in new gardens.
For information on restricted forms of training see our pages on cordons, stepovers and espaliers.
When buying a new apple or pear always select plants with a good root system and sturdy stems, or buy mail order from a reputable nursery.
One-year-old trees are called ‘maidens’ and are sold as feathered or unfeathered.
Pruning should be carried out when the tree is dormant, between leaf fall and bud burst (usually between November and early March).
When pruning, always use sharp secateurs to make pruning cuts, just above and sloping away from a bud.
In future years, following winter pruning of established apple and pear trees. If you are new to pruning or are not feeling very confident, you may like to try our pruning made easy guide instead.
There are few problems associated with pruning. However, problems you may encounter include apple canker, blossom wilt, brown rot and frost damage.
Young fruit trees can be prone to poor establishment and rabbit damage.
ApplesApples and pears: growing and training as cordonsApples and pears: pruning made easyApples and pears: summer pruningApples and pears: winter pruningApples: identifying fruit budsApples: stepover (horizontal cordon) training
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In this fully revised edition, you’ll find updated advice by the RHS experts on what, when and how to prune.
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