Apples and pears: identifying fruit buds

Knowing the cropping habit of your apple and pear trees and identifying which buds produce leaves and buds will enable you to tailor your pruning for optimum harvest. It also allows you to decide if the cultivar is suitable for the training form that you have in mind.

Fruit and wood buds on an apple branch

Quick facts

Suitable for Apple and pear trees
When to identify fruit buds November
Difficulty Easy  

When to identify fruit buds

Fruit buds can be identified from mid-summer, but are particularly apparent after mid-autumn.

Identifying fruit buds

Fruit trees produce two types of buds:

  • Fruit buds contain flowers that if pollinated will carry fruit. Growth buds will develop later on behind the developing fruit
  • Wood or growth buds develop into a new shoot carrying carry leaves, but no flowers

By identifying which buds are which, you can avoid excessive removal of potentially fruiting wood and ensure a good crop.

Fruit buds

By November a plump, round bud will have formed which carries the flowers in April and May. The bud scales on fruit buds are typically downy, especially on apples, pears, peaches and nectarines.

In summer, fruit buds are often 'supported' by a surrounding cluster of leaves, perhaps the rosette of a spur, or the tip of a shoot.

Wood or growth buds

Wood or growth buds (i.e. buds carrying leaves but no flowers) are easily distinguished from fruit buds by being slender, pointed buds borne in a leaf axil. These buds are usually much smaller and more insignificant than fruit buds.

Identifying tip- or spur- bearing trees

Before pruning apple trees, it is helpful to identify fruit buds and the cropping habit of the tree.

Apple and pear cultivars fall into three groups according to where the fruit bud is produced and the fruit carried; spur-bearers, tip-bearers and partial tip-bearers.

There is a number of tip- and partial tip-bearing apple cultivars, though most are spur-bearing. The majority of pear cultivars are also spur bearing.

  • Spur-bearers produce fruit buds on two-year-old wood, and as spurs (short, branched shoots) on the older wood. This habit gives spur bearers a tidy and compact appearance. Spur bearers are the largest group and include apple cultivars such as 'Cox's Orange Pippin’, 'Sunset', 'James Grieve', 'Emneth Early', ‘Greensleeves', and 'Lanes Prince Albert'
  • Tip-bearers produce very few spurs. They are relatively uncommon. Fruit buds are found at the tips of long shoots produced the previous year. The overall appearance of the tree is more untidy than spur bearer and the branches look sparse without spurs. Examples of tip bearers include apple cultivars 'lrish Peach’ and 'Cornish Gilliflower'
  • Many apple cultivars are partial tip-bearers, producing fruit on the tips of the previous year's shoots and also on some spurs. Apple cultivars include 'Bramley's Seedling, 'Discovery' and 'Worcester Pearmain'

Any form of pruning that involves shortening shoot tips will reduce the yield of tip-bearing apples, and to a lesser extent, partial tip-bearers. Therefore tip- and partial tip-bearers are best avoided when restricted forms such as cordons or espaliers are wanted and spur bearing cultivars should be chosen instead. Some partial tip-bearers such as ‘Discovery’ may be still be trained into reasonably successful restricted forms.


Occasionally unusual swellings occur on the tips of apple trees. These are known as bourse shoots (sometimes called cluster bases or knobs). They are swellings at the base of a flower cluster and are not harmful to the tree. These unpromising-looking shoots will bear normal flowers and leaves in subsequent seasons.

Bourse shoots are formed when a bud elongates. The phenomenon may appear on any apple or pear.

Infestation by woolly aphid can also lead to knobbly swellings on apple that should be removed if possible at pruning time.

While looking closely at branches it is also a good time to check the health of your trees for signs of apple canker or blistering on young shoots caused by apple and pear scab.

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