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How to Prune Dwarf Fruit Trees

Proper pruning can keep semi-dwarf trees in check

Fine Gardening - Issue 197
pruning dwarf fruit trees

Given the challenges of true dwarfing rootstocks (toppling and high moisture needs), many gardeners may choose a variety with a semi-dwarfing rootstock instead. That can be a good move. Semi-dwarfing rootstocks seldom control fruit tree size as much as you’d expect, though, and pruning is the only way to ensure a tree stays under 12 feet tall.

grafting trees
Rootstock of a fruit tree before planting (left).  Graft point of the fruit tree kept above the soil level (right).

Following the pruning steps below during the first year will give your tree an easily maintained structure for the future. In subsequent years, follow regular winter pruning techniques for your fruit tree, removing broken, diseased, crossed, or damaged branches. Each summer, keep your tree compact and manageable with summer pruning (cutting new growth back by half). If your tree is particularly vigorous, do a late spring pruning (cutting new growth back by half) as well.

first fruit tree pruning

1. At the initial planting time, your tree should be topped between 2 and 4 feet above the ground using a heading cut. This will force low scaffold limbs to form.

second fruit tree pruning

2. After its first spring flush, new, leafy branches should be cut back by half.

late summer fruit tree pruning

3. In late summer, your young tree should get its first summer pruning, with the newest growth (promoted by the early spring pruning) again cut back by half.


To learn more about growing dwarf fruit trees, check out How to Grow Dwarf Fruit Trees.

Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.

Illustrations: Lyn Alice


Next: Deciduous Fruit Tree Pruning Primer
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