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No pruning fruit trees? Did I hear right?

Deedles Johnson

Joined: Mar 08, 2011
Posts: 16
I was listening to parts one and two of the Chapter one podcasts re: sepp holzers book, and I thought I heard Paul mention that if you prune a fruit tree, you'll have to prune it forever or it'll die and if you don't prune it, it will be more... well... fruitful?  Can anyone expand on this piece of info?  I've never heard that before and I'm planning on sticking in 10 fruit trees in the spring.  I also wonder if cutting the suckers on the bottom of the trunk would still need to be done.  I'd rather not prune than prune, both being equal but if not pruning will get me a better yield.. well, duh! 

I don't think I was having auditory hallucinations.

Anyone know anything about this?
Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
from my experiences

-overall higher yield
-stronger tree
-bigger tree

-takes longer to fruit

also i have seen with some fruit trees(apples mainly) that were pruned when young, and then abandoned. for a few years it wont produce anything and just grow, but after that they grow back into the natural shape.

i personally don't prune fruit trees unless its wood that died naturally.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Deedles Johnson

Joined: Mar 08, 2011
Posts: 16
wow.  That's amazing.  Sounds like a winner to me... I wish there were something to read about it somewhere.  That would be an interesting podcast, too.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
my self seeded huge fruit trees do require some pruning..mostly suckers and dead spots..they are older trees.

Last year we had to  prune out the centers as they were overcrowded..and it bore HUGE amounts of fruit this year..not sure if the pruning had any effect on that or not, but we were picking ripe apples for 2 months..and there are still a few left way at the top that haven't fallen..even with way below freezing now for over a month, the apples at the top when they do fall are still perfect..not frozen or damaged (other than an occasional racoon bite)


Bloom where you are planted.
Hugh Hawk

Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
Fukuoka has quite a lot to say about this. His view is that trees have a natural form they will grow into, but this won't happen if the tree is ever pruned. I expect dead wood and suckers are exceptions to this rule.

Suckers are probably more likely with grafted trees. Most if not all grafted trees you buy from nurseries have already been pruned.

See the threads on these forums about growing trees from seed if you haven't already. You might reconsider buying at least some of those trees.

Please set your climate and location to display
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame

Joined: May 23, 2010
Posts: 488
Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
Akinori Kimura is a japanese orchardist in the natural farming tradition of Fukuoka. A search about his (lack of) pruning practices led me, guess where?

Anyway, a book about him is available in full here:

This appears to be the original NHK documentary on Kimura.

Finally some interesting media for me to work my (poor) japanese listening skills!

Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 975
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
I am not a bird, and I am not fond of climbing trees to pick fruit. If you don't remove the center leader on many trees, you are going to get a tree that produces fruit mainly for the birds, or you if you are spiderman. I have a mammon chino that was allowed by the previous owner to get 80 feet tall, and guess where the best fruit were?

Fruit tends to set on many fruit trees where there is light, which means, at the top of the tree.

I am sure there are exceptions to this.

But, when pruning, you don't prune for more fruit, you prune for shape, and never remove more than 1 /3 of the tree at a time. Less is better. Pruning is an art that is easy to learn, if you work with someone just a little while. Hard to describe though.

Oh, and I have trees incredible productive, and limes the size of oranges.

Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Mike Dayton

Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
When I planted my fruit trees many years ago a friend told me that you could prune, and spray and fuss and you would get apples. Or you could do nothing, and you would still get apples. That tree wants to make fruit, and it is going to do that. I planted 20 trees about 30 years ago. I have pruned for mowing, and cut out some suckers on occation, but really have taken a hands off approach for most of that time. I do not spray or thin the crop so my apples are marked and will have some damage from worms etc. I think of the 20 trees 2 pears died and 1 apple died. I live in SW Pa next to the Mountain so some years we get a late frost that effects yeilds. I mulch under the trees with leaves pretty heavy. I read in Organic Gardening years ago that would keep the soil cool and delay the bud swell and bloom by a week or maybe even 2 weeks. Around here a week can make the diff betwwen getting apples and haveing no crop because of frost. The trees are still producing for me, I am sure that a professional grower would be pulling them out and replanting for better yields, but I feel the trees aren't broke just yet, so I do not plan on fixing them. Oh, by the way, when I 1st planted the trees I had 4 baldwin apple trees that all died. I just figured that God didn't want Baldwin apples up on my hill, so I replanted with other kinds of apples and they all did just fine. Find what works in your neck of the woods. Good luck with your trees.

Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world,  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Formerly pa_friendly_guy_here
Mike Dayton

Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
Just for your information, I have a friend who planted his trees not long after I planted mine. He cut the centers out of his trees a year or 2 ago and lowered the hight of all branches so that he could reach them easily. His trees look ugly now and are similare to how some professional growers prune. He and I are both about 60 years old now. His reason for cutting the trees so dramatically was that he didn't want to climb any more at our age. He was not worried about yield, or appearance. He said he didn't care how sweet that apple at the top of the tree was, he was not going to get on a ladder and climb up and get it. Now he can pick everything from the ground and he is happy with that. Just another point of view, not right or wrong, just different.
Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 975
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
So... what you are telling me is I am getting old...

Yeah, it depends what you are looking for. Also, I have more land than I could possibly use, so putting in another tree would be just fine. My almendros de montaña are about to drop a ton of seeds, and I am planning a few days of fishing along the river, and sticking them in the ground. We have nearly a kilometer of river front, and anything within 15 meters can never be cut, so I figure if I plant them, they will be there forever, or at least till I am way past dead and gone.

Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 975
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
Really, pruning a tree isn't any work to speak of if you do it a little bit at a time. I prefer to rub off starts instead of having to get out the chainsaw. Small prunes are better than stressing the tree. I tend to prune first when the tree is roughly six foot since it gives me an idea what it will look like when it grows up.

Not sure what the benefit of not pruning would be, it is a simple task. After all, one does shape your planting areas and make paths. This really is no different.
Kelda Miller

Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
I'm looking for quotes from Fukuoka about how/why he doesn't prune his fruit trees, and don't have time to read his books all over again before this weekend. Can anyone direct me to where in his books he talks about it? ......or, does anyone have some quotes of his handy?

Divine Earth Gardening Project
Josh T-Hansen

Joined: Jul 14, 2010
Posts: 143
Location: Zone 5 Brimfield, MA
Ok Kelda I have Fukuoka's book on PDF so it was easy to search for 'pruning'. He does not advocate a dogmatic no prune approach and discusses both advantages and disadvantages, advising that it is not easy to know a tree's "natural" form and that the tree must sometimes be directed towards this.
*Thanks for the experience reports! more please!
If you draw a mental picture of the natural form of a tree and make every effort
to protect the tree from the local environment, then it will thrive, putting out good fruit
year after year. Pruning only creates a need for more pruning, but if the grower
realizes that trees not in need of pruning also exist in this world and is determined to
grow such trees, they will bear fruit without pruning. How much wiser and easier it
is to limit oneself to minimal corrective pruning aimed only at bringing the tree
closer to its natural form rather than practicing a method of fruit growing that
requires extensive pruning each and every year....

...5. The pruning techniques used in fruit growing tend to change with the
times, but the natural form of a tree remains always the same. Use of the
natural form is the best approach possible for stable, labor-saving, high-
yield fruit cultivation. Success is especially easy with trees such as the
persimmon, chestnut, apple, pear, and loquat, which can readily be trained
to a natural form. Considerable success can also be had with vines such as
the Chinese gooseberry and grape.
- FUKUOKA Natural way of farming Chapter 4 (the practice of natural farming) Section 3 (fruit trees)

relevant ->Hardy Kiwi Kickstarter l YogaToday 2 week trial l Daring Drake Farm - NY
The farming village was above all a society of philosophers without a need for philosophy - Fukuoka
Chris Holcombe

Joined: Feb 22, 2011
Posts: 74
Location: Zone 8b Portland
If I could throw my two cents in here. I bought a few Apple, cherry and pear trees as whips. I planted them in the ground and then left them alone as far as pruning goes. Two years later now I'm looking at their shape and it looks remarkably like the natural forms that fukuoka draws in his book. I'm just going to let them do their thing because they seem fine at the moment. They're not quite old enough to bear so I can't speak to yields yet. The Apple tree had one flower last year and the cherry trees had two cherries last year. So I think they're right at that age now. I trust fukuoka is right on this
Kelda Miller

Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
Wow thank you Josh! That was just what I was hoping to find. Thank goodness for pdfs instead of paperbacks sometimes!!! And thank you for looking it up for me!
Georgina Nelson Thomas

Joined: Mar 13, 2012
Posts: 3
Location: Seattle area
I'm so happy to find this site! I stopped pruning years ago, after I realized that pruning is stressful for the tree and creates an instant and unwanted need for constant pruning (and constant work) on my part. So just stop it unless there's a specific need for it. Who wants all that extra work? What I do instead is train the tree. If I want a branch to grow in a certain direction, I have several methods I've developed. To bend a branch downwards, I put stones in footies (the kind that women use to try on shoes) and I attach the footie to a branch using a clothespin. Or, I "attach" a clothesline wire to the branch, I position the branch exactly where I want the branch to be, and then I secure the clothesline wire to the ground with bricks so that the branch stays exactly where I want it to. I use clothespins, clothesline wire, and cloth strips (rags) -- no knots, so everything is super easy to disassemble. I've also developed a system for gently moving stubborn and strong branches into place easily. All these methods were ones I've learned on my own, by looking and listening to the trees. Especially after I figured out that most of the pruning methods used are ones developed specifically for large orchards and large equipment, not home orchards and gardens. I also never water my garden or orchard ... yet I have bountiful yields of both fruits and vegetables. I never weed. I have mechanical systems in place to prevent weeds. I have fun! My garden and orchard are unlike any you've ever seen. No prune / no water / no weed -- and -- no till. Yes! Pretty soon I'll have my web site up so that you can see what I'm about. Pictures tell the story better than words (even though I could write forever, as you can see).

Leila Rich

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
Georgina, do you grow stone fruit like peaches and apricots?
I can't wrap my brain around not pruning short-lived-fruiting-wood trees, but I have a very small place, so a full-sized tree just isn't practical.
Georgina Nelson Thomas

Joined: Mar 13, 2012
Posts: 3
Location: Seattle area
The no-prune approach doesn't work for trees like peaches, that only fruit on one-year wood. You *do* need to prune, because if you don't, the branches get longer and longer, with all the fruit at the tips (instead of further in towards the trunk). I don't know if the same is true for apricots, because altho I have 3 apricots, I only see blooms in the spring -- but no fruit yet (trees are 3 or 4 years old). I've had zero success, but I keep trying (and hoping for a very early summer because the trees bloom so early!).
Pavel Novy

Joined: May 06, 2012
Posts: 3
Georgina Nelson Thomas wrote:The no-prune approach doesn't work for trees like peaches, that only fruit on one-year wood. You *do* need to prune, because if you don't, the branches get longer and longer, with all the fruit at the tips (instead of further in towards the trunk). I don't know if the same is true for apricots, because altho I have 3 apricots, I only see blooms in the spring -- but no fruit yet (trees are 3 or 4 years old). I've had zero success, but I keep trying (and hoping for a very early summer because the trees bloom so early!).

That is not true. Fruiting on one year wood is often misunderstood, it doesn't mean that the tree will fruit only on new branches. It means that the tree fruits where leaves grew last year.
Mary James

Joined: Mar 18, 2011
Posts: 145
Location: NW MT Zones 4/5 Rollins Mt
We have wild trees growing on the roadside never pruned that produce fruit yes,, but most of the quality of it in size, worms etc,, is pretty minimal.It makes good animal feed..

Peaches and apricots left unpruned in our area not real great.A week ago I could of showed people what happens here with these,since they are now cut down...My moms non pruned apricots 40+ year old trees un pickable for the last 20 years because of the height of the produce died this year.Her apricots were all very small and a good 20 or more feet up..Nothing on the lower branches.She has standard type apples which are doing a similar thing producing at heights that one needs monkey children to climb ladders and then into the trees to harvest.She gets constant breakage through the winter from snow loads and the wind factors..My mother who is in her 80s therefore gets very little produce from her investments from over 40 years ago... On the other hand at my old home there are mostly minimally pruned fruit trees put in 20 years ago that have large production and are accessible with a short step ladder.These are also subject to wildlife damage as the bears climb both the unpruned as well as the pruned trees and take off branches.Last year the top 14ft of an unpruned from seed cherry tree was broken off by a large bear..The properly pruned cherry trees have much larger branches that are stronger not tall( like those in natural form) and have held up with out serious breakage like that..Pros and cons

Through the years we have tried both methods leaving trees grow naturally and pruning for health..In our area I have found that the pruned trees suffer less damage and disease then the unpruned.The fruit is much larger sized and preferred by those whom we share with.I have grown and produced both from seed as well as grafting...Seedlings do not always produce true to source after babying them for 10 to 15 years to production age only to find out they produce a not so great produce bites ..

Personally our trees are an investment for our food production, there for I have no problem taking the time to give them a loving pruning job and using my organic sprays and foliar feeding to get the best crop they can possibly produce..I allowed James to learn the hard way about this with his prized peach tree, he lost two major branches because it was not pruned nor the fruit thinned due to overproduction.Now he understands and supports the way we handle our other fruiting trees.But this is also our personal choice based on our usage for our fruits..As I have wrote before on the forums here we expect production from everything we invest in since we do produce 80% or more of our food plus donate to others and food banks...If it is mediocre it is taking space we could use for higher production...

I rarely see anyone speaking of the types of trees we are talking about here.Dwarfs, semi-dwarfs and standards all grow and produce differently.In our local location root stock under graft trees is a big thing.Some tree types need the stronger root stocks to survive the climate challenges they are placed in.

.I find it gets a bit challenging talking about some of these aspects because the difference in climates is not always taken into consideration..People come to some of our classes and cannot understand why they cannot grow certain types of fruiting bushes and trees from seed in Montana that they could in back east, down south or even out on the coast in Washington...Hmmmm so here is what I tell those who come to our classes,,, Study what is around you, YOUR environment , your lighting, your climate changes through all the seasons..You can look online and learn you can read books and learn,, you can watch your neighbors and learn...But when it comes down to the final line you have to find what is going to meet your expectations.That is based on your local area and your skills at producing what you wish to enjoy..Our person choice has been to keep things as simplified as possible, with as little added work as possible(we both work outside the home) yet produce the highest quality and quantity possible in our limited space..
Georgina Nelson Thomas

Joined: Mar 13, 2012
Posts: 3
Location: Seattle area
Mary James, good discussion. Like you, I noticed that after a few years of not pruning my peach tree, all the fruit was on the tips of the branches instead of close in, where the picking is easy. The peach tree is so prolific! -- with new leaves starting to grow on the trunk even, after a hard pruning.

I'm glad to read of your experience with cherry trees. I pruned my cherry trees in the first couple years, so that the branches were strong and well formed. After that, I consciously avoided pruning so that I would not be stuck with that never-ending pruning-every-year cycle. I don't know why my 2 cherry trees "stabilized" their growth pattern and decided not to send out suckers (that I'd need to prune). Maybe that's the growth pattern for cherries. But I was sure glad when they stabilized, because I dislike pruning (for many reasons).

So for the past five years or so I've been enjoying bumper cherry crops every summer, and no pruning. However, my tenant's mother decided to bring her pruners in and go to work. So now my two cherry trees, which never required pruning, are now sprouting rapid new growth. We'll see what happens later this summer. My tenant is in the process of buying this house, so although I was sad to see all my effort on those 2 trees come to an end, it's now his trees, his decisions, his work. I wish him the best, and maybe I'll learn from what happens to these trees in the years to come.

I like reading about your experience with pruned vs. unpruned. Although I do not prune, I definitely shape and "manage" the tree so that the fruit is easy to pick. I arrange the branches of a new tree so that there's 'corridors', which makes it easier to harvest the fruit. I manipulate the branches so that they grow exactly where I want them to. None of the branches are left on their own -- or they'd grow straight up. I've been doing my system for only a half dozen years or so, so I'm still learning all the time (wish I was younger so that I could try more experiments!). I'm in the Seattle area.

Your advice to fruit growers is excellent. It's the most important thing of all: to stop, look, listen, watch, notice things, spend time understanding what your trees and orchard and nature is telling you. In the end, an open mind and heart are probably the most important things of all.


Marc Troyka

Joined: Jul 02, 2012
Posts: 357
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid

I've been reading over everything mentioned here, as well as things on fruit tree pruning and fukuoka's work, and I think I've come to an understanding of what he really meant by "no pruning". A few quotes that come to mind:

Masanobu Fukuoka wrote:(one of the disadvantages of naturally formed trees is that..) the natural forms of young grapevines and persimmon, pear and apple trees have low branch, leaf, and fruit densities, and thus produce small yields. This can be resolved by discreet pruning to increase the density of fruit and branch formation.

Masanobu Fukuoka wrote:The natural form consists of an erect central trunk, causing little entanglement with neighboring trees or crowding of branches and foliage. The amount of pruning required gradually decreases and little disease or pest damage arises, necessitating only a minimum of care. However, in open-center systems formed by thinning the scaffold branches growing at the center of the tree, the remaining scaffold branches open up at the top of the tree and soon entangle with adjacent trees. In addition, secondary scaffold branches and laterals growing from several primary scaffold branches oriented in unnatural angles (such as in three-stem systems) also crisscross and entangle.

He didn't say "never prune", just "don't prune unnecessarily, and don't prune your trees into contorted shapes". I would be willing to bet that your mother's apples and apricots, as well as your "natural" cherries and peaches could all easily be brought into full production without destroying the natural shape of the trees, given some intelligent and conservative pruning.

For the apple trees, starting from the bottom, cut off 1/3 of each branch (over several years, obviously) to cause them to thicken an invigorate. This will also cause them to sprout new productive sites, which should each be pruned somewhere between once per year and once every other year. Repeat, gradually working up the trees. As long as you don't overstress the trees, and as long as you keep the cuts at productive sites spread out (which requires some trial and error) you can gradually increase their production and won't ever need to thin the crop. They should also become more climbable as the branches thicken.

The peaches and apricots should be similar; start from the bottom of the trees, cutting 1/3 of each main branch to cause them to thicken. For those it may be necessary to remove old wood and branch tips periodically to keep them producing, although I'm not entirely certain of it. If thinning the crop is absolutely necessary, the thinning should be removed and buried somewhere far from the trees, else they become a breeding ground for pests and diseases that will then go after your harvest.

It sounds like the cherry trees, like most of the other trees you mentioned as being less than vigorous, are mainly getting torn up by snow loads in the winter, which stresses out the tree and produces poor, unpalatable harvests. I don't think the shape of the trees per se is really what's hurting them. If you prune off 1/3 of each main branch and gradually work up the trees, they too should toughen up and produce much more favorably. Due to bears, the tops of your cherry trees will also need to be pruned, and they should be cut just above the highest bud you can reach with a long pruner. This will toughen them up (and probably the trunks, too), but will also cause it to put out 2 or more new vertical leaders from below the cut. All but the most vigorous of these should be removed to preserve the single-leader shape of the tree.

One other thing, when pruning the leader on the cherries, the trees may put out suckers and other branches which may break the pattern of the tree, which in the case of cherries they make neat upward triangles with their branches, almost at 45 degree angles to the tree, and make an overall kite shape. After looking at the trees to see how the branches angle out from the tree, and how the twigs branch out from the branches, any branches or twigs which are too far from the norm should be removed. Also, when pruning branches to strengthen them, wait to prune until the tree has decided which branches are important. If you can't tell whether a a branch should be "main" or not yet, then wait until you can tell clearly before doing any cutting. With new cherry trees, repeat the same process once they have grown large enough to reveal their adult shape, except when you get to the vertical leader, just pinch the top bud a bit rather than cutting it so it will heal and resume growing normally after thickening. Cherries should only rarely need pruning after that, and don't seem to need coaxing to produce well either.


Once you cut a fruit tree into an open canopy shape, it will eventually grow tangled branches no matter what. Refraining from overpruning it delays excessive growth so that this takes many years, but now that those trees have been cut again they will undoubtedly produce a new load of pruning work shortly.

Also, it sounds to me like you overpruned your peach tree. The only time I've seen trees produce leaves on their trunks is on hardwoods that were once part of forests that have been clear cut.

I would love to see your trained trees, though, that sounds very interesting.
Alder Burns

Joined: Feb 25, 2012
Posts: 1143
Location: northern California
I've gone back and forth on this issue my whole life, and the only principle I can bring to bear is "it depends". I do know that once a pruning system is begun, it is best to keep with it, rather than switch to a different system or abandon it altogether. Here in CA right now, summer pruning for height control and ease of harvest seems to be the common recommendation. But I can see even in my first year's observation that both deer and grasshoppers prefer to eat the lower branches within easy reach, whereas the top part of even a six foot tree often escapes the damage. So, until I achieve perfect deer and grasshopper control (not likely....especially the latter), I'll be getting out a ladder to pick....and probably to spread bird netting, too.....

Alder Burns (adiantum)
Mariusz Olyruk

Joined: Nov 19, 2011
Posts: 5
I have some fruit trees, and with my experience, it depends. Some trees I prune, and some I don't. If you don't prune a tree, you will get more shade and fruit. If you prune a tree, you will have less fuit, but larger ones. It depends on your wants or needs. Do you want to climb a ladder to pick your fruit all the way to the top, but have the benefit of having more fuirt, or do you want to stretch less often, and get less but larger fruit. I see no difference in the trees health when it comes to pruning or not in my trees. The best way to find out is to experiment yourself.
elle sagenev

Joined: Jun 13, 2014
Posts: 1042
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
I pruned. I had some trees that put out some whacky branches. I have high intensity wind here and it's important for me to trim branches that are going to scrape together. I never pruned my trees until last year and walking around them cutting off all the dead branches led me to realize pruning could have prevented a lot of it.

I could be wrong but I think a lot of people have a modified pruning method. Mark Shephard talks about how he doesn't have any branches low to the ground because the animals browse them off. Since lower branches can lead to disease and such pruning is important. He's just letting the animals do it for him is he not?

Come join me at
Ann Torrence

Joined: Jun 27, 2012
Posts: 931
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
The Permaculture Orchard is worth the price if only to see his non-pruning training methods. Not that Stefan doesn't prune, but the training eliminates a huge percentage. Or so he says.

Blogging about homesteading, photography and living in a small Utah town | Growing mostly cider apples at Stray Arrow Ranch
Bryant RedHawk

Joined: May 15, 2014
Posts: 831
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
Fruit tree pruning is actually quite easy to get a grasp on.
First off, most trees will bear fruit on first year or second year growth only.
What this means is that these are the only branches that will set fruit.
Now if you want the most yield, and all the branches are putting out new growth, everything is good to go unless those branches cross other branches.

The order of pruning any tree, and especially fruit trees:

Dead Wood sucks the life from any tree, it should be removed yearly.

Branches that cross other branches are harmful to the tree because they create rub wounds, remove any branch that fits the description.

Trees do not need any sort of wound dressing when pruned at the proper time of year for that tree. In fact, most pruning dressing slows the trees ability to heal over the pruning wound.

Opening the center of a fruit tree is only necessary when the tree has grown so thick that no light gets to the center branches. It will however make for more new bearing branches to grow, which means more fruit.

I revived an orchard that was planted by Johnny Apple Seed (documented) in 1968 this orchard had been neglected for over 50 years (according to the owner, his family had owned the original farm from 1720).
In this orchard revival the real work was to remove all the choking undergrowth that was robbing the apple trees of moisture and light.
I removed all the dead wood from every tree after I had removed all the undergrowth, I did not open up any trees center, I did remove the crossing branches however.
The next year the apple trees (Golden Delicious) produced a bumper crop (I had to remove some unripe fruits so the branches would not break).

For Apple Trees only, you can Pollard the crown if you want 1) a weird looking apple tree that is always putting out new growth and so lots of fruit.
2) to limit the height of the tree for easier harvesting.
I have only used this "French" method in one orchard, at the instance of the owner.
It creates a "Head" where you are always removing the previous growth (no branches are ever left on a Pollarded tree over the winter).

Over all, no you don't have to prune fruit trees, however you should maintain them so they remain strong and healthy, which means you will be doing some pruning but not to shape the tree or open up the center. Unless of course you want to feel like you are doing your orchard chores.

We love visitors, that's why we live in a secluded cabin deep in the woods. Now Building "Buzzard's Roost (Asnikiye Heca) Farm."
Patrick Mann

Joined: Dec 06, 2011
Posts: 288
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Pollarded apple trees? I assume this is for tip-bearing trees only ... how would you otherwise get any spur development?
Bryant RedHawk

Joined: May 15, 2014
Posts: 831
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
Hi Patrick,

While I was in France, visiting several orchards, I only saw this done to Apple trees. Most of them were around 100 and more years old according to the orchardist I was with. It was pretty strange to me to see such huge trunks ending in a knob top large enough to stand on top. I was there in the late fall and they were using axes to remove all that years growth from the knobs. I was told that Apple trees are the only fruit trees that respond to this treatment, all other fruits do well when Espaliered. Here in the US, it is mostly done for cosmetic reasons (showiness). Unless you have a small space for orchard trees, or are surrounded by fences or walls, it is more productive to let a tree grow the way mother nature intended, at least that's my feelings on the subject.

The orchards also had their Bosc Pear and Beurre D'Anjou Pears trees along orchard border fence rows, these were Espaliered and it was easy to see why, the fruit would be very easy to pick. This was also the reason given for the Apple trees being pollarded, the trees didn't get so tall that they were difficult to harvest. I found out these practice have been around since the 1500's and were all developed for easy harvesting and getting the maximum number of trees into a given space.

I have only created pollard apple trees for one client but now that I am putting in my own orchard and will have a variety of apple trees growing, I may give one of them the pollard treatment, especially if I find a variety I want that isn't available as a dwarf.

My personal preference for any tree is to let it take the shape Mother Nature intended it to have. I strive to not prune unless it is for the benefit of the trees health since a healthy tree is a happy tree.
William James

Joined: Sep 22, 2010
Posts: 929
Location: Northern Italy
Alder Burns wrote:I've gone back and forth on this issue my whole life, and the only principle I can bring to bear is "it depends".

I second that motion!

There are different techniques that you might use in different spaces. No one technique is "god's honest truth on pruning". If you have lots of land, you are not going to be pruning everything. If you have one single tree, you might prune. If you have animals eating from fallen fruit, you might not want to prune. If you are the only one waiting with baited breath for a single great-tasting apple, you might want to prune. If you have you apple tree stuck inside a polyculture with about 20 other trees and shrubs, you might not want to prune. If you want to be able to have a bumper crop every year on something you can reach with a short ladder, you might want to prune. If you want something that looks "near-totally-natural" you might not want to prune. The situations which define the approach one "should" use are endless, so there just cannot be a definitive answer on the subject.

My ideal situation: you have 10 trees that you prune and keep close to you for efficiency, maybe even no higher than your head (check out the urban farming geoff lawton video), another 50 that get pruned a little every 3-5 years just to keep them productive, and then 100-1000 other trees that you don't maintain in the back field but you get major harvest (fruit and animals) from them simply because their numbers and size are huge and the energy it take to maintain them makes it well worth the non-effort. Your "pruning" is just taking out trees that aren't doing well to make light for the others.

As for one's personal choice for pruning or not, it does take work and that should definitely be calibrated to your site and circumstances.

Barbara Reed

Joined: May 18, 2015
Posts: 1
I have 6 peach trees that I started from seed as an experiment. This is their third spring. They are about 3' tall. About a month ago my husband and I decided to prune them (not having a clue what we were doing but watched videos). They all had new growth and looked healthy. Now for some reason 1 looks awesome, 1 has leaves on half the branches, and 3 aren't leafing out or anything. We did have a late frost but either it didn't affect all the trees or something else happened. I'm baffled. They are all planted in the same area. Should I wait until next spring to see what happens or will they die since they didn't leaf out..... if they aren't already. Thanks!

Bryant RedHawk

Joined: May 15, 2014
Posts: 831
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
Barbara, wait and see. I don't really understand why you decided to prune such young trees but what is done is done.
Now just wait, next spring will tell you if they are dead or alive.
It is possible to have some trees have frost kill and others not be affected even though all are planted in the same area.
subject: No pruning fruit trees? Did I hear right?