Cherry Tree Pruning: How And When To Trim A Cherry Tree



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All fruiting trees need to be pruned and cherry trees are no exception. Whether sweet, sour or weeping, knowing when to prune a cherry tree and knowing the correct method for cutting back cherries are valuable tools. So, if you want a cherry tree that will provide maximum fruit production, ease of harvest and care, and is aesthetically pleasing in appearance, you’ll need to prune your tree. The question is what is the proper method for cherry tree pruning? Let’s talk cherry tree pruning care.

Why Trim a Cherry Tree?

Pruning cherries, or any fruit tree for that matter, is of paramount importance. The primary reason for trimming cherry trees is to ensure the most optimal access to sunlight. Cherry tree pruning allows for aeration, allowing light channels to penetrate the tree, allowing a better fruit set, ease of harvest and the ability to battle or thwart disease.

So in essence, when you trim a cherry tree back, it will be allowed to develop a proper form, yielding higher quality fruit earlier in its life and remaining healthier overall. Trees that have been improperly pruned or trained tend to have upright branch angles, which may lead to limb damage under heavy fruit production.

When to Prune a Cherry Tree

The rule of thumb when pruning fruit trees is to do so when the tree is dormant during the winter. However, cutting back sweet cherries is an exception to this rule. Sweet cherries are more susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases, especially on recently cut limbs, so it is best to prune them in the late summer. Keep in mind that summer pruning reduces the tree’s energy for fruit production as well as its growth, so this should be minimal using only thinning cuts. Thinning cuts are those which remove an entire shoot, branch or limb up to the point of its origin and do an excellent job of opening up the canopy.

Dormant pruning is a more aggressive pruning. When a large portion of the tree is removed during the dormant season, the energy reserves of the tree remain unchanged. The timing of dormant season pruning is critical, and should begin as late in the winter as feasible to avoid injuring the tree. Sour and weeping fruit trees may be pruned at this time once the risk of winter frost has passed.

Early spring is also prime time for pruning young cherry trees, shaping and training the young tree before it blossoms. Pruning should begin as buds emerge, but wait until all chance of extreme cold temperatures have passed to avoid possible cold injury, as younger trees are more susceptible to this. Mature cherries can be pruned in early spring too, or after they bear fruit.

How to Prune a Cherry Tree

The tools needed to trim a cherry tree back include: a hand pruner, long handled lopping shears and a pruning saw. Bypass pruners are better than anvil; they can get a closer pruning job done than anvil pruners. The number one task in cherry tree pruning care, actually prior to pruning any bearing tree, is to sterilize your pruning tools. This is to prevent the potential spread of disease from other plants to the cherry. You can wipe the blades down with rubbing alcohol and a rag or mix a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water and then rinse with clean water and dry.

How to Prune Cherry Trees When Young

Young cherry trees should be pruned into an open vase-like shape to allow for light and air penetration which increases the number of blooms, hence an abundant fruit set.

First, cut the suckers off the trunk of the tree and any shoots from limbs that are pointing towards the trunk of the tree as well as any weak branches. All of these are rather pointless shoots that strive to take nutrients from the areas of the tree you want them to go. Cutting them also serves to increase air circulation. Cut the sucker right outside the branch collar, the raised area where the stem meets the trunk. Also, cut any obviously dead, diseased or broken branches.

Head the tree in fall or winter, an exception to the above rule. A heading cut is the removal of part of a shoot, branch or limb, up to one-third to ½ its length. If you head in the spring, you will be lopping off developed buds, potential fruit. Heading means cutting off the top of the leader, the central trunk to encourage growth of the lateral branches. This is done within the first year or two to control the tree’s shape. Be sure the sapling is well over 30 inches (76 cm.) tall before heading it. Make a 45-degree angle cut on the leader, leaving the tree 24-36 inches (61-92 cm.) tall.

In the subsequent year, begin creating a scaffold whorl, a set of 4 lateral branches extending out from the tree which provides a solid stricter. Choose four sturdy, evenly spaced branches to keep and prune out the others. Opt for limbs that are at a 45- to 60-degree angle to the leader and at least 8 inches (20 cm.) apart vertically from the lowest branch about 18 inches (46 cm.) above the ground. Cut those four branches back to 24 inches (61 cm.) with ¼-inch angled cuts above the buds. This is where new growth will emerge. Continue to make clean cut flush against the leader to remove the remaining branches.

The following year, create a second scaffold whorl. The tree will be taller now, so select another set of four branches to keep about two feet (61 cm.) higher than the first set. Choose branches that don’t fall over the older primary limbs. Repeat as above to create a second scaffold.

Pruning Mature Cherries

Once the tree is three years old, it’s time to promote outward growth by pruning out new vertical limbs. At this point you will need loppers or pruning saws, not shears. Again, clean the tools prior to use. Also, prune out any dead or diseased limbs and dead fruit. Cut back any suckers at the base of the tree. Remove any crossed branches.

Cherries are prone to disease, so be sure to clean up all the discarded remnants. Also, cover all cuts with a tree sealant to fend off disease.

In summary, when you prune cherries, remember your goal. You are trying to create a tree that is well balanced, open and manageable, as well as aesthetically pleasing. There is no real science for pruning fruit trees. Some of it is trial and error. Look at the tree carefully and try to envision it as it will look when it’s leafed out in the summer, and eliminate any shoots that seem too closely spaced.


First, a disclaimer: I haven't pruned a cherry tree (yet) this year will be the first :) But I did do some research when I bought them and here are the important things to keep in mind.

  1. Keep strong, firm lateral branches that stick out from the central trunk and prune the smaller ones. Cherry trees need sunlight and good air circulation around them and so some pruning techniques like "pyramid" etc which work on apples are not really useful here.
  2. The natural tendency for the lateral branches is to grow vertically and hence they need to be "forced" to grow outwards by weighing them down.
  3. Prune cherries in late winter for the best growth in spring/summer. Pruning them too early might result in infections.
  4. Summer prune them only if you want to control their growth.

That said, you might want to look up and see if there are additional requirements for your cherry tree type. Mine is a hybrid low chill requirement cherry tree (because where I am, there isn't really a winter season), that still needs to be pruned with the "seasons". Also, because I'm constrained for space, I'll be pruning them in summer to check their growth. In any pruning, this is important to bear in mind:

Winter pruning -> Encourages growth & fruit bearing in spring.

Summer pruning -> Discrourages growth for the rest of the season.


How to Trim & Prune an Akebono Cherry Tree

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The Daybreak Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis "Akebono") is prized across U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8 for its form, attractive bark and the multitude of pinkish flowers it produces in early spring. This flowering cherry tree, which grows 25 to 35 feet tall with a similar spread, requires little annual trimming to shape its canopy and only occasional pruning throughout the year to remove any dead, damaged or diseased branches.

Soak the blades of the cutting tools in a solution that contains 50 percent rubbing alcohol or a disinfecting household cleaner for about two to five minutes, and then rinse the tool with water or allow it to air dry before cutting the cherry. Sterile your tools in this way between uses, after each tree and, if you are making cuts to remove potentially diseased portions of the cherry, after each cut.

Cut off any branches that appear overly vigorous and upright, are rubbing against another branch, are crossing back toward the interior of the canopy or are otherwise out of place, just after flowering has finished in spring. Make each cut angled, clean and just above a leaf or junction with another branch.

Trim off any suckers emerging from the base of the cherry tree trunk or nearby roots, cutting them flush with the ground or next to the trunk.

Inspect the Yoshino cherry tree regularly throughout the year for symptoms of any of the many different diseases that potentially affect ornamental cherry. Look for cankers, galls and clusters of deformed, small branches.

Cut off any diseased, dead or otherwise damaged branches as soon as the problem is noticed, making any cut several inches below the affected wood into healthy tissue, just above a leaf or junction with another branch. Destroy or dispose of removed wood away from the cherry tree and other valued ornamentals.


When To Prune Your Cherry Tree

Wild Cherry Trees thrive when pruned in early fall and no sooner than late summer. During this time of year, the tree has done the majority of it’s growing and is entering its dormant phase. This is the time when you want to do any aesthetic trimming. It is also the best time to take care of any damage that occurred due to forces of nature during the same period.

With a bit of practice, this landscaping task becomes less daunting and far more enjoyable, especially as the fruits of your labor increase with every blooming season. Remember to carefully prune the root area as well as the very tips of the cascade to create the most beautiful, ornamental flowering tree.


Pruning Cherry Laurel

The magnificent cherry laurel is very decorative in the garden, either planted as a solitary feature or as a hedge. A cherry laurel planted on its own can be pruned in various ways.

Pruning in March

Vigorously growing plants and shrubs like the cherry laurel can become so big that they outgrow their intended place in the garden. Fortunately these shrubs can withstand fairly drastic pruning to keep them under control.

An old cherry laurel that has gone woody and/or has become too big may need rigorous pruning. March is the best time for this. This gives the plant plenty of time to grow back after pruning. It may be a good idea to trim it regularly from then on to keep it in check.

Cut the plant down to just above the ground. However, this should not be taken too literally, as you must leave enough of the plant for it to develop new shoots. You can determine the right pruning height by looking at where the main branches ramify. This branch structure should be left intact after pruning. The more branches are left after pruning, the bushier the plant will eventually become. You should therefore cut down to just above where the branches divide. The new shoots will develop from the dormant buds on these branches.

Pruning from June to September

The best time to trim a cherry laurel into shape is from June to September. If a shrub such as the cherry laurel becomes much larger than you had originally planned, it can be pruned into a more compact model.

In the case of evergreen shrubs like the cherry laurel, try not to cut through too many leaves when pruning, as this makes the shrub look unattractive. When trimming a cherry laurel into shape, select branches divided evenly over the plant and cut these branches back to just above a leaf. Young branches will grow from the buds in the leaf axils. Do not leave long stumps above the leaves as these stumps will die off and look untidy.

If you have a small shrub, you only need to shorten the branches by about 10-15 cm. For larger shrubs, 30-50 cm can be removed. To retain the natural appearance, do not cut exactly the same length from each branch. Select the branches you want to prune in advance, taken from all over the plant, to make sure you prune evenly and do not leave large gaps.


    Cherry trees (that aren’t sweet species) should be pruned late in the winter when dormant. Sterilise and sharpen your tools before every use on each new tree. Young cherry trees need to be pruned in an open, vase-like shape to let light and air reach them. When done properly, the trees bloom and fruit more abundantly. Once you establish the framework branches, the trees need scarce pruning. Remove broken and obstructing branches. Dwarf cherry trees should be cut in a round shape. Their branches need to be perpendicular to the main trunk if possible.

A reliable Fantastic gardener can take care of your trees!


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