With a few guidelines, you can grow your own backyard-to-table fruit

Most people who end up growing their own fruit trees wonder why they didn’t start sooner. Maybe people feel a little more pressure growing a tree that’s both beautiful and fruit-bearing. But trust me when I say that you can absolutely grow your own fruit.

There are things to remember when you want to train a tree to grow in a way that increases yield, fruit size and quality and prevents disease, but you’ll get the hang of it once you understand why, when and how you’re pruning.

Let’s start at the beginning and arm you with some pointers. 

1) March is the beginning of pruning season.  

Your fruit trees will be dormant until about March/April, which is the perfect time to prune. You don’t want to do it too early and risk exposing cut branches to freeze damage.

2) Start with the right tools.  

Invest in decent loppers that will cut branches up to about 2 ½ inches thick. Regular pruners and pole pruners will allow you to cut smaller branches, and the pole version can often extend up to 8ft or more for all kinds of trees. You can also buy a small pruning saw.

When it comes to fruit trees, it makes sense to prune to regulate growth. It makes pruning and picking fruit much easier.  

One more thing: dull tools will make the job unnecessarily tough and dangerous. You can drop your pruning or other tools off at Bedford Fields for sharpening and have them back in just two weeks.

3) Buy quality trees from a garden center.

You might think we’re a bit bias on this one, and you’d be right! But here’s why: starting with a tree that was grown slowly by a trusted grower with structural integrity will pay off down the road.

You’ll also find an assortment of fruit trees that are normally more heavily branched, which means they’ll fruit sooner. Fruit trees normally don’t need pruning at planting but can benefit from staking the central leader branch to encourage a strong foundation.

Pruning normally begins at year one with the kinds of cuts that lay the groundwork for a healthy tree. 

4) Prune for the right reasons. 

There is never a wrong time to prune dead, damaged or diseased branches. When you do, be sure to cut the branch down fully to where it meets the trunk, dispose of the branch and clean your pruners. 

You also want to look for places where branches cross and/or rub against the bark on the trunk. This can cause undesirable shade in the center of the tree, leading to less fruit. It can also cause damage and disease. Thin these branches out to their base.

Our favorite cuts are proactive ones to train young trees and maintain their shape. By starting early, you’ll have fewer cuts and your job will be much more manageable. This is where we’ll focus most of our time for the sake of this blog.  

Last, there is renovation pruning which isn’t for the faint of heart. Renovation pruning can save neglected, overgrown trees and plants by removing up to 1/3 of the tree per year, normally over the course of 3 years. If you’re in this position, please feel free to talk with us in the store before you get started.

5) There are two types of cuts and you’ll need both.

A thinning cut takes a branch all the way down to the collar, the area where the branch joins the trunk. This will make it easier for the branch to heal and prevent disease (rather than cutting flush with the trunk).

A heading cut just takes a portion of the branch off, about half or less. Heading cuts encourage growth.

6) Shape is important and here’s why.    

We all want pretty trees.  But when growing fruit trees, we’re using a different strategy than the severe trimming of ornamental landscape plants. That’s because fruit needs light and space to grow.  

The Vase or Open Center form is the simplest shape for beginners. Think a wide bottom that flares outward like it’s opening its arms to the sky. There is also a Central Leader or a Modified Central Leader form, with the tallest central branch leading the way and less prominent more horizontal branches for bearing fruit. This takes a bit more work, but we’ll cover that shortly. 

These shapes allow light to reach fruit with enough leafy protection against sun scald and space for air to circulate.

7) Choose your strong ‘horizontal’ foundational branches with young trees.

Some people call these scaffolding branches for the support they give the tree. Find a balanced, well-spaced handful of branches (e.g., 2, 4 or 6) that grow from the tree at a 45–60-degree angle at least 18-24-plus inches from the ground.

If you can’t find branches at that angle, you can always weight more vertically angled branches down with a wooden clothes pin or gently stake them to the ground at the desired angle.

8) Thin branches that are too crowded or overlapping.

Give your scaffolding branches a head start by trimming out branches that might impede their growth, rub against them, etc.

9) Make header cuts to encourage growth.   

Head back your leader (main, central branch) to about 18 inches from your top scaffolding branch to encourage growth. Do the same for all other horizontal branches, cutting them back to about 6 inches to stimulate growth.

10) Pruning at one, two, three years and beyond.    

First-year pruning is mostly about training your leader to a stake and thinning your lateral and crossing branches so they don’t create too much internal shade.

You’ll also want to remove excessively low branches (under 18-24”) that will produce inferior fruit and make it difficult to mow.

Second-year pruning is about ensuring your limbs are growing apart from each other. You can weight them down with wooden clothes pins or tie them down to an anchor.

Third-year pruning is much of the same with bigger cuts.

Watch for pruning workshops, demonstrations and more articles and blogs. Or ask any of our tree experts for guidance.


Have more questions, need help deciding what type of fruit tree or shrub to add to your outdoor space or want to have your trees delivered? We’d love to help! Please stop in, give us a call at (603) 472-8880 or order online and choose delivery at checkout.