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Young trees – formative pruning

Young Higan cherry tree (Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula')
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Lise Servant)
Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula'

Many experts have traditionally recommended severe formative pruning (heading) at the time of planting.

Today, however, they suggest leaving a young tree alone for a few years before pruning it lightly (thinning) and maintaining its natural shape.

In our climate, fruit trees need a solid structure and maximum light penetration during the short growing season.

The best structure is a single vertical axis (trunk) with several scaffold branches spaced regularly around the trunk.

  • For the first three years, let the tree develop its root system and let the branches elongate freely.
  • Never cut off the leader or the branch tips! Once the tree is mature, the leader and the branches will bend naturally under the weight of the fruit.
  • The only pruning you should do at this point is to correct structural defects (double leaders, strangulation, sprouts and suckers).
  • If there are any branches at the same height on the trunk (strangulation), keep the one that is growing in the best direction.
  • Each year, select new scaffold branches until the tree has reached its final height, depending on its rootstock.
  • Keep the scaffold branches well spaced around the trunk, like the steps on a spiral staircase, keeping 15-30 cm between each one.
  • Choose branches that form a wide angle (50 to 100°) to the trunk which encourage them to bear fruit.
  • Prune the lower branches located less than 1 m off the ground to promote growth of top.
  • Remove stubs and dead, diseased or damaged wood.

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