How to Prune Cherry Trees for Best Fruit Production!

How to Prune Cherry Trees for Best Fruit Production!

Two Cherry Trees

One of the primary problems faced by gardeners when growing Cherry Trees is that they do not understand how to prune them properly. Pruning Cherry Trees plays an important role in ensuring proper growth and fruit production.

Before growing one, any gardener must fully understand how to prune a Cherry Tree properly. This way, you will have the healthiest, most vigorously fruiting, and aesthetically pleasing tree that’s easy to harvest!

Why Prune Your Cherry Tree?

Women Pruning

Pruning has many reasons and benefits, but improper pruning can ruin a tree in short order.

The main reason for pruning is to encourage a strong framework, and healthy crops, and to open the canopy to air circulation and sunlight to combat fungal and insect issues.

Trimming and training your fruiting trees also create a lovely form since these flowering trees are highly ornamental in the edible landscape! You’ll enjoy easier harvesting, bigger and more delicious fruit, and a happier tree!

When Do You Prune Cherry Trees?

small cherry tree

Pruning Cherry Trees should be done in the late winter, encouraging the plant to grow more during the growing season. Since the leaves of these deciduous trees are absent in the winter, it’s easier to take in the framework and see problems before they arise. You can take out one-third of the tree at a time when it is dormant while its energy remains unaffected.

Pruning Cherry trees during the summer will inhibit growth and should be done once the desired size has been reached. Remember, however, that pruning Cherry Trees too early in the winter may make the tree vulnerable to bacterial infections.

Late spring or summer pruning involves:

  • Thin water sprouts that arise from the trunk keep the center open - reducing disease
  • Removing small, malformed, or excess fruit (See Thinning Fruit)
  • Reducing branching where two emerge from the same node - weakening the tree
  • Suckers growing from the base and water growth - sap energy and strength 

Late winter, before you see new spring growth, is the best time to prune for:

  • Any large limbs that need to be removed
  • Remove branches growing inside the framework that crowd or clutter the interior
  • Remove diseased, dead or damaged branches
  • Renewal pruning - removing old wood encourages new, revitalized growth
  • Remove water sprouts or water growth
  • Crossing branches or rubbing branches introduce injury or disease
  • Angle all cuts to an outward-facing bud in the direction you want the branch to grow

Cherry Tree Pruning 101

Blooming Cherry Tree

Before understanding how to prune a Cherry Tree (Prunus spp.), it is important to know how Cherry Trees grow.

  • Cherry Trees are usually grown as having a central trunk, known as the leader. All branches will sprout and grow out of this. A few varieties are bushy and can be grown as multi-trunked shrubs.
  • A properly pruned Cherry Tree should have a scaffold shape. This means that there are branches sprouting from the tree in every direction, perpendicular to the leader.
  • The first level of branches should begin between twenty-four to thirty-six inches above the surface of the soil. There should be an area of about two feet between each level to allow for sunlight and air circulation to reach the lower leaves and fruit.
  • Any branches not growing perpendicular from the central leader should be either weighted down or tied loosely with string to promote outward growth as opposed to vertical growth.
  • These outward-growing branches will produce more fruit and not focus only on producing new leafy growth.

Types of Pruning

Cherry Pruning Infographic

Central Leader Pruning:

A strong central leader is what gives most trees their height and pyramidal shape. Removing competing leaders and pruning off water growth, and crossing branches will maintain the shape of your tree. Straight Trunks are a must for the strongest trees, so when you first receive your tree and get it planted, be sure to stake it so it grows straight and perpendicular to the ground.

Using a tree stake support kit will help a lot, especially if you live in an area with strong winds, storms, or heavy drifting snowfall. Then, after that first season of being staked and your tree is nice and straight, remove that stake.

Many fruit trees are given a leader cutting on a young tree to encourage new lateral growth and branches, preventing a young whip from becoming a tall, skinny single stem with no branching, and then re-train a single leader after the new growth at the top resumes. However, cutting the main leader on an older tree will dwarf or stunt your tree.

Open Center Pruning:

Pruning to open the center of the crown, also called vase form, allows sun and air circulation in the center of that crown, as it does help fruit production and lessens the chance of disease during the growing season with a few well-placed thinning cuts. 

As part of a management system for heavier fruit sets, it may allow the tree to hold the weight of the fruit. It also makes it easier to harvest, and of course, as mentioned above, allows more sun and air circulation which possibly reduces the amount of disease susceptibility.

Shaping Your Cherry Tree

Shortening up new growth in summer can be used to keep your tree the size and shape you like best. Nip out crossing and inward-growing branches, and any that are growing into the canopy, angling all branches towards the outside of the tree. This means that branches are perpendicular to the leader. 

There should be an area of about two feet between each level to allow for light to reach the interior and lower leaves and fruit. The first level of branches should begin between twenty-four to thirty-six inches above the surface of the soil.

Suckers & Water Growth

Keep any suckers that develop from the rootstock keeping the energy going into the crown, and remove all water growth (straight fast-growing shoots on the branches). Remove the branches that are too low to the ground, trimming off the bottom third of any lower stems flush with the trunk, and be careful not to cut into any collars that are forming at the base of each branch.

This pushes all the root’s energy pushing into the crown and ensures it doesn’t get redirected into useless non-fruiting growth.

Many Cherry trees are grafted onto hardy rootstock and sometimes when stressed, suckers can emerge from this root stock and sap energy from the scion.

Thinning Fruit


Sometimes a tree has a very good year. In fact, it can be too good. Called a ‘mast’ year, an excessive amount of fruit can be too heavy for branches. Also, by removing smaller, weaker fruit while they are forming, you’ll push more energy and nutrients into the fruit that remains, creating better flavor, larger fruit, and healthier trees.

Reasons to Thin Fruit:

  • Reduce limb breakage
  • Increase the size of the remaining fruit
  • Improve fruit color and quality
  • Leave enough energy in the tree for winter/next year’s flowers

Proper Pruning Cuts Themselves

Sharpen Pruning Shears

  1. Start with clean, sharp, and disinfected pruning shears. This reduces tearing and injury to the tree (and yourself) and the spreading of fungus and disease from tree to tree. Sanitize your shears between cuts to disinfect them.
  2. Prune branches at a 45° angle just above a bud that is facing outwards.
  3. Be sure you are not cutting into the ‘collar’ of the branch. This way you aren’t damaging the tree and introducing an area where disease or insects can slip beneath the bark.
  4. Remove fallen branches, leaf litter, and any pruned branches to eliminate transmission of disease or call destructive insects.
  5. Do not cut more than 1/3 of the length of that branch.


Pruning will give you the most beautiful, healthiest, and most productive tree, not to mention peak longevity for your investment! So sharpen those pruning shears and get going!

DIY Pruner Sanitizer Spray/Dip/Wipe

When pruning out diseased or healthy tree stems and branches, after each and every pruning cut, disinfect your tools by wiping, spraying down, or dipping them into a mixture of 1-part Chlorine Bleach and 9-parts water. You can also use a minimum of 70% isopropyl alcohol to wipe, dip or spray on your tools to kill any possible cross-contamination between affected parts of the tree and healthy tissue. 

Other Pruning Methods

Cherry Tree in Park

High-Density Planting

High-density planting techniques allow even the smallest property or urban courtyard to accommodate these fruiting trees and their pollinator buddies. We even have a great YouTube video!

Espalier Pruning

For a unique space-saving pruning technique you can try with your young tree, try training it in Espalier form! A flat-trained ladder that won’t take up much room and adds a high-style specimen tree for your garden.

Happy Healthy Cherry Trees

Luscious fruit and gorgeous flowering specimens, the Cherry tree is a fantastic all-round landscaping tree that provides you and your family with delicious food sustainability!

For the best harvest of sweet juicy cherries, a bit of pruning each year is needed to enjoy the optimal health of your tree for years of jeweled crops!

Check out all the fantastic Cherry Trees available at Nature Hills Nursery!

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