The Fantastic Guide to Tree Pruning

Tree pruning
Alexander Raths /

Trees are green and luscious, provide us with shade and coolness in the hot months, bear fruit and give our homes and gardens an aesthetically pleasing look overall. Still, they need our care to reach and maintain their full potential.

Tree pruning is one of the ways to ensure proper growth, prevent diseases, avoid branch crowding, prevent safety hazards with lights and visibility to traffic and so much more. If you’re wondering how to prune trees correctly in the Australian climate, this comprehensive guide will offer you step-by-step instructions and valuable tips for both citrus and fruit trees.

What is tree pruning and why is it important?

Essentially, this is the removal of infected branches, along with branches that are dead or in the process of coming loose, as well as those that are growing in the wrong position. This is an essential aspect of tree maintenance. Taking care of overgrown trees (also commonly referred to as tree trimming) is also quite important. The process not only helps shape them better, giving them a more appropriate size but also helps maintain a tree’s good appearance.

When is the best time to prune trees?

If you’re thinking about when to prune trees, there are quite a few factors that play a role, such as the type of tree you have, whether it is citrus or a deciduous stone fruit tree, but also whether it is a tree or a sapling. Pruning young orange trees, for instance, needs to be done right after planting for proper establishment. It also matters how the tree is watched because indoor trees can undergo cutting pretty much any time of the year.

Still, there is one thing for certain, and that’s the fact that winter is commonly preferred and broadly considered the best time to prune trees in Australia, especially deciduous fruit trees. Convenience is one of the reasons, as during this period the tree is dormant, there are fewer leaves and you can access the branches more easily. In addition to this, pruning in winter could prepare your tree for stronger growth in the spring and summer.

Another good time to prune trees, citrus trees, in particular, is after a harvest in summer or late spring before the buds start opening. Meanwhile, pruning in early spring to foster strong tree growth in the upcoming summer is also beneficial. So, now let’s look into the tree pruning process itself.

Pruning trees the correct way

Whether you are interested in the fruit tree pruning process or how to prune a citrus tree in particular, this section will provide you with the tools and methods you need to follow in order to achieve the desired goals.

Tree pruning tools:

  • Protective clothing (usually long-sleeved tops and pants)
  • A hat to protect you from the sun (although it should not obstruct your vision)
  • Protective gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Handsaw
  • Folding pruner
  • Loppers
  • Pole pruner (for longer, harder to reach branches)
  • Secateurs

Fruit tree pruning

Fruit tree pruning
topseller /

Fruit trees are some of the most rewarding types of trees that you can have in your garden or orchard because they yield fruit that you can enjoy. In Australia, stone fruit trees are widely distributed, as some of the most popular are apricot, mango, plum, peach, nectarine, cherry and olive.

Let’s not forget also apple and pear, which are considered pomme fruit. The good news is that the process of pruning them is quite similar in most cases. Therefore, we will outline the main steps involved in the pruning process of fruit trees below.

Step 1: Clear leaves and fallen branches

Your first step is to clear the area for yourself. This may mean clearing it of fallen branches, leaves and other debris that has accumulated. If you have branches that are growing directly off the trunk but do not seem useful to your tree, make sure you create a callus by sawing directly along the tree’s trunk.

Since you do not want to tear the bark of the tree, use a saw, starting to cut from the bottom up, and then when you are about halfway through, you can start cutting from the top down.

Step 2: Remove dead, dry or diseased branches

The next step is to examine the tree for dead or dry branches that will no longer be able to support any growth and these should be removed. Depending on their size, you can either use the folding pruner, loppers or secateur for this purpose.

Step 3: Remove branches that are growing towards the ground

Branches that grow towards the ground simply take up more water and drain the tree of its energy. This is why any branches that appear to be growing at 90 degrees or thereabout to the ground should also be removed.

Step 4: Cut branches that cross each other in the canopy

The canopy is where most of the action happens and here, you need to consider the fact that you should avoid having branches that cross each other. This will not only open up the canopy to more air and light but will enable your fruit to grow in a healthier manner.

Step 5: Select several scaffold branches to form the base of your crown

This is one of the bigger challenges that you need to face and it generally happens when you first plant your fruit tree and start shaping it for future growth. Generally, you need to select several branches that will be considered your “scaffold” which will form the base of your crown.

Step 6: Choose a few secondary branches to grow off your primary branches

Once your tree has shown some growth and you’re ready to prune it back a bit, select a few secondary branches which will grow off your primary branches. Avoid having too many offshoots on one branch.

Step 7: Cut branches back around 60cm from the previous growth

Finally, consider cutting your branches back around 60cm from the previous growth. If you want to encourage vertical growth, cut just above a bud whereas if you’re looking to encourage horizontal growth, you will need to cut above a sideways growing bud.

Pruning citrus trees

Citrus tree pruning
Ivan Kruk /

Lemons, oranges and mandarins are probably the most popular citrus fruit-bearing trees. They have their specifics, but a list with the main instructions you can follow is listed below. Here are the main instructions on how to prune a citrus tree.

Step 1: Shaping your tree

This means the creation of a solid tree frame and it happens early on when you first plant your citrus tree. It’s important to note that you should encourage a citrus tree’s branches to grow upwards and to the sides but not completely horizontally.

Step 2: Ensuring support for the weight of fruit

Citrus tree branches also need to be able to support the weight of the fruit, so you will need to examine each branch for this and if there are weaker branches, these need to be removed.

Step 3: Allowing enough space for growth in the canopy

Your citrus tree also needs extra light and air at the canopy level, so if you have crossed branches there, consider cutting one of these branches off. This will give your canopy a less complicated shape which will lead to more light coming in, more fruit growth and less foliage instead of harvest.

Step 4: Cutting back on branches that point towards the ground

These branches, much like those for fruit trees, also need to be trimmed and cut off so that you can encourage your tree’s natural vertical growth instead of stunting it.

Step 5: Getting rid of dry, dead or diseased branches

Finally, you need to clear the way for new growth by removing dead and dry branches. This will help keep your citrus trees nice and healthy.

Important: As we’ve already mentioned, those are only the main pointers that can help you correctly trim your fruit and citrus trees. Still, there are specifics that depend on the tree itself. For instance, there are the large trees that grow outdoors, but there are also the dwarf variations of a species, which can be grown in a pot indoors or outdoors. We encourage you to research further and learn as much of the specifics of the tree you plan to trim before getting to the actual cutting.


It’s time to sum things up and make sure that you remembered the main tips on how to prune trees effectively:

  • Wear protective clothing
  • Make sure you have all the necessary tools beforehand. Branches come in different sizes and we are sure you want to get results with minimum effort.
  • Do a clean up by removing leaves and dead branches that serve no purpose.
  • Cut tree branches that are growing towards the ground.
  • Avoid having branches that cross each other in the canopy and stop the light and air.
  • Ensure effective scaffolding.

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