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How to Prune an Avocado Tree

Knowing how to prune an avocado tree is a necessary process for production trees as well as avocado trees kept indoors. It helps keep trees at a manageable height for the tree keeper’s needs and can increase fruit production.

Damaged or dead branches are pruned from avocado trees to increase aesthetic appeal as well as to avoid blocking sunlight to healthy limbs. Tall branches are pruned to encourage growth at a more beneficial height, and long branches are pruned to encourage the direction of energy into fruit rather than longer boughs.

Avocado trees kept indoors may be pruned for many of the same reasons as well as to keep the tree at a manageable size for the indoors. Avocado trees can grow up to 80 feet high over many years, so proper pruning is vital for indoor avocado trees as well as for those that are grown for high yield harvests.

Closeup of two ripe avocados on tree.  Healthy fruit is the end result of knowing how to prune an avocado tree.
Knowing how to prune an avocado tree means having the best possible avocados to enjoy from your tree.

Think Ahead

Before you begin pruning your avocado trees, consider what shape you will want them to have several decades from now. Avocado trees take anywhere from five to twenty years to produce fruit, so you’ll want to shape them well during the years between planting and fruit production.

A view of an avocado tree.

Every cut you make early on will affect their shape in years to come, so decide what shape you want to encourage them towards and prune accordingly, so they will be optimally shaped when they do finally produce avocados.

Avoid Spreading Disease Between Trees

Keep in mind that trees are living things and can get sick, just like other living things. Diseases can be contagious among trees. So take care to clean your instruments between each individual tree to prevent the risk of spreading disease from one to the next.

Even if a tree does not appear to be diseased, there could be a sickness that hasn’t started showing yet. So this kind of sanitation practice is important to the overall health of your trees. Spraying the equipment down with diluted bleach or rubbing alcohol will suffice.

The Best Equipment for Avocado Tree Pruning

An avocado tree branch with avocados hanging from it.
  • Outdoor Gloves

For starters, you’ll need a sturdy set of outdoor gloves. Whether you’re setting out to prune a small indoor avocado tree or an orchard full of them, you’ll need to protect your hands from the touch branches and stiff splinters while you work.

Green and white work/garden gloves.
  • Hand Pruners

For branches less than one inch thick, hand pruners are a sufficient tool for the job. Hand pruners are easy to use as they resemble scissors and can be held in one hand.

Some hand pruners are specifically made for avocado trees. These have rounded edges to prevent the user from accidentally harming any of the fruit as they cut the branches.

Closeup of hand using pruning shears.
  • Loppers

For thicker branches, a set of loppers will come in handy. Loppers look like giant hand pruners with extra-long handles. This tool requires both hands to be used to cut these thicker limbs.

Woman using pruning loppers.
  • Ladder

If you’re pruning large outdoor trees, you’ll also need to invest in a quality ladder. Some ladders come with holes to slide your tools into when you’re not using them, or a hook for a bucket of tools to be hung on. These extra features can be helpful to prevent the need to go up and down exchanging your tools as you work.

Person standing on ladder.

Methods For How To Prune An Avocado Tree

Over-pruning can be disastrous for avocado trees, so if you’re not sure, err on the side of pruning slightly less than you think you need to.

Keep in mind that avocado trees come from a warm environment. If you get more of a winter where you live than avocado trees back in their homeland do, you should avoid pruning in the fall or winter. The extreme cold could be dangerous for avocado trees already, without having open wounds everywhere. Prune earlier in the year so that your tree can heal the areas that were trimmed down and grow some bark over the raw wood before the cold hits.

Stakes supporting limbs of an avocado tree.

To promote general growth, do major pruning in the spring. To promote length so that the tree grows taller and wider, do your heavy pruning in the summer instead.

A light, regular pruning can be beneficial as well. To encourage fruit growth, you can take hand pruners and snip off the bits of new branch length. This will encourage the tree to direct nutrients into growing more fruit rather than into making the tree bigger.

  • Crown Thinning

Crown thinning is done by removing the smaller branches from the top of the tree. This allows more sunlight and fresh air to get to the canopy branches where avocado production is highest.

  • Crown Reduction

Crown reduction is done by removing the small twigs growing out of larger branches. The point is to reduce the amount of unnecessary growth weighing down the higher branches so that they don’t get top-heavy.

  • Crown Lifting

Crown lifting is a type of pruning that can be dangerous for larger trees but is helpful for guiding the growth of younger trees. It is used to remove branches from overgrowing sidewalks and even homes in the case of some trees. This type of pruning isn’t usually needed for avocado trees, other than to groom several trees so that their branches start at the same height for aesthetic reasons.

  • Dead Pruning

Dead pruning is the process of removing all the diseased or dead branches from a tree. This is important for the tree’s health and even for human safety, as unexpected limbs falling from above could cause injury. Removal of dead limbs also increases the aesthetic appeal of the tree.

  • Stumping or Staghorning

This is a drastic method of avocado tree pruning that is done by large production companies. Once avocado trees reach a certain height, their fruit tends to be smaller and harder/more dangerous to get to. So very large trees may be cut off at fifteen or twenty feet of height in order to encourage nutrient flow to the lower branches for increased fruit production.

Pruning Results

With most fruit trees, there will be an immediate increase in fruit growth after pruning. This is as a result of the nutrients being directed into fruit rather than into longer or taller boughs. With avocado trees, however, the process is a little different.

Ripe avocados hanging from a tree.

Immediately after significant pruning, avocado trees send their extra nutrients into leaf growth. All the extra new leaves add more shade to the tree, which reduces the areas reachable by sunlight. Sunlight is also needed for fruit growth, so this can actually result in fewer avocados produced that same year.

Reddish-green new growth on an avocado tree.
New growth on an avocado tree.

Why perform a significant pruning at all then? Because during the two years following a significant pruning, the freshly pruned trees will finally catch on to what has happened and will send the nutrients that aren’t going into making more branches into making more and bigger fruit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Small green avocados hanging on a tree.
  • If avocado trees can reach 80 feet in height, how long can they remain houseplant-size?

Regular pruning can help you keep your avocado tree down to a manageable, houseplant size, but doing so will probably prevent it from growing much or any avocado fruit. These trees still make nice additions to a room though, as long as you don’t mind that it won’t produce fruit for you.

To keep your indoor avocado tree from growing too large, simply prune the highest branch. The following year, trim the next highest. And so on so that it never grows past a certain height. If your tree begins to stick out too far into the room, trim the longest branch first. And then later, the next longest. Keep in mind though that you should never trim more than one-third of a branch that you wish to keep.

  • What happens if I over-prune my avocado tree?

Over-pruning an avocado tree means cutting the tree back too far and leaving too many raw, open places on the tree. All of these raw “wounds” are more sensitive than the parts of the tree that are covered in bark, making them more susceptible to frost injuries and sun damage, depending on the weather conditions. These can result in the death of parts, or all, of the plant.

Additionally, over-pruning can also cause stunting of the entire tree, which could cause the tree never to grow properly again and potentially never produce any more fruit.

  • How will pruning (or not pruning) affect the yield of my avocado tree?

As long as you don’t over-prune, pruning can help your avocado tree produce more and better-sized fruits. When you prune away the lower parts of the tree that won’t be able to receive much sunlight anyway, you stop the tree from sending nutrients to those weaker areas and encourage it to send more nutrients to the areas that are better capable of producing fruit.

Conclusion

Closeup of single avocado hanging on a branch.

Keep in mind that the best kind of pruning is light, regular, preventative pruning. This encourages fruit growth, is physically easier to perform, and is gentler on the tree.

Have a tip or suggestion for how to prune an avocado tree? Leave it in the comments section below! To read more about avocados, click here for our other avocado-related blog articles.