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Pruning Apricot Trees: When, Why, and How

Pruning apricot trees doesn’t have to be an intimidating task. It’s actually pretty easy once you learn how to prune apricot trees. 

There are a few basic cuts, the tools of the trade, and some general advice on how to best shape your apricot tree. Once you’ve read through this DIY guide for pruning apricots, you’ll be ready to make that green thumb even greener. 

Pruning Apricot Trees
Apricot Tree with Apricot Fruit

Apricot Tree Pruning Goals

The topic of pruning is a tough one for home gardeners. This is a big jump into a more skill-intensive aspect of taking care of our plants. So, why do we prune apricot trees in the first place?

As it turns out, there are several different reasons to learn how to prune apricot trees. 

One of the biggest is improving tree health. We can prune trees to ensure that sunlight is able to evenly reach the buds on the branches and to optimize airflow through the tree. Even sunlight helps ensure there are no barren patches which could cause problems and the improved airflow helps your apricot tree resist disease. 

Another big reason is the apricots themselves! Pruning is done to help ensure new fruit growth each year. 

Now that we know why pruning apricot trees is so useful, let’s learn how to do it! 

When to Start Pruning Apricot Trees 

The first thing to know about pruning apricot trees is that there is only one time of year you should do it. Late winter and early spring are the ideal times to prune the apricot tree. This is right as new flowers begin to open. Why do we start pruning apricot trees right when they are flowering again after winter?

This time is when your tree is actively growing. This means that your cuts from pruning will heal very quickly. Overall, waiting for late winter or early spring lets your apricot tree heal quickly from pruning and have the best chance at resisting diseases after being pruned. There are also gardeners who argue for summer pruning after the tree has fruited. 

Pruning in the summer after the tree has fruited prevents new growth and helps to keep the size, spread, and shape of your apricot tree in check. If you have a particularly demanding pruning job, waiting until mid summer might be best. 

  • Prune in late winter and early spring for most mild to moderate pruning jobs. Wait until the flower buds start opening. 
  • Pruning apricot trees in summer inhibits growth and can be a good time to shape overgrown trees. 

Preparing the Tools For Pruning Apricot Trees

Pruning An Apricot Tree Close Up

Pruning apricot trees is hard work and we’re going to need some tools to help us get the job done. Let’s go through the tools we’ll need and how to prevent the spread of diseases in your apricot trees. 

Hand Pruner

Hand pruners are the best tool of the trade when it comes to making sure apricots are healthy and well pruned. You’ll be doing the vast majority of your pruning with these little clippers. 

It’s a good idea to invest in a high quality hand pruner, but you don’t need to go overboard with a high-end model. You want to make sure that your ideal pruner has replaceable parts in case anything breaks, a comfortable hand grip, and blades that can easily fit reasonably sized branches. 

Lopper

Think about these as hand pruners with reach. 

Loppers have the same basic technology as the hand pruner, but they can reach up into trees and handle larger branches. Loppers are useful for helping you get at hard to access branches and tackle those thicker branches. 

It’s important to make sure your pruning is done with clean cuts. If you think the branch might be a little too big for your hand pruners to handle, do your apricot tree a favor and break out the loppers.

Pruning Saw

This is for the bigger jobs!

A pruning saw helps you tackle those large branches that pruners and loppers just can’t handle. This tool is a bit of an odd choice for our list because you are going to get the least use out of it. These saws are for cutting off large limbs which isn’t done very often outside of the initial shaping of a young apricot. 

With that said, any hand saw will do the trick here. You can get one specifically made for pruning or just use a hand saw from your garage. Just make sure it’s clean! 

Help Prevent Apricot Tree Diseases 

One of the major reasons we prune apricot trees is to help them stay healthy, but pruning can also cause and spread diseases. 

Each time you move on to a new apricot tree or another type of plant, you should wash your hand pruner, lopper, and saw. This will help you to prevent the spread of disease from one plant to another. 

If you want to be extra safe, you should wash equipment after cutting off dead, dying, or sick branches. The goal here is to have a healthy and safe apricot tree that looks great and produces delicious fruit. The little extra work of keeping your tools clean will go a long way. 

You can read more about Apricot Tree Diseases and How To Prevent Them Here.

Pruning Apricot Trees in the First 3 Years

Let’s say you just planted a young apricot tree, should you prune it? 

Yes! This is one of the most important times to learn how to prune apricot trees. When your tree is in its first three years is the ideal time window to help the tree to develop an ideal shape by the time it is fully grown. 

Young apricots grow rapidly and are more resilient. This means you can prune aggressively for shape and future fruit productions. Here’s how it works. 

Clearing Out Dead Branches 

The first step is to clear out any dead, dying, or visibly sick branches. This should be an easy and quick job for most healthy trees. If your apricot tree is in seriously bad shape, it might be worth it to call in a professional to help restore the tree’s health. 

Creating Scaffolding Branches

Scaffolding Cuts

The next step is creating what we call scaffolding branches. These will be the major branches of your tree as it gets older. You want to select about three scaffolding branches for your tree. They should be spaced about 18 to 25-inches apart and be growing outward at an angle from the trunk. These branches will be the core of your tree and this angle will help to support the heavy weight of the apricot fruit. 

Cut the remaining branches off at about a quarter of an inch from where they connect to the tree. You should be left with one main trunk that connects into three branches. 

Other Cuts and Trimming 

Cut and Keep

Take a look at your scaffolding branches and prune any smaller branches growing between the start of the scaffolding branch and about 8 to 10-inches up. There should be plenty of space between the base of the scaffolding branches and the tree itself. This helps promote even lighting and better air circulation throughout the tree. 

Other cuts to consider have to do with the overall shape of your tree. You’ll want to cut off branches that are growing inwards toward the trunk as well as branches that are growing downward too dramatically. 

You might have to do several pruning passes throughout the summer to handle smaller branches as they grow. Apricots grow quickly and this means more assertive pruning is needed. 

This covers younger apricot trees, but what more mature ones? 

Pruning Mature Apricot Trees 

good bad tree angles

Mature trees are less resilient than their younger counterparts which changes how we approach pruning. 

Ideally, your mature tree should already be in a great shape with strong scaffolding branches. This means that mature apricot trees typically only need regular upkeep and maintenance rather than massive overhauls. 

In addition to the other cuts we talked about above, you’re also going to want to trim back the growth each year. Apricot trees need about 20% trimmed to help keep growth in check. This could mean anything from a few inches to a few feet depending on how much your tree grew this year. 

Another growth-related trim is keeping the highest branches within arm’s reach. This makes picking the fruit much easier. This is also optional and more about how you want your apricot experience to be. Some people don’t mind either breaking out the ladder or buying a specialty fruit picker for those high-up branches. 

Now let’s talk about one of the most interesting problems when it comes to pruning apricot trees: overproducing. 

Check out our post on How To Grow Apricot Trees Here.

Fruit Thinning for Apricot Trees

Ripe Apricots
Ripe apricots on the orchard tree.

Yes. Your apricot tree can actually produce too much fruit. Here’s what happens. 

An apricot tree is considered to be “overproducing†if it only fruits every other year or so. One of the reasons for inconsistent fruiting is that by producing too much fruit one year, the tree needs to skip the next year. 

Overproducing also references boughs that have too much fruit weight on them and are at risk for snapping. 

If your apricot’s branches are starting to sag dramatically, it might be time to do some fruit thinning. 

Wait until the summer for this pruning job. The apricot fruits should be about one-inch in diameter when you go to fruit thin your apricot tree. Cut off a few fruiting branches that are growing off your main scaffolding branches. 

You’re mainly looking to reduce weight on the main branches and create an even distribution of fruit throughout the tree. It should only take a few cuts to even things out. 

How to Prune Apricot Trees with Style

pruned apple trees

Your apricot tree is more than just a fruit producing plant, it’s also ornamental. 

The apricot features beautiful foliage, stunning blooms, and eye-catching fruit in the summer months. Part of pruning your apricot tree is making sure that it still fits in with your style and your gardening plans. 

If you’re planning on adding another apricot or a different type of fruiting tree nearby, it might be time to prune back your apricot. The shape of your tree is also an important style decision to consider. 

Crabapple Tree
The branches of this crabapple tree have been trained over decades to grow along wires into a linear form, creating a formal appearance of a wall or fence.

We talked about the functional aspects of shaping our apricot trees with the scaffolding method earlier. Over time, this will create a beautiful and bushy tree with easily accessible fruit! 

As it turns out, shaping an apricot tree for style also gives us the best shape when it comes time to harvest the fruit. 

Tradeoffs & Limits for Pruning Apricot Trees

Pruning apricot trees always has its limitations. 

Your apricot tree is a living thing. It can only take so much pruning throughout the year before it succumbs to disease or stops producing fruit for a season. If you’re new to pruning apricot trees, it’s best to take things easy and start simple. This is especially true if you’ve got an apricot tree that’s in need of a lot of TLC. 

We hope our guide has taught you how to prune apricot trees. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish in your garden! 

Apricot Trees You Can Read About on Minnetonka Orchards

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