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Dwarf fruit trees require less aggressive pruning than their full-sized counterparts. Start pruning these trees while they are young to train them and encourage fruit production. In addition to shaping trees, pruning appropriate branches helps control disease, allows air circulation and exposure to sunlight, and decreases the number of fruits the tree produces to increase the size and quality of those fruits.

Prune dwarf fruit trees when you plant them, before growth starts, and again each year in late winter or early spring. Wait until the coldest part of the winter has passed and before the tree starts to leaf out or produce sap. Ideally, you still want the weather to be cool, so the tree is still dormant, but you don’t want temperatures to be freezing because pruning the tree will make it more susceptible to the cold. Note that some trees may leak from spots where branches have been cut when they start to produce sap as the weather warms up. This is normal and will stop once the tree begins to produce leaves.

If your trees grew successfully the summer before, you may need to thin out some of the lateral branches. Get rid of all but five or six laterals at the winter pruning to stimulate fruit growth.

You can also prune trees as needed in the later summer months, after seasonal growth has stopped, to direct the growth of the tree or remove damaged branches.

How to Prune Dwarf Fruit Trees

Proper pruning can keep semi-dwarf trees in check

Given the challenges of true dwarfing rootstocks (toppling and high moisture needs), many gardeners may choose a variety with a semi-dwarfing rootstock instead. That can be a good move. Semi-dwarfing rootstocks seldom control fruit tree size as much as you’d expect, though, and pruning is the only way to ensure a tree stays under 12 feet tall.

Following the pruning steps below during the first year will give your tree an easily maintained structure for the future. In subsequent years, follow regular winter pruning techniques for your fruit tree, removing broken, diseased, crossed, or damaged branches. Each summer, keep your tree compact and manageable with summer pruning (cutting new growth back by half). If your tree is particularly vigorous, do a late spring pruning (cutting new growth back by half) as well.

1. At the initial planting time, your tree should be topped between 2 and 4 feet above the ground using a heading cut. This will force low scaffold limbs to form.

2. After its first spring flush, new, leafy branches should be cut back by half.

3. In late summer, your young tree should get its first summer pruning, with the newest growth (promoted by the early spring pruning) again cut back by half.

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