Pruning Cherry Trees: When & How?

pruning cherry trees

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Cherry trees add a lot of value to a garden. They add beautiful foliage, colourful flowers and plum fruits you can eat directly or cook with. However, this only happens if you know how to properly care for and prune them.

Pruning cherry trees is crucial to health, aesthetics and productivity. But poor pruning is equally as bad as no pruning. Poor technique and wrong timing will cause problems and increase susceptibility to diseases.

So, let’s work together to determine the best technique and time to prune your cherry tree(s). We will have to do this in three steps. Firstly, we will explore why it’s so important to prune cherry trees. Then, talk about proper timing and technique before finally discussing the common mistakes you must avoid.

Why Prune Cherry Trees?

Here are the two main reasons to prune cherry trees.

Tree Health

Pruning cherry trees keeps them healthy and productive. There are three things you need to know. Firstly, the removal of diseased and damaged branches keeps the tree healthy. Secondly, pruning encourages new growth. Thirdly, proper pruning allows every branch of the cherry tree to get enough natural light and aeration.

These three factors make your cherry trees more productive and less susceptible to diseases.

Aesthetic Appeal

A healthy cherry tree is more visually appealing than a diseased one. The flowers, foliage and fruits will come, look and smell as they should. On the same note, a properly pruned cherry tree will look better than an ill-maintained one. The former will look compact and neat, maintaining the shape and direction that you want it to grow towards.

Harvesting will also be easier. That’s why pruning cherry trees is so important. If left to fend for itself, your cherry trees will grow shaggy and out of shape.

Cherry Trees

When to Prune Cherry Trees

In cold climates like the UK, winter is the best time for pruning cherry trees. However, it all depends on the variety and age of the cherry. 

Tree Variety

Prune weeping and sour cherries in winter, and sweet varieties in summer. Winter is a great time to prune because the growing season has ended and the plants have become dormant. Therefore, you won’t have to cut off healthy fruits and leaves. They (fruits and leaves) won’t obstruct the pruning process either. 

As for sweet cherry varieties, the reason for pruning them in summer is disease susceptibility. They are more susceptible when pruned in winter or autumn. So, summer is the time to prune sweet cherry trees. Spring also works. Fruiting might be over by then. Therefore, you may not have to cut off healthy fruits and leaves. 

There is one issue with pruning cherry trees in summer and spring. Pruning during these seasons may slow down growth and productivity. The good news is that you can use this as a trick to keep cherries compact and trim.  On the other hand, pruning cherry trees in winter has a powerful positive effect on growth and productivity. Later winter is even better. 

Tree Age

Prune mature cherries in winter and young ones (age 1-3) in spring. As stated earlier, winter is the best time for pruning cherry trees in the UK. So, that’s when you should prune your mature cherry trees. As for young cherries, winter pruning could expose them to frost damage. It’s better to prune young cherries in early spring.  

Prune Cherry Trees

The Tools You Need to Prune Cherry Trees

Here are all the tools you need for pruning cherry trees. They fall into two categories.

Pruning Tools

This includes secateurs, pruning shears, looping shears and pruning saws. You need the first two to cut young shoots and the last two for stronger branches. Get enough pruning tools to cover the different branch sizes you will encounter during this task. They will allow you to do the job with single clean cuts and avoid damaging the cherry tree.

That’s also why you should use sharp and sterile pruning tools. They will reduce the risk of damage and infections. Get sharp tools. Then, disinfect them in a bleach solution (1:9) or rubbing alcohol. You can also use tree sealant to treat the cuts.

Climbing and Safety Gear

Climbing gears include ladders, harnesses or raised platforms, while safety tools include goggles, booths, gloves and other protective clothing. Never underestimate the value of safety and climbing gear when pruning cherry trees. Finally, you may also need a skip for waste disposal. Don’t leave those clippings around to rot and spread infections.

Pruning Tools

How to Prune Cherry Trees

In truth, there are no hard and fast rules for pruning cherry trees, especially mature ones. That’s why many different yet good opinions about timing and technique exist. However, there is a key to proper pruning. The key is to remember that the goal is to train the cherry, manage its growth, remove undesired branches and improve light supply and aeration in inner branches.

Here is how to do that in two steps.

Assess the Tree

This allows you to figure out what the cherry tree needs. By first doing this before pruning cherry trees, you can make better decisions about how many and what branches to cut.

Cherry Pruning Technique

Here is how to prune a cherry tree.

  •  Make 45-degree cuts to allow water to drain faster and the wound to heal more quickly.
  • Remove dead, weak, diseased and damaged branches.
  • Cut back vertical branches that disrupt ventilation to the centre and inner branches.
  • Cut back shoots that are longer than 12 inches to encourage lateral branching.
  • Cut back branches by about ¼ of their size to encourage new growth.

At the end of everything, you want your cherry trees to look like an open vase. That’s the idea shape.

A Simple Four-stage Method for Pruning Cherry Trees

Now that we have covered the basics, here is how to prune cherry trees from year one to maturity.

Year One

When pruning cherry trees at this stage, the goal is to discourage weak branches, train the tree to grow in the right direction and encourage lateral branching. Therefore, you need to do the following.

  • Remove weak shoots.
  • Remove shoots that are growing towards the trunk.
  • Shorten the leading truck to encourage lateral branching. This is called heading.

Year Two

Now is the time to choose the main branches for your cherry trees. So, choose four healthy branches that are:

  • 18 inches above the ground
  • At an angle of 40-60 degrees from the leading trunk
  • Minimum of 8 inches from each other

Shorten these four by about 24 inches. Then, remove the branches below them. Finally, shorten the leading trunk to near its top lateral branch.

Year Three

Cut back the shoots on those main branches you chose in year two. Then, create more lateral branches on the leading trunk.

Pruning Mature Cherry Trees

Do the usual process of removing undesirables and cutting back healthy branches to encourage aeration and new growth.

Pruning Mature Cherry Trees

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Poor pruning of cherry trees is almost as bad as no pruning. It could damage a tree and expose it to injury and diseases. So, here are some common mistakes to avoid.


This is a big mistake that people make when pruning cherry trees. Over-pruning will slow down growth and make the cherry vulnerable. So, don’t prune too hard. Wait until winter if you have to prune hard. 

Wrong Timing

Timing is crucial. That’s why you should avoid pruning:

  • Sweet cherries in winter because they are susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Sour and weeping cherries in spring because this will reduce their growth rate and productivity.
  • Mature cherries in spring because this will reduce their growth rate and productivity.
  • Young cherries in spring because they are vulnerable to cold.


Ultimately, the age and variety of a cherry should determine how you prune it. That’s the key to proper cherry pruning. However, the goal of pruning is the same regardless of age and variety. At the end of the day, the point is to reduce crowding and unhealthy limbs to promote growth and fruit production.

Above all, pruning is just one of the maintenance needs of cherry plants. It is not the only one. So, don’t just read about how to prune cherry trees. Read about how to take better care of them in general. 


Can I prune a cherry tree in the fall?

Yes, but the best time for pruning cherries is winter, especially late winter. Winter pruning is the best for improving growth rate and fruit production. 

What happens if you don’t prune cherry trees?

The tree will get crowded, reducing aeration and sunlight supply to inner branches. Damage, dead and diseased branches will also remain on the tree. All these will increase vulnerability to disease and reduce productivity. 

Author: Eleanor

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