Tips For Pruning Ornamental Cherries, Plums, And Crabapples

Not all fruit trees are planted for fruit, nor do they even bear fruit. Ornamental cherry trees, for example, include true cherry trees and those that don't produce fruit. Ornamental plums and crabapples produce fruit, but not always of edible quality. Instead, these landscape trees are prized for their attractive spring flowers. Proper pruning ensures they bloom fully each year, and the following tips can help.

Tip #1: Timing Is Everything

Flower buds are generally produced on trees in late fall or winter. This means that a tree has already set its amount of flowers long before first bud break in spring. While other deciduous trees are often pruned in late winter, it is best to hold off on pruning these ornamental specimens until after they finish flowering in late spring or early summer. Midsummer is the absolute latest you should prune, otherwise you may end up cutting off next year's flowers.

Tip #2: It's Better to Start Young

Trying to gain control of the shape of a adolescent or mature flowering tree can result in poor growth or even tree death. Instead, begin shaping the tree the first ear after transplanting. The central leader branch, which is the main upright branch off the trunk, on a sapling can be headed back soon after planting so there are at least three buds on the branch or trunk below. Each of these buds will become a new branch, and you don't want too many at first. The following year, pruning is done to keep the side branches trimmed back to a similar length. Also, prune back the leader so it is about a foot above the topmost tier of these branches, since you don't want a large bare area between the tip of the leader and the canopy of leaves below. Only side branches that are growing at a good lateral angle are kept. Those trying to grow upright like a leader or rubbing on neighboring branches are removed completely.

This severe pruning can be carried over into a third year, if necessary. At this point, the tree should have a good, strong framework and it won't require any major pruning going forward.

Tip #3: Maintenance Is a Continued Need

Although the main pruning is done within a few years, summer maintenance is still a must. After flowering you can go through and trim out any water spouts. These are quick growing branches that grow straight up from a lateral branch, ruining the main framework of the tree. You can also trim back dead or damaged branches, cutting them off near a leaf bud or where they join to a branch or trunk. Avoid any severe pruning. Topping off a flowering plum or cherry, for example, can kill the tree. If you need further help, contact a local tree trimming service, such as All Around Landscape & Tree Service.