Skip to main content

Originally published Thursday, January 2, 2014 at 5:30 AM

  • Share:
  • Comments (1)
  • Print

Don’t let your fruit tree or juniper get away from you

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris on pruning fruit trees and junipers.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

North American Rock Garden Society Northwest Chapter lecture “Westside Treasures”: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 (refreshments at 7 p.m.). Richard Ramsden will cover species both beautiful and obscure from the local foothills to the high peaks of the Olympics, North Cascades and Mount Rainier. Center for Urban Horitculture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle; free (

Plant Amnesty Master Pruner Series “Pruning Fruit Trees”: 10 a.m.-noon Jan. 12. Don Marshall will teach the basics of fruit-tree pruning, covering apple, cherry, plum and pear trees. Building 406, Sand Point Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle; $20 general public, $15 PlantAmnesty members, $5 horticulture college students and native Spanish speakers, no preregistration required (

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
"Seattle; $20 general public, $15 PlantAmnesty members, $5 horticulture college... MORE


In the Garden

Fruit trees should be pruned two times per year. Summer pruning (June until mid-August) should never exceed removal of more than about a tenth of the canopy. The object is to remove shoots crowding the center of the tree in order to increase light and air circulation.

All other fruit-tree pruning should be done in winter when the tree is dormant. Even in winter, it’s best to remove no more than 1 / 3 of the wood, but if you are forced to remove a major branch, winter would definitely be a better time to do it.

Winter is also the best time to spur prune. This is an old-time gardening technique that increases fruit production. Rather than removing sprouts completely, leave a 4-inch stub. The energy normally used for sprout growth is captured in the stub and initiates fruit spur production instead.

Winter is also the best time to prune to maintain an upright-branching pattern. Cut limbs where they begin to bend downward to upright shoots. Trees that are allowed to develop an umbrella shape (where branches weep downward) produce much less fruit and suffer from the Medusa syndrome where hundreds of unproductive sprouts grow out of the top of the tree.

Finally, in my opinion, the most important winter-pruning job is to maintain the tree at a desired height by cutting back the tallest limbs to a node farther down on the branch. This is admittedly hard work, but don’t make the mistake of letting this task slide for a couple of years in a row.

Vigorous fruit trees tend to grow like wild banshees, and the branches at the top of the tree become thicker as they grow taller.

Once the height of the tree gets away from you, it’ll be a long, hard day at the top of the ladder cutting through hefty branches in an effort to make the tree a manageable size again.

Prune wayward junipers

Pfitzer juniper (Juniperous chinensis ‘Pfitzeriana’) is one of those shrubs that seems to grow exponentially. You plant it in the morning and by the time you return outside after lunch, it appears to have doubled in size.

The tags say they will reach 5 to 6 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide, but anyone who has ever grown one knows they can reach twice that size.

Another juniper that can get away from you is the ubiquitous low-growing tam juniper (Juniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia’). They usually don’t grow much over 3 feet tall, but their width seems to double every week.

My favorite method of pruning these monsters involves a chain and a pickup, but if you’re hesitant to rip out your oversized juniper, the only way to keep it from taking over a sizable area in your garden is to prune regularly.

Fortunately, junipers are easy to prune and make excellent guinea pigs for novice pruners. They can be pruned most any time of year, and you can’t go wrong if you follow two simple rules: Cut only to where there is live growth and try not to remove more than 1 / 3 of the foliage in one shot.

Finally, have mercy on your juniper and don’t use hedge shears unless you are a topiary expert. Junipers suffer horrible embarrassment if they end up looking like a ball or a doughnut!

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.


About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.

Partner Video


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►