Pruning cherry trees is an essential task for any backyard orchard owner. Keeping your cherry trees neatly trimmed promotes good health, improves fruit yield and quality, and helps control the size and shape as the tree matures. But when is the right time to prune cherry trees? Can you prune cherry trees in spring?
The short answer is yes, spring pruning is not only possible but recommended for cherry trees under the right conditions. While summer and winter pruning both have benefits as well, paying attention to spring growth cycles and pruning judiciously during the early, mid and late spring periods can deliver excellent results.
Below we will cover everything you need to confidently prune your cherry trees in spring:
- When to prune cherry trees in spring based on seasonal growth cycles
- What type of maintenance pruning is suitable this time of year
- Step-by-step instructions guiding you through proper spring pruning techniques
- What signs indicate your cherry trees are due for some pruning attention
- Expected benefits to the health and productivity of your trees
- Common mistakes and problems to avoid when spring pruning cherry trees
We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions backyard growers have about cutting back cherry trees in the spring so you can head into the orchard with knowledge and confidence!
Timing is everything when it comes to spring cherry tree pruning. Doing it too early while late frosts still threaten new growth can stress trees. Pruning heavily once leaves emerge can also disrupt the seasonal growth cycle.
To prune at the right time, you need to understand the routine spring changes cherry trees go through:
Early Spring Pruning (March to April)
- Tree is still dormant – Growth has not initiated as soil temperatures are still too cold and risk of frost persists.
- Pruning activity is limited – Stick to only necessary corrective pruning during early spring. The goal is removing dead, damaged and diseased wood, along with minor thinning.
- Avoid stimulating too much growth – You want to cleanly prune out problem branches, but refrain from making cuts that will activate dense new growth while frosts remain a threat.
In short, less is more when pruning cherry trees in early spring. Don’t get overly zealous with the pruners quite yet.
Mid Spring Pruning (April to May)
- Soil temperatures warming up – As daylight lengthens and temperatures creep up, sap starts flowing in the cherry tree triggering the first flush of leaf buds.
- Emerging foliage is delicate – Avoid damaging tender young leaves or making cuts that cause sap to bleed significantly.
- Some light pruning possible – Careful thinning out of crowed areas is suitable now. Hold off on heading back major scaffold branches until early summer.
It’s a transition period, so prune judiciously based on how advanced your cherry tree’s growth is in mid spring.
Late Spring Pruning (May to June)
- Tree focus is on establishing leaves – Nutrients are flowing to build the foliage canopy and no flowers or fruit exist yet this season.
- Avoid pruning when tree leafing out – Newly emerged leaves are highly vulnerable to water loss from exposed pruning wounds.
- Prepare pruning tools for summer – Get equipment sharpened, disinfected and ready for corrective pruning once the spring growth push settles down.
Late spring is absolutely not the time for pruning cherry trees, you’ll only cause unnecessary stress and setback.
Now that you know the fundamental spring pruning timeline for cherry trees, let’s examine what type of pruning is suitable during each period:
What Type of Pruning to Do in Spring
When attending to orchard tasks like pest management, weed control and irrigation, you follow a strict seasonal regimen tailored specifically for cherry trees.
Pruning also has definable types – thinning, heading, shaping – that align with seasonal goals for growth and production capacity:
Here’s how common pruning objectives match up with spring seasonal windows:
- Early spring while tree is still dormant
- Mid spring once branching is visible
Why thin a cherry tree:
- Opens up interior canopy
- Improves air circulation
- Reduces pest habitat
- Increases light interception
- Crossed and rubbing branches
- Water sprouts from trunks
- Dense vertical shoots
Thinning is light pruning that gently guides the cherry tree’s natural shape without overly stimulating growth. Go slow when thinning dormant trees in early spring and take a more conservative approach if pruning established trees during leaf out.
- Early spring just before swelling buds open
- Mid spring pruning limited to young trees
Why shape and train branches:
- Direct future growth patterns
- Influence tree form early on
- Reduce need for corrective pruning later
- Narrow crotch angles between branches
- Branches extending towards the center of the tree canopy rather than outwards
Shaping and training pruning is focused on cherry tree structure. Guide young whips to establish good branch spacing and radial growth during the first 2-3 years. For mature trees, target branches not conforming to desired cherry tree shape.
- Early spring any time major limbs are damaged or diseased
- Mid to late spring to remove broken, dead and pest infected branches
Why clean up branches:
- Prevent decay organisms from invading live tissue
- Improve tree appearance
- Reduce pest pressure
- Eliminate infection vector to other branches
- Storm damaged branches
- Winter injury on limbs
- Bark splitting
- Accumulated deadwood
- Disease and insects present
Sanitation of broken and compromised limbs is the top priority prune task before sap flow increases later in spring. Don’t leave damaged stubs or decaying branches in cherry trees at any time of year.
Now let’s move on to step-by-step spring pruning techniques for cherry trees:
How to Prune Cherry Trees in Spring
Once you’ve identified pruning needs based on seasonal timing and growth stage of your cherry tree, it’s time to make proper cuts. Follow these steps for spring pruning:
Pruning Tools Needed
- Bypass hand pruners – for cuts under 1/2 inch diameter
- Curved blade saw – for large branches
- Loppers – for cuts between 1/2 and 1 1/2 inches
- Pole saw/pruner – for high branches
- Tree sealant – to cover major cut surfaces
Sterilize Pruning Equipment
- One part bleach to 4 parts water
- Prevent spreading disease between trees
- Rinse and dry completely before storing again
Locate Branch Collar
- Swollen/flared base where branch joins together
- Contains protective callous tissues
- Right: Cut outside branch collar
- Wrong: Cutting into branch collar
Execute Pruning Cuts Properly
Follow these rules when cutting:
- Always cut just beyond branch collar swell
- Avoid leaving branch stubs sticking out
- Make clean cuts without tearing bark
- Use sharp bypass hand pruners for precision
- Cut branches all the way to trunks or lateral branches
- Remove heavy branches with 3-cut method to prevent bark ripping
Seal Major Cut Surfaces
- Prevents desiccation and disease entry
- Quickly apply after cutting!
- Spread thick layer over exposed wood
- Especially important on sap producing trees like cherry
Remove or Chip Pruned Growth
Don’t leave cut debris under the cherry tree:
- Discard diseased prunings
- Chip small branches for mulch
- Avoid buildup of dead wood harboring pests
And that covers the key steps for properly executing spring cherry tree pruning! Always maintain clean, sharpened, and sanitized bypass pruning tools so cuts can be as precise as possible.
Signs Your Cherry Trees Need Pruning
Routine thinning, shaping and cleaning prunes through the seasons keeps cherry trees healthy and vibrant for decades. But how do you know when pruning is required?
Watch for these visible indicators:
- Overgrown areas blocking sunlight – The center of the canopy becomes shaded out depriving interior shoots of energy from photosynthesis. Thin judiciously to improve light penetration without going overboard.
- Low hanging branches obstructing paths – Fruit laden branches bend towards the ground. Prune back to raise up lowest limbs but maintain some slope for durability.
- Clustered branches or water sprouts – New shoots emerge on undersides of branches or the trunk. Usually a response to excessive heading cuts or environmental factors like drought stress.
- Dead diseased wood with knots or mushrooms – An opportunity for decay fungi to invade healthy wood. Prune off well below visible infections, sterilize tools after every infected cut to stop disease spread.
- Crossing branches that rub together – Over time the abrasion wounds serve as entry points for insects and microbes. Selectively remove branches causing friction using thinning technique.
- Bark splitting or sunken canker areas – Indicates interior trunk decay from prior mechanical damage or canker infection. You can prune off affected branches and monitor canker margins, but damaged trunk areas usually cannot be repaired.
When you stay observant while caring for your cherry trees, issues can be corrected early through diligent pruning practices. Don’t allow small problems to become major structural defects impacting health and productivity long term.
Expected Results After Spring Cherry Tree Pruning
Successfully timing spring pruning around emerging new growth and executing restorative pruning properly pays major dividends for the current and future growing seasons:
- Better canopy penetration of sunlight and airflow
- Photosynthesis increases providing more internal food reserves
- Improves survival and productivity of fruiting wood
- Allows blossoms and fruit to fully develop
- Reduced pest and disease pressure
- Fewer microenvironments suitable for fungus and insects
- Prevent spread by removing infected branches
- Easier to monitor for emerging issues
- More high quality fruit production capacity
- Optimal light exposure on remaining branches
- Prioritize horizontal and outward angled shoots
- Balance vegetative to fruiting wood
- Established desired mature tree structure
- Train branches while flexible when young
- Create strong scaffold system early on
- Reduce corrective pruning labor for years to come
The long term benefits of staying on top of seasonal pruning requirements will be obvious in the health, form, and productivity of your cherry trees for their entire lifespan.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Spring Pruning Cherry Trees
It’s easy to get overeager and prune too heavily or at the wrong times even with good intentions. Be conscious of these common spring cherry tree pruning mistakes:
- Pruning in early spring before final frost – If a late cold snap damages emerging growth you stimulated, it defeats the purpose. Be patient a few more weeks.
- Not sanitizing pruning tools between trees – If you spread disease inadvertently through infected sap this causes major long term harm.
- Allowing water sprouts to persist – These vertical shoots rob energy from structural branches. Remove water sprouts as soon as spotted.
- Pruning away too many fruiting spurs – Find balance between vegetative growth and fruiting wood when heading and thinning.
- Using dull bypass hand pruners – Ragged tearing cuts are points of weakness. Keeping blades sharp ensures clean precise cuts.
- Leaving branch stubs – Stubs soon decay leaving dead pockets that jeopardize healthy wood. Always prune to lateral branch or trunk.
- Heavy pruning when tree leafing out – The flexing weight of new leaves can cause major limbs to break at pruning cut sites.
Stay observant for these all too common spring cherry tree pruning mistakes. A careful, judicious approach following seasonal rhythms will keep your trees healthy and bountiful for decades to come.
We’ve covered quite a bit of key information about spring pruning for cherry trees:
- Early spring focus is on restorative cuts and light thinning pruning
- Mid spring allows conservative maintenance pruning once buds begin swelling
- Late spring requires avoiding pruning altogether as tree directs energy into leaf canopy
- Skillful thinning, training, and cleaning prune cuts improve tree structure and productivity
- Watch for signs like congested branching, light blockage, and dead wood to indicate pruning needs
- Patience pays off when you properly time spring pruning activity around seasonal growth cycles
- Prevent spreading disease and avoid overstimulating growth with improperly timed heavy pruning
The takeaway message is cherry trees can and should be pruned in spring. But technique and timing matters. Work with, not against, their natural biological clock.
Now that you know vital pruning windows, best practices, and what beneficial outcomes to expect, you can confidently maintain cherry trees through seasons of growth and production.