How to prune Cordon Fruit Trees

This is just about pruning cordons – there is a much longer piece on growing cordon fruit trees if you would like to know more.

Cordons should be pruned every year around mid August (i.e. about now). Your cordon is ready for pruning when the new side shoots from the main stem(s) become woody at their base. Shorten all of this new growth from the main stem to 3 or 4 leaves above the basal cluster of leaves at the base of the shoot.

Where a shoot from the main stem has a side shoot coming of it, prune this also – to one leaf above the cluster of leaves its base

Pruning of fruit trees is generally carried out in winter or early spring, except for the Prunus family (stone fruit: cherries, plums, damsons, gages, etc), which are pruned in summer. Cordons are different in that you restrict their growth by pruning now and the ideal cordon is compact and covered in fruiting spurs (which this treatment encourages).

You can use this technique on any shape of fruit tree if you wish to restrict its size but at the same time ensure it produces lots of fruit.  The trick is to use a M9 semi-dwarfing or MM106 semi-vigorous rootstock

We hope your plants have grown well this summer (certainly not much need to water!)

Watch your plants grow, and enjoy!

By Ashridge Support

Ashridge Nurseries has been in the business of delivering plants since 1949.


  1. Donald says:

    Hi – my question is about cordon fruit trees.
    I purchased eight cordon apple trees, two cordon pear trees and a bush plum tree from Ashridge Trees a year ago and all are doing really well. I read to prune cordons in July/August in first year and this I did. Several trees are now producing strong fresh growth from pruned points. Should these be re pruned and if so when? I have not pruned the leading growth which on three of the cordon fruit trees has been quite considerable in the year. In some cases the trees are up to seven feet or would be even more if stood up straight. When should I prune these back to my top wire height of about 5ft 6in?

    Will be most grateful for help.

  2. julian says:

    Thanks for your enquiry

    When cordon fruit trees are growing away well (and it sounds like at least some are) then you can summer prune in the year after planting. If some are taking longer to eastablish then skip summer pruning.

    All cordon fruit trees should be winter pruned however (therefore an established cordon is pruned twice a year).

    Summer pruning involves reducing side branches and sub-branches to 5 leaves and it is best done in August/September. The number of leaves is not critical, the principal reason for summer pruning of cordons being to reduce the amount of sap that is returned to the roots, thereby reducing their growing vigour.

    Winter pruning is best done in January and involves shortening by a further 2 leaves (nodes in winter) leaving 3.

    Hope this helps

  3. Donald says:

    re: Pruning cordon apple trees
    Hallo and thank you for your very useful reply. However I would still like to know what to do about the leading shoots on some of my cordon apple trees that appear to be reaching for the sky. Should I prune these back now or in the winter. It will mean taking quite a lot off to get them down to my top wire of about 5ft 6ins? Thanks for your help.

  4. julian says:

    Hi Donald
    No problem – just me being thick. I would cut your cordon fruit trees back (in terms of height) in winter. These will always try to regrow from the top and the advantage of winter pruning in this case is that you can see the dormant buds more clearly then and so it is easier to choose which one to cut back to.

    As an aside, there is no horticultural need for cordoned fruit trees to be kept to the height of the top wire. They are all stout stemmed and can easily be allowed to grow up another 45 – 60 cms above the last support. The only restriction is how high you want to reach.

    Hope this helps.

  5. Tim says:

    Thanks, very useful, but the link to the diagram seems to have got broken – at any rate it’s not displaying for me.

  6. julian says:

    Thanks very much for pointing it out. The Summer Pruning of Cordon Fruit Trees diagram is back in its rightful place.

    Hope it helps.

  7. Veronica says:

    Hi, our Braeburn cordon apple tree is now a few years old. It didn’t get properly pruned last year, so some side shoots are very long, with the basal leaf cluster appearing 6″-8″ along the shoot, instead of near the trunk. How should I prune those shoots? Thanks, Veronica.

    1. Edward says:

      Hi Veronica,
      If the buds lower back on the side-shoots off arising form the main trunk of the tree are still alive, then the same method of pruning that should have been used in the first place can be used. This will cause quite a lot of vegetative growth in the first growing season after pruning: cut this re growth back to one bud up from the basal cluster to form the fruiting spur.
      Have fun!

  8. Gary says:

    Hi Veronica,
    One of my (apple) cordon trees only had growth in the first and last third of it’s length, so it looks quite peculiar! How do I get it to produce leaf/blossom in this area next year please?

  9. Peter says:

    On the bare part of the stem identify a dormant bud facing the direction you want a side shoot to grow then “notch” just above it. This means make a small horizontal to the wood beneath then cut downwards just above this (3mm) to remove a crescent of bark. This releases the bud from dormancy and enables the dormant bud to grow.

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Thank you, Peter, we have some content about notching planned. Until then, these videos are great

  10. john kinsey says:

    hi i am thinking of trying to grow an apple tree from a rootstock do you sell these please

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi John, we certainly do sell rootstocks for apples, as well as pears (those are on the same page as apples, called Quince A), cherries and plums. I can recommend the YouTuber Skillcult’s series on grafting (and all of his apple videos in general, he uses a system of notching to train his trees that is even better than the pruning system that we currently have videos on).

      Without wishing to be sales-y, I also recommend buying a few more than you think you will need to avoid disappointment if some grafts fail or come out too wonky.

      Good luck!

  11. Tracy Lee says:

    We purchased 6 cordon fruit trees from you all have done really well apart from my Beth Pear – in the first year of planting I pruned the lead back on each tree (by about a 1/3) and all have put on a lot of growth with the exception of the pear. It didn’t grow from bud and has remained at the same size – should i prune again in the hope it will spring into life at a bud point or not?

    Also my other trees that put on a lot of growth should I prune the lead again to encourage side buds? Some of the trees have lots of buds.

    thank you


    1. Frankie Meek says:

      Thank you for your comment. For advice on further pruning, please take a look at our video. We would not recommend touching the tree that has not put on any growth, particularly if it was last year. If you would like any further advice, please send an email to our customer support team: [email protected]. Kind regards Ashridge.

  12. Tree Removal says:

    Great tips! I really loved reading this blog! Very useful and eye-opening tips. Thanks for writing this down and sharing it! I am gonna write these tips down and use them when the time comes. Thanks!

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