How to Prune a Cherry Tree

how to prune a cherry tree

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100

Whether grown for a variety's beautiful blooms, or one that produces fruit, cherry trees look better, produce more blooms and fruit, and stay healthier with proper pruning. Knowing how and when to prune a cherry tree is important and is not always as simple as pruning your normal shade tree.

Cherry trees come in different sizes and forms, and this will guide you on how you will want to prune your variety of cherry trees. No matter the cherry tree type, the ultimate goal is to expose the center to allow more airflow and sun to the inner branches.

When to Prune a Cherry Tree

There is much debate over the when of pruning a cherry tree, with some saying winter when the tree is dormant; this method encourages rapid growth, but this has drawbacks. 

Pruning in spring allows you to identify the healthiest branches and prune to the desired form. This timing will greatly limit the tree's growth as new growth will be removed.

If you want to do the work in summer, you should prune your cherry tree after blossoms have dropped and fruiting has occurred in late summer. Pruning at this point will help the tree avoid diseases by giving it plenty of time to heal the wounds caused by pruning, though it slows growth by trimming off some of the newer growth that has happened over the growing season. Because of the ability to stave off disease and slow growth, summer is the most agreed-upon time to prune.


Before you begin you should always clean your tools, no matter the pruning job. Make a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water and soak the tools for thirty minutes. Some assume the tools have been cleaned after their last use, but this 30-minute step is much easier than dealing with a diseased tree, so it is always good to be safe and sure! After 30 minutes, wipe down the tools and thoroughly dry them.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Hand pruners (for branches an inch and smaller)
  • Loppers (for branches 1 to 1.5 inches)
  • Pruning saw (for branches larger than 1.5 inches)


  • Chlorine bleach
  • Work gloves
  • Eye protection


How to Prune an Upright Cherry Tree

First, we'll look at the most commonly seen cherry tree, an upright tree with a fan-like habit. How you proceed with your pruning will depend purely on the tree's age, but we will start with a newly planted tree.

  1. Year One: Prune for Shape

    In the first growing season after the tree has been planted and established (if the tree was planted in the fall, the first growing season would be the following summer), you will do your first pruning.

    This first pruning aims to start giving the young tree form. To do this you will want to cut back branches on lateral limbs that are growing parallel or towards the main leader. You will also want to cut a few inches off the very tip of the main trunk to encourage outward growth.

  2. Year Two: Cut for Health and Shape

    Your second year of pruning will be about refining the form of the tree and checking on branch health. First, remove any branches that look unhealthy and damaged.

    Then step back and look at your tree to see its shape and the desired shape you want to achieve. With this shape in mind, choose the laterals you want to be your main branches and cut them back by a third. Cut your leader to about the same height as the highest lateral, and again, look to remove any interior branches that are growing parallel or towards the main trunk.


    If you look closely, your cherry tree should tell you which branches to take. Cherry trees are very quick to kill off weak limbs, so you can basically cut anything that's dead, trusting that the cherry tree also wants it gone.

  3. Year Three: Remove Damaged Branches

    In the third year, your job will be again looking to remove damaged and unhealthy branches and finalize the form of your cherry tree. By this time, the tree will have reached a shape pretty close to what you want to be going for, but there are a few final cuts you will want to make on the lateral branches. You will try to cut all small branches of the laterals so that all branch intersections would look as if you turned a lowercase "y" on its side counterclockwise. The result will be no branches pointing inwards, and no side shoots on the top of the lateral branches.

  4. Year Four: Prune for Size and Health

    Subsequent yearly pruning will not be about shaping the tree but solely about controlling the size and removing damaged and unhealthy growth. Once a tree becomes too large to do the pruning from the ground, a certified arborist is recommended to perform the tasks as it can get quite dangerous pruning from a ladder. You can prune a dwarf cherry in the same way except for needing to call an arborist for pruning, as their relatively small height will keep the job manageable.

How to Prune a Weeping Cherry Tree

The methods involved in pruning a weeping cherry are quite different after the first year, so we will want to give them a look of their own.

  1. Prune the Suckers

    As a weeping cherry grows, you notice a constant growth of suckers from the trunk; these must be removed throughout the year.

  2. Remove Non-Weeping Rootstock

    Weeping cherry cultivars are usually grafted on non-weeping rootstock. Hence, a very important maintenance practice is yearly pruning of any non-weeping rootstock so that the cherry maintains its weeping habit. You will notice the trunk swells out on the tree and abruptly tapers inward. If any branches protrude from that swollen area, they need to be removed as they will not weep.

  3. Trim the Hanging Branches

    Now step back, look at the weeping cherry, and see if any branches extend within six to eight inches off the ground. You will want to trim the weeping branches to a uniform weeping height to give them a pleasing umbrella-like appearance. A good rule is never to trim more than a third of tree live branches in one pruning season, so this may be a task that takes a few years to achieve.