Established fruit trees require yearly pruning for best health and maximum fruit production. Regular pruning in the winter or early spring will also help keep most of the fruit bearing branches within easy reach for harvesting.
The main pruning job on established fruit trees is to thin out some of the extra branches so that more light can reach those which remain. This also reduces the number of fruits somewhat, resulting in larger fruit with better color. Normally, 1/2 of the smallest branches are removed (thinned) back to their origin. Whenever two branches grow into each other or cross, one should be removed.
All of the branches which grow toward the center of the tree should be removed. The center of the tree should have few small branches except spurs. Spurs are the short, twiggy branches where flowers and fruit are produced on apple, pear, apricot, plum and cherry trees. This allows more light for the ripening fruit on the lower branches. The outward or horizontal branches should be favored over the upright, vertical branches because they will bear fruit sooner and more abundantly. Branches which bend downward are usually removed (thinned) or shortened (headed). This allows light into the inner parts of the tree.
Many times a number of new, vigorous vertical branches (called suckers or water sprouts) grow from the trunk or main branches after winter or spring pruning. These are best removed by breaking them off while they are still small and flexible about the end of May or June. Extra vigorous side and top branches can also be shortened at the same time.