Fruit trees can provide an attractive and useful element to your landscape, but you may be worried about managing their size and the amount of production. Opting for a semi-dwarf or dwarf variety of apple, pear, peach, plum, or cherry tree will partially help solve this dilemma, but you will also need to begin pruning the tree to manage the size. The following technique will allow you to enjoy your own fruit, even from the smallest of backyards.

Step 1: Begin with a heading cut

This is done at planting, which should be done at the end of winter with a dormant bareroot tree if you truly want to control the size of the plant. First, locate the grafting scar, which is the bump low on the tree that should be just above the ground after planting. Next, find a bud near knee level, or a little bit higher, on the tree. Verify that there are several additional buds between the grafting scar and the knee level bud, and choose a slightly higher bud if there aren't.

Finally, cut the top of the tree off at the chosen bud, using clean sheers. The cut should be just above the bud and not through the bud. Make it at a slight angle so water won't collect on top of the cut. This single cut will help control the height of the tree, and it will prevent the trunk from splitting.

Step #2: Space the lateral branches

In late spring, the first branches will begin to grow from your topped sapling. Make sure that all new branches at an angle between 90 and 45 degrees, otherwise you may need to remove the branch if the angle is too tight. Next, make sure the branches are well balanced. You don't want a bunch of branches clustered on one side with only a couple on the other side. Thin the excess branches so overall the tree is balanced.

Step #3: Pinch off multiple bud branches

After balancing the tree, examine each remaining branch bud and verify that only one branch is emerging from the bud. Sometimes, two or three branches may grow out from a single bud, which will result in poor form, weakened branches, and an overgrown tree. Pinch off the weaker branches just as they begin to merge, leaving only the strongest branch from each bud to grow.

Step #4: Prune again in midsummer

To control size, prune the tree in midsummer. Waiting until the traditional fall pruning just encourages the tree to put on a lot of new growth the following spring. By pruning in summer, the tree has time to heal and recover from the cuts by winter, so it isn't spurred into a frenzy of recovery growth in spring. Head back overly long branches to a healthy leaf bud to keep them from becoming too long. Maintain about four main branches spaced evenly around the trunk, and trim off any new branch buds that have formed.

For more information, contact Kansas City Tree Care, LLC or a similar company.