Apricots bloom on bare branches in early spring and have dainty, spade-shaped leaves.

How to Prune Long Vertical Branches on an Apricot Tree

by Brian Barth

Most parents would love to help their children pick fresh fruit from their own garden, but growing perfectly ripe fruit requires more work than just planting a tree. Apricots (Prunus persica) require constant vigilance to prevent disease and are best suited to dry regions in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 7. Regular pruning helps to encourage fruit production and also plays a role in maintaining the health of the tree. The way to prune long, vertical branches that appear on an apricot tree depends on where they are growing on the tree.

Dip the pruning equipment in rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach solution for several minutes, and allow to air dry before making any cuts. Sterilization of the cutting blades is an important practice for preventing the spread of disease. Repeat the procedure again before moving on to pruning a second apricot tree.

Remove any long vertical branches that sprout from the base of the trunk or from the roots. These are part of the rootstock and will not bear fruit, but divert energy away from the main trunk where fruit production occurs. Cut these sprouts flush with the trunk or to the ground if they are growing from the roots. This can be done at any time of year.

Cut back long vertical branches on young or newly planted apricots to promote lateral branching. This should be done only in winter, and about 30 to 40 percent of the length of the branch should be removed. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle just above a leaf bud. Several strong side branches should grow out from the buds just below the cut in spring.

Remove any long vertical sprouts that grow from the main branches near the center of a healthy, established apricot tree. Apricots grow best when pruned to an "open center" form. The bowl-shaped branch structure allows sunlight to reach the interior of the tree, which helps to ripen the fruit and promotes good airflow -- one of the critical factors in disease prevention. In this situation, cut the branches flush to the main branch where they originate. This type of pruning can be done at any time of year.

Preserve any vigorous vertical branches on apricots that are diseased or have branches that have been damaged in any way. In this case, the strong vertical growth from the center of the tree is the apricot’s attempt to establish a new, healthy branch structure. Pruning these stems back by about 25 percent of their length in winter will further stimulate healthy growth the following season. Make the cut at a 45-degree angle, and train the new side branches that emerge into an open center form over the following two or three years. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged wood at the same time.

Items you will need

  • Hand pruners
  • Bypass loppers
  • Ladder
  • Rubbing alcohol or bleach


  • Prune in dry, sunny weather so the cuts heal quickly. Damp conditions during and immediately after pruning foster the spread of disease.


  • Exercise caution when using a step ladder on uneven ground for pruning. Specialized orchard ladders are more stable and allow easier access to the interior of densely branched trees. Pole pruners may be used for trees in situations where pruning with a ladder is unsafe.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

  • Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images