Hickory Nut Tree Pruning: Tips On Pruning Hickory Trees

hickory pruning
Image by SLeaMiller

By Bonnie L. Grant

Pruning can be confusing for some gardeners. This is because there are separate rules for different plants, periods of the year and even zones. Pruning hickory trees is not really necessary for fruit production once the trees are mature, but it is an important part of training the plant as it grows. Trimming a hickory tree when young promotes sturdier limbs and a better habit for future flowering and production.

Trimming a Hickory Tree When Young

Learning how to prune hickory trees during their early years is a crucial step for healthy trees and greater nut yield. Other reasons for hickory nut tree pruning might be aesthetics and ease of maintenance. Removal of broken or diseased stems over the tree’s life can be done at any time but early training should occur when the tree is dormant. As with any tree pruning, sanitary practices and correct cut methods increase the benefits and reduce possible harm to the plant.


Bearing trees and shrubs need a little guidance when they are babies. Young trees need to have 1 or 2 good central leaders, which form a scaffold for the peripheral growth. Pruning hickory trees within their first or second year also allows the plant to develop good air circulation to reduce disease and pest issues.

Nut production is best where trees receive good sunlight to the interior, promoting more blooms and, therefore, more fruit. Once the leader is established, remove any V-shaped growth which can become weak, but retain any U-shaped peripheral growth. This will reduce chances of breakage that may invite disease and pest problems.

Mature Hickory Nut Tree Pruning

Trees started as seedlings may take 10 to 15 years to bear nuts. Those that you purchase as grafted plants can produce in as little as 4 to 5 years. During this period of growth before nut production, maintaining a strong, open canopy is key to future nut development.

Once trees are established and have a healthy form, the only real pruning necessary is to remove weak, diseased or damaged plant material. During the dormant period is the best time for such maintenance but you can remove damaged limbs at any time if they pose a hazard. Destroy diseased limbs but save any healthy wood for your fireplace or to cure for smoking.

How to Prune Hickory Trees Correctly

In addition to well-honed tools and clean surfaces, it is important to make cuts correctly. Never cut into the main stem when removing a limb. Cut just outside the branch collar, using a slight angle that will force moisture away from the newly cut surface. This helps prevent rot as the cut surface heals.

If you are not taking a branch all the way back to the central stem, cut it back to a node. Avoid leaving branch stubs, which take longer to form wound wood and can reduce the appearance of the tree.

Use the proper tool for different wood sizes. Loppers and pruners are generally only suited for removing wood that is ½ inch or less in diameter. Larger branches will require a saw. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch and then finish the cut on the upper surface of the wood to reduce the chance of tearing the wood.

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