Reviving An Old Fruit Tree: How To Rejuvenate Old Fruit Trees

Fruit Tree
old fruit tree
(Image credit: marvellousworld)

Sometimes a new-to-you house comes with a backyard full of old fruit trees planted by the former owners. If they were not properly pruned and maintained over the years, the trees could be overgrown and messy giants that don’t offer much fruit. Restoring old fruit trees is often possible with a lot of patience and a little know-how. Read on for tips on how to rejuvenate old fruit trees.

Rejuvenating Old Fruit Trees

Some fruit trees are easier than others to restore, so you’ll need to figure out what kind of trees you have before you decide on a course of action. If you aren’t sure what type of trees you have, take twig samples to your local extension office for identification. When you are thinking of reviving an old fruit tree, apple and pear trees are the easiest to work with. Fruit tree rejuvenation is also possible with cherry trees, but experts do not recommend trying to bring back neglected apricot and peach trees.

Reviving an Old Fruit Tree

Fruit tree rejuvenation is largely a matter of careful and selective pruning. Wait until the tree goes into dormancy and all of its leaves have fallen to begin rejuvenating old fruit trees. Restoring old fruit trees that are messy and unproductive is not a quick process. It will take at least three years of judicious pruning to get the job done right. If you try reviving an old fruit tree with one severe pruning, you are very likely to kill it.

How to Rejuvenate Old Fruit Trees

When you start reviving an old fruit tree, your first step is to prune out all dead and damaged branches. Since the tree is overgrown, you may need a ladder to reach the upper part of the crown. Clip off all suckers from the base of the tree as well. After that, turn your attention to the height of the tree and determine how much you want to remove. A tree over 20 feet (6 m.) tall can be pruned back by 6 feet (2 m.) or so the first year, but don’t just whack off the branches by half. Instead, when you are restoring old fruit trees, bring down the height by cutting the principal limbs back to strong side shoots. Let some sun into the top third of the trees by thinning out crossing and hanging branches. Start your second year pruning in the summer, when you should remove vigorous new shoots at the top of the tree. Leave lower shoots alone since the aim of fruit tree rejuvenation is to get the tree to produce new wood in the lower section. During the second year of winter, lower the tree’s height by another few feet (1 m.) if necessary. You can also shorten limbs to give the lowest branches better light. In the third summer, trim out about half of the most vigorous top shoots. That winter, continue to shorten outer branches. At the end of this period, your tree’s branches should be accessible for picking fruit.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.