Small-diameter fruit tree stem sets up for easier pruning

Question: I planted some bare root fruit trees earlier this year, and unfortunately, several did not survive. This was my fault because I didn’t get them planted right away, and the roots may have dried out. I want to replace them with container nursery stock. The problem is, I want to prune the trees to knee height per your ladderless orchard recommendations. All the nursery stock trees have limbs well above this height. If purchased and planted now, can these trees be cut back to the lower height when planted and survive?

They can be pruned back provided the stems are not too large in diameter. Pick smaller container plants that are in good health. They will catch up or even surpass the size of larger container stock.

I would make sure that the stem or trunk is well under an inch in diameter so you can cut them back. This should produce several new stems about 8 to 10 inches below your cut.

Some fruit trees sucker better than others. Peach and nectarine, for instance, have a harder time sending new shoots up after they have been cut if the diameter is too large. You should not kill the tree if you do this provided the diameter is small.

Bob Morris is a professor emeritus in horticulture with the University of Nevada and can be reached at Visit his blog at

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