Last week we spoke about choosing a fruit tree, but what about caring for your new addition?

Young apple and pear trees to be trained as free standing bushes or half/full standards benefit from formative pruning during their winter dormancy, from November to late March, to encourage a strong framework and the growth of productive fruiting wood in subsequent years.

Restricted forms of fruit such as cordons and espaliers are usually pruned in summer while stone fruit such as cherries, peaches and plums are lightly pruned in early spring or mid summer to avoid infection by silver leaf disease.

When you purchase a very young apple or pear tree from the nursery chances are it will be a feathered or unfeathered maiden.

The term “maiden” simply refers to the fact that the tree is only one year old. A feathered maiden refers to a tree that has developed side shoots off the main stem while an unfeathered maiden is essentially a single stem (or “whip”).

Although, the former tends to be a little more expensive than the latter, you’ll be a year ahead in terms of formative pruning so it’s often a good investment.

The first year of pruning feathered maidens involves cutting back the main stem (with a pair of sharp secateurs) to a strong shoot that is about 2.5-3 feet from ground level, leaving three to four well spaced shoots below.

Remove any other branches below this quota and shorten the remaining branches by a half to two thirds, cutting above an outward facing bud with a sloping cut away from the bud itself.

The pruning of unfeathered maidens in their first year is similar to above but instead of cutting back to a strong shoot 2.5 feet above ground level you are cutting back to a bud, with the same three to four healthy buds below.

As I said previously, unfeathered maidens are a year behind feathered maidens and require an additional step in their second year before you can treat them the same as feathered maidens.

So, in their second year, select the best three to five shoots to form your main framework and prune out the remainder.

Shorten these shoots by a half, making a sloping cut above an outward facing bud to encourage a nice open, goblet shaped form.

The following year (second year of pruning for feathered maidens and third for unfeathered) you are focusing on creating a permanent framework of eight to 10 branches and to do this you will need to shorten the previous year’s growth on the main branches by a third.

Remove any strong upright shoots at the top of the tree that have developed as a result of last year’s pruning, but don’t touch the side shoots coming from the main stem unless they are crossing, crowded or growing into the centre of the tree.

In subsequent years, you can prune the young trees as you would for established specimens. If the tree produces any fruit in the first or second year it’s best to remove them as you find them.

The framework won’t yet be strong enough to support the development of even a small crop, and allowing it to do so could damage the tree.

Like many things horticultural, patience and persistence is key.

But it’s really satisfying to harvest fruit from a tree that you have pruned and nurtured yourself from what looked like little more than a stick in the early days.