Avocado Tree Pruning Basics

  • Apr 22, 2013

When pruning avocado trees, remember this: always prune with a purpose and avoid under- or over-pruning the avocado trees. Also remember that what works for one tree may not work for another tree — pruning should be done on a case-by-case basis as no two avocado trees are the same.

Basic shaping of avocado trees should start in the nursery, while training should begin immediately following planting. This is especially important when training for the central-leader shape. Remember that avocado trees tend to be broad-spreading trees with only moderate apical dominance. Before pruning, picture what you want the avocado tree to look like now and in 2, 5, 10 and 15 years.

Hygiene is also very important when pruning avocado trees. Pruning tools should be cleaned regularly, and sick – or unhealthy – trees should be pruned separately from the healthy trees in order to prevent the spread of sunblotch and fungal – or bacterial – diseases like blackstreak. Dispose of infected prunings responsibly.

There are different pruning methods that can be used to manage avocado tree size and improve light interception

  • Selective limb removal
  • Mechanical pruning to a hedgerow
  • Stumping (stag-horning); remember to whitewash the trunks
  • Tree thinning; remove every second tree
  • Replacement of the entire tree block
  • Central leader

What to prune on an avocado tree

What —and how much — is removed, depends on the reason(s) for pruning. Pruning involves large branches, small branches and flowering branches.

General avocado pruning principles are:

  • Prune horizontal branches developing low to the ground, as these interfere with tree access
  • Push light into the tree interior, by cutting "windows" in the canopy
  • Trees grown on slopes should be pruned to a lower height than trees on flat land
  • Space the main limbs 3- to 4- feet apart, to allow access inside the tree
  • Rejuvenation can require cutting the tree back to the main trunk; however, don’t expect production in the second year
  • Eliminate 'v-type' crotches, as these are mechanically weak and prone to developing rots
  • Remove dead wood, as much as possible
  • Make major cuts clean, and in line, with the trunk contour
  • When renovating a grove, aim to remove large, interfering — and low-lying — laterals, badly crossed limbs and spilt crotches
  • Pruning needs to balance the side‐shoot growth and remove strong, upright water shoots, in order to achieve a good central-leader shape
  • A conical, or pyramidal, tree shape enables good light interception and minimizes unproductive bare areas
  • Constant attention to pruning detail, with small cuts at the correct time, minimizes need for additional major pruning cuts