Prune almond trees in late winter or early spring, when the tree is still dormant. During the tree’s first winter, select 3 to 4 primary branches. Prune off all the other branches. Once the tree is in its second winter, trim each primary branch to a “Y” shape, with one secondary branch splitting off from the primary branch. After you have selected your primary and secondary branches, perform minimal pruning. Remove dead and diseased branches, as well as suckers growing from the trunk, but do not do any other pruning.
Do Almond Trees Need Pruning?
Pruning a young almond tree will increase the harvest size of the tree later in life. Plus, removing crossing, broken, dead, and diseased branches will prevent your tree from developing deadly infections. Although almond trees do not require extensive pruning, they still benefit from pruning at all stages of life. Pruning is just as essential as making sure your almond tree gets the right amount of water.
5 Steps to Prune Almond Trees
Almond trees benefit from careful pruning early in life. Once you set your almond tree up for success with these steps, it will produce beautiful blossoms and delicious almonds for years to come.
Prune While the Tree is Dormant
The best time to prune almond trees is in late winter or early spring, just before the tree begins to produce leaves and flowers. Pruning while the tree is dormant allows the tree to pour its energy into healing from pruning cuts and developing its remaining branches. Never prune your almond tree while it still has leaves on its branches.
- Late winter through early spring is the best time to prune almonds.
- February and March are the ideal months for almond pruning.
- Do not prune an almond tree that has leaves, flowers, or nuts on the branches.
If you are new to pruning almonds, it’s a good idea to wait until the first buds begin forming on your almond tree’s branches in early spring. This makes it easy to tell living branches apart from dead ones. Dead or sick branches won’t have any buds. This will make later pruning steps easier.
Train Primary Branches on First-Year Trees
During the first dormant period after planting, you will need to perform the most important pruning of your almond tree’s life. Begin by selecting 3 to 4 main branches that stick out from the trunk in different directions. Then, remove all other branches by cutting them off flush with the trunk. Do not seal the cuts because pruning sealant is actually harmful to trees.
- Select 3–4 primary branches on your first-year almond tree.
- Choose branches that point in different directions.
- Remove all branches other than these primary branches.
When selecting your primary branches, it helps to picture the tree from a bird’s-eye-view. The branches should point out in different directions like spokes on a wheel. Selecting branches that grow in different directions allows each branch to get adequate sunlight. This will lead to a healthier tree. Never leave primary branches that cross over one another—this will cause problems long-term.
Cultivate Secondary Branches on Second-Year Trees
Once your almond tree has survived its second winter, it’s time to train secondary branches at the end of each primary branch. To do this, select one healthy twig about two-thirds of the way along the branch. Remove all the twigs except for the one you selected. This results in a “Y” shape for each branch, with the secondary branch splitting off from the primary branch. Unless they are diseased or dead, you will never remove any primary branches or secondary branches in future years.
- Select one strong secondary branch on each primary branch.
- Remove all other secondary branches on each primary branch.
- After pruning, each branch should have a “Y” shape.
It’s very helpful to mark branches before pruning, to prevent accidentally cutting off a branch you wish to keep. You can use colorful tags, bits of cloth from an old t-shirt, or any other bright indicator. Since almonds sprout many small twigs, keeping track of which ones you wish to keep can be tricky. Tagging important branches will make pruning faster and easier.
Remove Dead and Diseased Branches
Once you have trained your primary and secondary branches, pruning almonds becomes much simpler. Early in spring, when the tree has started to form buds, look for twigs and branches without buds. These are dead branches. Prune them off flush with their parent branch to prevent the dead wood from causing disease in the healthy tree.
- In early spring, inspect your tree for dead branches.
- Dead branches will not have buds, while living branches will begin budding in early spring.
- Prune off diseased branches.
- If two branches are rubbing against each other, remove the weaker branch.
Search for signs of disease and insect infestation on your almond tree. Places where branches rub against each other can develop sores that invite disease. So, carefully inspect any branches thicker than your finger that cross over one another. If there is evidence that the branches are rubbing, remove one of the branches.
Do not extensively prune an almond tree that is more than 2 years old. Although some growers use heading cuts to shorten almond tree branches annually, this can backfire. Overpruning almond trees often leads to sparse, vertical growth that causes the tree branches to crowd together. This prevents adequate sunlight from reaching the inner branches. As a consequence, the tree will be less healthy and produce fewer almonds.
- Do not perform large-scale pruning once you have trained primary and secondary branches.
- Shortening almond tree branches with heading cuts can cause weak, erratic growth.
- Cut off any suckers growing directly from the trunk or roots.
Focus your pruning on dead limbs. Additionally, watch out for “suckers” growing from the trunk or from the base of the tree. These suckers should be cut off flush with the trunk, since they will steal energy from the main branches. Besides these small chores, you’ll grow the healthiest almond tree with very little pruning.
How Do You Trim an Almond Tree?
The essential steps for pruning almonds are:
- Prune during late winter or early spring.
- For first-year trees, select 3 to 4 primary branches and remove the others.
- During the second year, trim each primary branch to a “Y” shape.
- After the second year, only remove dead or diseased branches.
- Do not shorten almond branches—it can reduce yields and weaken the tree.
Almond trees are great for beginning growers because they are easy to train and require very little upkeep after the first couple of years. If your mature almond tree is healthy and productive, it’s best to keep pruning to a minimum.