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I have a cherry fruit tree that I left alone for 5 years. It's growing "weird" now that I need to seriously pay attention and prune.

The first photo shows that the top two branches reaching up to like 10 feet high. They are both similar height and very thin on top.

enter image description here

The second photo shows some problematic spots.

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My questions:

  1. Should I prune this branch 1 entirely? It's a bit smaller than the main branch?

  2. The bottom 2 has several branches pointing at different angles. What are the rules to prune here? Should I prune the ones that are pointing up sharply and leave the horizontal ones alone?

  3. For all long branches like 3, should I cut off the tips / terminals a bit so they are shorter? Right now they are like 3-4 feet long and thin like pencil size.

UPDATE 1

Summary actions based on suggestions below:

  1. Prune smaller competing leader to the collar

  2. Prune sucker

  3. Prune dead branch

enter image description here

  • I'd make a guess that it's feeling a little light-starved with those big trees around, which is partly why it's long and thin. Of course, if being across the fence, they are not yours, not much you can do about them. – Ecnerwal Feb 5 '17 at 18:10
  • Yes I live in Pacific Northwest (Seattle) so it's very little sun here and there are many tall pine trees around. Sun is a huge issue. – HP. Feb 5 '17 at 19:06
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General pruning rule is to not cut more than 1/3 of healthy foliage bearing wood on an established tree or shrub. That crotch is too close to the ground, two feet? So one of your competing leaders has got to go. That'll take you up to about a third, so leave the rest of the low level mess (2 etc) for next year.

  • ...and any dead wood can go for free (does not count towards the 1/3 rule) though I don['t see any obvious dead wood here. Please review some of the other pruning questions regarding where to cut that crotch so it will heal quickly - you do want to leave the "collar" you do not want to leave a "stub" (so not too short nor too long.) The lowest thing in the "2" circle might be a sucker (growth from below the graft) and should come off right away as well. – Ecnerwal Feb 5 '17 at 18:05
  • @Ecnerwal Branch 2 does look like it may go all the way to ground level, doesn't it. I didn't notice that. – Wayfaring Stranger Feb 5 '17 at 18:30
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    Got it. I just updated the question based on your suggestion. Basically (1) Prune smaller competing leader to the collar, (2) Prune sucker, (3) Prune dead branch. Is that correct? – HP. Feb 5 '17 at 19:46
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    @HP. You might want to read this swansonsnursery.com/cherry-tree-care before pruning at this time of year – Bamboo Feb 6 '17 at 1:07
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Contrary to most garden trees, cherry trees growth very well (often too much well), as you can see also from your tree.

Depending on what do you want, you have several variants:

It seems that the plant was already cut to form branches: 1, and the other two who starts just below of branch "1", So I would cut also the main branch.

Then I will cut the three branches (and sub-branches) at the height similar to the tag "1" and "3". Better if branch "1" is cur lower then other, so that other could catch up "1". Cut also the bottom branches.

So you will have a trunk, three parallel branches and it seems also some sub-branches (as it seems already done in "1").

If you want to go differently, you can keep only the main branch and cut all other, and cut the main branch at 1.5m to 2m (or more in height, but than you need a higher ladder to catch cherries).

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