Major Differences Between Training And Pruning Trees

In this article, I’ll be talking about the difference between training and pruning.

A lot of people get confused between the terms “pruning” and “training”. While they are similar, they are not the same as there are slight differences between them.

If you’re confused about what each means specifically or about their differences, then keep reading.


Both tree training and pruning are important aspects of the healthy and proper growth of trees, especially in domestic and commercial gardening.

Both are vital for an increase in fruit production, as well as the overall quality and health of the tree. These practices also help strengthen tree limbs and keep them from being overgrown.

To properly understand their differences, we have to first know what each term specifically means.

What Is Pruning?

Tree pruning simply means the trimming, removal, or reduction of unwanted or unnecessary parts (mature or young). Such parts include dead or decayed branches, unwanted suckers, and sprouts.

What Is Training?

Training is the pruning of a plant when it is still young. This involves cutting off selected branches before the plant reaches its flowering stage.

Major Difference Between Pruning And Training

Below, I will list out some of the major differences between pruning and training.


  • Pruning is done after the tree has produced flowers or fruits
  • With pruning, any of the following parts of the plant may be trimmed or cut off – root, shoot, branches, and leaves
  • Not all pruning is training
  • Pruning is done to encourage fruit production and increase the quality of the fruit
  • Pruning controls the function and appearance of the tree


  • Training is done when the tree is still in its young age
  • All training is pruning
  • In training, only selected leaves and branches are removed
  • Training controls the direction of the growth of the plant

Training Trees

Trees have been growing all by themselves (without human interference) for millions of years, however, training a juvenile tree can help ensure that they grow up in the healthiest possible manner and take the shape you desire.

Most domestic trees are bought after they have already been trained, although you might have to do a little bit of training yourself after you have purchased them. That is if you want them to take on a different shape or form other than how they were bought.

You can buy trees at various stages of their growth.

During the first year of a tree’s life, they are made up of upright stems that don’t have lateral growth. These stems are known as “maiden whips” or simply “whips”.

As soon as some lateral stems start to grow out the tree’s upright stems, then the tree is known to be “feathered”. Trees usually reach their feathering stage in the second year of growth.

Training A Single Stemmed Tree

First Year Of Training

During the first year of the young tree’s growth, you should allow it to grow naturally. Do not remove any of its leaves or shoots, except they are dead or infested.

During the winter season, choose a firm upright stem as the tree’s central leader then stake it to a cane. The cane has to be taller than the tree so you can keep using it as the tree increases in height.

Be sure not to damage the roots as you insert the cane. You can insert the cane before you plant the tree or carefully move the soil aside and insert without impacting the roots (that is if the tree is already in the ground).

The next step is to tie the stem to it by wrapping the twine around in such a way that the stem won’t rub against the body of the cane.

The ties have to be loose enough so the stem can still be free to move about. If you notice that the central leader isn’t growing the way you want, then you can trim it back to a strong bud. Doing this will lead to vigorous growth, which can now be trained as the central leader in the coming year.

In a case where the leader already shows strong lateral growth, you can trim it back to prevent it from dominating the central leader.

Second Year Of Training

During the second year, you should continue to cut back and diseased or dead branches you find on the tree. You should also prune any stems that grow vigorously which compete with the young tree’s central leader.

By doing this, you will have just one single dominating stem, which will later grow to become a strong tree trunk.

At this stage, you should keep on tying the central leader into the cane. Do this at 15 to 30 cm intervals.

If the leader is lost due to some damage, you can prune it back to the first available lateral shoot that is growing upright. You can also prune it back to a healthy bud if there are no lateral growths available, then train it so it can substitute the first leader.

In a case where the shoots and buds grow opposite themselves, you can cut off the buds or shoots growing opposite the one you have selected as the new leader.

After The Second Year

After the second year, you should be able to make up your mind on the shape you want the tree to take. When your mind is made up, you can train the tree according to your desired growth pattern.

Below are some popular patterns –

Feathered Trees

This is the most basic form to achieve when training your trees. This is so because you are letting the tree grow naturally, without too much human interference in its growth pattern.

You should concentrate your training on maintaining the upright form of the central leader, which will ensure the tree’s shape will remain balanced.

Pruning at this stage should target dead, broken, and decayed limbs. It should also aim at removing any crossing or choked-up growth which may be weak. If you notice some stems are competing against each other, you should also prune them off.

Keep the tree staked until it has become well established.

You must be sure that there are no obstacles in the surroundings that will keep a section of the tree from growing. Such obstacles include shade from a bigger tree or some construction that would hinder growth.

If every part of the tree does not grow evenly, then you will have a deformed-looking tree when it starts to mature. Correction of deformed growth is much harder than removing the causes of lop-sidedness in the first place.

Standard Trees

A standard tree form is one with a clearly defined trunk and a crown of branches that still possess a firm central leader. A standard tree could also take a weeping form.

The trunk of the tree must be cleared of lateral growth and must be done consistently for 4 years.

During the first year, be sure to cut off all the lateral growth from the bottom third of the tree trunk, then shorten the lateral growth from the middle third of the trunk by 50%.

Repeat the process in the second and third year, only that the lateral growth in the middle third must be cut back by two-thirds rather than half.

When the tree is in its fourth year, you can completely cut off all the lateral growth up to the required length of the tree trunk.

In the coming years, you can cut off any growth along the cleared area of the trunk as soon as they grow out.

You can do some extra training, but that would depend on the type of standard you wish to achieve.

Central Leader Standard Trees

As you prune the upper third of the tree, concentrate on maintaining the uprightness of the central leader, so it keeps growing vertically through the tree crown.

Minimize the pruning of lateral growth from the leader. Cut off all branches that are competing with the leader.

In a case where you lose the leader due to damage, then select a strong stem to replace it. If need be, then you can fix a tall cane to the tree’s stake so the new leader will maintain a vertical growth pattern.

Branched-Head Standard Trees

This is similar to the natural process of the central leader slowly becoming less dominant up to the point where there is a single framework of branches, absent a leader.  This process is common with oak trees.

You can prune to hasten the process or make a branched-head shape where the tree will not do this naturally.

To achieve a branched-head tree, the central leader stem must be pruned back to a point just above the uppermost part of about 4 strong lateral branches around the third year of the tree’s growth.

If you notice any vigorous lateral growth in an upward direction, then they should also be cut off so it would be prevented from becoming the new leader.

In the coming years, keep on cutting off any upright growth that threatens to become the new leader. Also, cut back any lateral growth as required to maintain a uniform shaped tree and achieve an open centered crown.


Remember, pruning is done to promote the growth of new, strong branches and to improve fruit production. It can also be done to create a shape for the tree.

All forms of training require pruning, but not all pruning is training.

I trust this article on the difference between training and pruning has been helpful.

Good luck!

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