Step-over Fruit Trees

A step-over is a trained tree with a single tier, no taller than 50cm from the ground, creating a T shape. The name derives from the fact that you can “step over” the low branches. They are ideal for planting along the edge of a path or lawn, or for creating sections in a vegetable garden.

Though smaller than most trees and therefore having less yield, this is made up for in the taste. The fruit is usually better exposed to sunlight which contributes to better flavours.

As with cordon trained trees, step-overs are best suited to spur-fruiting cultivars, but on very dwarf rootstocks. Though M9 and M26 are suitable for conventional apple cordons they are too vigorous for step-overs, so M27 is preferred.

Only apples and pears are used for step-over training as cherries, plums and other stone fruit aren’t suitable.

Step-over in Orchard

How to train a step-over fruit tree

Prepare a single tier support consisting of robust posts spaced 1.5-2m apart. Fix tightly stretched wire to the posts, approximately 45cm from the ground.

Start with a 1 year maiden tree, tie the main stem to the support post. Cut back hard the first spring (early March is ideal) to a height where there is only one bud showing above the wire. This will encourage side shoots to form.

In late June to early July tie two side shoots at 45 degrees to the main stem, tie these down further in August so that they become fully horizontal. Any other shoots can be removed after tying down. Use soft twine to tie the shoots so as not to damage the young growth.

Any emerging vertical shoots arising from the horizontal shoots can be pruned back hard to one or two leaves. This will allow fruiting spurs to develop over time. These will mostly appear in the second year onwards.


When the arms reach around 60cm, prune to a strong upward facing bud and shorten the side shoots. This will then just need formative pruning each summer. If a leader tries to develop just prune out.

If there is a bumper crop, thin out the fruit to ensure the remaining fruit has enough space to develop properly and produce a good quality flavour. Where there are two or more fruitlets pre truss these should be removed.

General tips

True step-overs are grown on the very dwarf rootstock M27. This rootstock is ideal for single tier step-overs as it reduces the amount of summer pruning necessary and also influences the amount of fruit bud that develops for the following spring after summer pruning.

It is possible to establish a ‘corner’ step-over by training the two shoots at right angles after pruning back the 1 year maiden tree.


Frank P Matthews step-over trees

We grow our step-overs on dwarf rootstocks: M27 (Apples), Quince Eline® (Pears).


(Apples and Pears only). Horizontal supported cane framework and a single tier at 0.45m x 0.50m high x 0.9m wide.

You can purchase direct from our Tree Shop in Worcestershire by clicking here or find your local stockist.

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