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Pruning Apple Trees

Updated on March 22, 2012
Prune back as close to the other branch as possible
Prune back as close to the other branch as possible
You can see how the shoots go straight up
You can see how the shoots go straight up
A cluster of where shoots come out
A cluster of where shoots come out


With the warming weather and approaching spring season, the trees are coming out of their dormant season. With the winter waning and spring upon us, it is time to start thinking about tending to the yard. If you have any fruit trees, it is time to get them pruned. When pruning trees, there are some guidelines to follow for optimal results. This hub is specifically dedicated to pruning apple trees.


If you have apple trees that been kept up with, pruning will be easier. The first thing to remember is to make the trees manageable. While the trees will perform differently depending on their shape, there is not one perfect size and shape for the trees. Some people prefer a shorter, wider tree, while other people perform a thinner, taller one. The way you prune will control the shape and size of the tree. It is just crucial that the tree is manageable to you. If it is too tall for you, than you will not be able to reach the top with spray or pick the apples. You need to be comfortable with the size of your tree.


In order to best understand the pruning, let’s go over a few terms first to help add clarity to what is being talked about.


· Suckers – also called shoots or sprouts, these grow straight up and drain nutrients


· Stubs – broken or injured branches


· Crotch – where one branch meets another


· Whorls – where several branches originate at the same point


Sometimes it can be a daunting task to start off with pruning. You take one look at the trees, and you are simply overwhelmed. The best place to start is with the suckers. These are the shoots that are taking up energy that could go to produce fruit or help the tree grow. Often, they grow in clusters. These are easy to trim out because they are very obvious. For the most part, you want to trim out all the shoots, but sometimes, you will leave one or two that you hope to develop into a branch. You will likely need to prune again near the end of June because more shoots will develop.


Another relatively obvious thing to prune out are the stubs. It is crucial to eliminate broken branches from the tree. They are using up energy and not producing fruit. These branches can be the result of storm damage, old age, or just being broken from the weight of too much fruit. They should be cut back to the healthy branch.


Once those two simple tasks are taken care of, the actual pruning starts to take place. This is where you will have to be more decisive about what you want to cut out. You need to start off with a plan about how you want to open the tree up and make it look. Take a look for whorls. Where there are several branches, the tree will be weaker if they are all allowed to grow. Pick the best one, and cut the rest out. Also look for interior branches that do not get much sunlight because they are shaded. These inner branches will not produce many good apples due to the lack of light. Trim those branches out.


Branches that are growing downward are also no good. These downward growing branches generally produce few fruit buds. If they are near the bottom of the tree, they are simply growing towards the ground and get too low. If they are higher up in the tree, growing down will cause them to create more problems in the future. One problem they could create would be rubbing branches. When braches are touching and rubbing against one another, they are competing for space and light. The rub can also damage the bark and make the tree susceptible to disease. Choose the less productive of the rubbing branches, and cut it out.


If your tree has not been pruned for several years, it will take some time to get it back into form. You will not be able to prune it all away at once because this will shock the tree. Be sure to use appropriate clippers and pruning shears. Do not use a hedge trimmers or simply top the tree. Use a handsaw when cutting larger branches because a chainsaw can tear the tree up and cause damage. Make sure to always cut the branch back to a lateral (where another branch is coming out) instead of just cutting it off anywhere. There is no exact science to pruning, and it will take some time to learn the best ways for your trees. Obliviously, make the tree right for you.


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    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @molometer - Luckily, trees can be very forgiving; it just takes a little bit of time for them to recover. Proper pruning can lead to much more productive trees. I'm glad you found this useful.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Very interesting and useful.

      I almost ruined my fruit trees, in my last house, so I will be bookmarking this hub.

      I have just one apple tree now, so I better take care lol

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Ardie - For the best performance from the trees, you need to prune. Without any pruning for a long enough time, the trees could quit baring fruit. If you want to keep the critters away from the apples and have the best production you would have to start spraying the trees as well.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Allana - Thanks for reading.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Scott - If they have not been pruned for a while, make sure not to cut back too much because doing so will shock the tree. It will take a few years to get back to its best shape. I'm glad I could help.

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

      Oh goodness - I have several apple trees in my backyard (its a huge yard) and I love all of them! They draw in the wildlife and my kids enjoy picking the apples if we can get to them before the birds and critters. I didnt even know I was supposed to be pruning my poor trees! Thanks for writing this Hub :) Now I can take proper care of my trees.

    • Allana Calhoun profile image

      Allana Calhoun 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Well written and easy to follow instructions!

    • scottwkelley profile image

      scottwkelley 5 years ago from Petoskey, Michigan

      Thanks for the article. I live next to a preserve and there are many apple trees. We have two next to our property that have never been taken care of. I have always wanted to do something with them as the fruit feeds the animals. Over the years the trees have produced less and less and we see less deer, rabbits and partridge.

      After reading your article I think I feel brave enough to go prune these trees as it is the time of the year to do it as you stated. Also explaining where to start and that there is no perfect way I feel comfortable going at it.

      I know my efforts will have to do some good. I might not see great results this year but I am sure the years to come the animals will benefit.