We’ve had apple trees all my life! I remember helping my dad prune the apple trees every spring when I was growing up! Pruning apple trees is vital for their growth for a few reasons. It makes sure that the tree develops proper shape and form which is how you then get a lot of high-quality fruit earlier in the season and for a longer time period. Apple trees need to be pruned every year to help establish a healthy tree. One of the great things about apple trees is that once you do the basic maintenance you can train your tree to either have a regular shape or even to grow alongside a wall like a grapevine. Here are a few apple tree pruning tips to help you this year.
The primary goal of pruning your tree is to develop a strong framework that will support the tree’s fruit production. In order to do this you want to open up the tree canopy to allow in the maximum about of light. For most deciduous fruit trees, the flower buds for the current season’s crop were formed during the previous summer. Allowing in the light is an essential part of flower bud development which leads to the fruit setting and the overall flavor and quality of the apples. A mature tree that grows in full sun but has a very dense canopy may not allow enough light in to reach 12-18 inches inside the canopy. By opening the tree up it allows the sunlight to come in and air to flow freely.
Pruning is most often done during the winter, and is known as dormant pruning. Training a tree to grow in the shape that you want includes both summer training and pruning as well as dormant pruning. The goal of tree training is to direct tree growth and minimize cutting. The aim of pruning is to create an open goblet shape with a framework of about five main branches. If you prune too much though you will signal to the plant to grow more branches and green leafy growth rather than directing that energy to the fruit.
- Always use a sharp pair of loppers and a pruning saw that have been cleaned before use.
- Remove crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches.
- Keep the center of the tree open by removing larger branches. If several large branches need to be removed, spread this dormant pruning work over 2-3 winters as this very hard pruning encourages vigorous growth.
- Remove suckers which are the shoots that grow near the base of the trunk. Remove these shoots up to the base of the canopy and is the only part of the tree that can be pruned or removed even near the end of summer and beginning of fall.
- If any branches grow downward go ahead and remove them too as they cannot bear large and healthy fruit.
- Prune the remaining branches by cutting them back by half their length. This encourages the stems to thicken and develop flowers for the following season.
- Always make each pruning cut just above an outward facing bud to encourage a healthy shape and growth.
Do you have any apple tree pruning tips or tricks to add? We’d love to hear them!