A step-by-step guide for how to prune apple trees

It is not difficult to learn how to prune apple trees. Start by taking a look at your tree from a distance. Is it a pleasing shape? Does it have balance? Is it too tall? You can keep in mind the shape you want the tree as you prune.

Before starting, it is a good idea to understand the difference between a heading cut and a thinning cut. A heading cut is usually only done on a young tree to encourage branching. It is a cut above some dormant buds. The purpose is to get those buds to decide to develop into a branch. After a tree has developed its basic scaffold structure, most all pruning cuts are going to be thinning cuts. This is where a branch is cut all the way back to the branch it is attached to. Think about the terminal buds out at the end of branches. That bud is sending out a signal for the other buds to stay asleep. When you cut off the terminal bud, the other buds then wake up and grow. Most established trees need to be thinned without causing more buds to grow and branch. Therefore, think about leaving terminal buds. When you cut back a branch, go all the way to the branch it is attached to.

Recognizing fruiting buds versus branching buds is another important aspect to how to prune apple trees. The fruiting bud is usually rounder, and often is on its own little stalk. This is where the flowers will develop and then produce apples. When you cut off a branch with fruiting buds, you will be removing the fruit that the branch would be producing. That is not all bad. Thinning fruit is a very laborious project. When you thin your apple tree, you are thinning the potential fruit also. That way the tree can put more of its resources into the remaining fruit, and it will save you some time when it comes to thinning.

1. Limbs that are crossing each other should be thinned. Choose what branch will give the best appearance and remove the other crossing branch. This will help the health of the tree as well as giving it a more appealing look. Limbs that cross each other can weaken as they rub against each other. They are also more likely to transmit diseases from one to the other. And lastly, they crowd the tree cause it to have less air flow.

2. Branches growing toward the center of the tree should be pruned out. This, too helps the air flow. Branches growing inward are also more likely to become crossed.

3. Then work on cutting some of those little suckers that are growing straight up. Leave some so that there will be a terminal bud signal to reduce the growth of more suckers.

4. Now you should have a better idea of the tree's structure and shape. If the tree is too tall, it is time to consider some heavy cuts to the tall limbs. It is important to know how to prune apple trees with large limbs or too much height. I like to do this a little at a time. I have seen apple trees cut back to just the trunk and main limbs. It makes me cringe. Those trees will grow many little sprouts in the first year after being cut back. Then you have to thin out the branches in following years. In my opinion it is not healthy for the tree to be cut back that far. If it takes a couple of seasons to get your tree to a height you like, so be it. With the gradual approach and regular fruit thinning, you should be able to have a decent crop of apples every year. Return to home page from how to prune apple trees