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Growing Apples

Selecting Your Site & Cultivars | Planting | Pruning & Training | Diseases & Pests

Pruning and Training Apple Trees

Like most Fruit Trees Apple Trees need to be pruned to bear maximum fruit, or for some cultivars to bear eatable fruits at all. This is a tedious job but is part of growing fruit trees.

Many gardeners prefer the central leader system for pruning trees.

 In this system, the trunk or central leader supports three to five scaffold branches (fruiting branches connected to the trunk). Apple Tree Blosom

Your goal is to develop and maintain the scaffold branches at a minimum of 60 from the trunk, so that the tree is somewhat cone-shaped. This type of pruning allows light and air to reach every part of the tree, aiding in disease prevention and helping fruit to ripen.

Three basic tools suffice for most pruning jobs: shears, loppers, and a pruning saw. Keep them sharp for clean cuts; disinfect after pruning diseased material.

Begin Pruning Your Apple Trees at Planting Time

Remove any suckers from the base of your tree, any branches that are lower than 30 inches from the ground and any branches that compete with the leader. Next, select four to five of the remaining branches as your scaffold branches. Choose those that angle closest to 60 from the trunk. Scaffold branches should be spaced at least a vertical half-foot apart.

Prune out the rest of the branches. Trim scaffold branches so that the topmost branches are the shortest and the lowest branches have the widest spread.

After the initial pruning, your trees need annual touchups to:
  1. maintain the conical shape
  2. remove any dead, broken, or diseased branches
  3. remove any vertical "water spouts" (these branches are vigorous vertical branches, which compete with the central leader).
  4. remove any suckers from the roots or the lower trunk of the tree
  5. remove any downward growing branches
  6. new growth in the middle or upper part of the tree

Undertake Annual Pruning in Late Winter Before Your Trees Begin to Bud

If your trees have a tendency towards strong vertical growth, you need to train them to grow in a more horizontal mode. Training branches to grow at 60 from the trunk slows down production of new leaves, new branch growth, and encourages fruiting. In addition, branches grown at wide angles are stronger and therefore better able to support the weight of the fruit.

To train branches, use a spreader, wedged between the branch and trunk, forcing the branch to grow at a wider angle. Spreaders are readily available at garden centers, but if you only need one or two, a strong, notched stick also works well. Remember to remove spreaders at the end of each growing season.

Annual And Seasonal Pruning
Pruning, Pinching and Clipping Shrubs
Pruning Blackberry Bushes
Pruning Apple Trees
Pruning Grapes
Pruning Raspberries

Apple Tree Diseases & Pests →