Our guide takes the confusion out of pruning apple trees by showing you when and how to prune apples of all types. Get tips on pruning newly planted young and mature trees. Renewal or remedial pruning for old or overgrown trees.
It is true that most apple trees will continue to bear without yearly pruning, but the tree's canopy will become too dense. Excess branches clogging the center of the tree will impede the movement of light and air through the crown.
Some of these branches will begin to cross one another and rub, causing disease-and-insect-attracting wounds.
The crop will be borne at a greater height with each passing season of neglect.
Pruning apple trees each year will keep them more compact and attractive, open them to light and air, and keep them producing closer to the ground where the fruit will be easier to harvest.
Apple tree blossoms form on crooked spurs near the branch tips.
It is best to prune the trees early in spring, while they are still dormant and before the buds begin to swell.
Apple trees fruit on spurs which form near the tips of their branches. More productive spur-type apples form these short, thin, fruit-bearing stems all along the length of each branch.
As you prune apple trees, be careful of damaging the spurs of branches you are not removing as doing so will reduce the size of future crops.
Apple trees may also be pruned in late fall or winter except in zones where temps fall below -25 degrees F.
Apple Tree Spurs
Standard or full-sized apple trees are most often trained into a vase shape. Semi-dwarf and dwarf apple trees can also be pruned to form a vase or to a modified central leader.
This method opens the crown to light and air and causes the tree to grow lower and wider than it otherwise would.
Semi-dwarf and dwarf apples pruned to this shape will be stronger and bear sooner than those pruned to an open head. Before you decide to use this pruning method, you should know that dwarf apple trees trained this way will be taller at maturity than would the same tree if pruned to an open-head.
Espalier is the art of training a plant to grow flat against a support--usually a wall or fence. Espaliering both saves space and enhances the beauty of the garden. Espaliering apple trees can make fruit production possible in a very narrow space.
An overgrown apple tree in need of remedial pruning.
Only one major branch (the one growing into the center of the crown) needs to come off this old apple tree.
The white line shows you where to make the cut.
If the tree is very overgrown, do not try to correct this in one season. Decide how much wood needs to be removed and then remove a third of this each spring for three years.
Pruning an apple tree too drastically in one season will provoke the growth of too many water sprouts (stems that grow straight up from the branches).
Heavy pruning can also cause a tree to push top growth at the expense of flowering.
Remedial Pruning Apple Trees: