How to Prune an Apple Tree - Backyard Boss
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How to Prune an Apple Tree

Growing your own fruit is an exciting and rewarding experience, but it does require work and dedication. And if you want to earn and enjoy the fruits of your labor, proper pruning and care is essential. Like many other fruit trees and bushes, apple trees require pruning in order to remain healthy, continue growing, and produce good fruit.

While pruning is an important task, it doesn’t have to be arduous. Fortunately, this guide is here to fill you in on the most important steps for how to prune your tree. Here are a few of the best tips and tricks so you’ll be fully prepared when it comes to the best time to prune and the tools you’ll need!

When to Prune an Apple Tree

a blooming apple trees in spring
Image Credit: schab via Shutterstock

Before you begin pruning an apple tree, it’s important to determine when you should get the job done. Fortunately, the rule is pretty simple: pruning should be done in the early spring or at least two weeks after the last frost. If necessary, you can also prune in the early summer.

It’s important to avoid pruning in the fall since it stimulates new growth. If you prune in the fall, all new growth will break off and die from the cold of winter. After the growing season, your tree will be larger and have stronger branching than an un-pruned tree.

Tools You’ll Need to Prune an Apple Tree

Apple pruning. Pruning apple trees New Zealand. Winter pruning. Cutting branches on apple trees.
Image credit: ondrejsustik via Shuttersttock

While pruning an apple tree doesn’t require many tools, it does require specific tools. Below, you’ll find the breakdown of the different equipment you’ll need and what they will be used for.

  • Gardening gloves: hand protection
  • Safety goggles: eye protection
  • Ladder: reaching higher areas
  • Proper clothing such as long-sleeves, full-length pants, and close-toed shoes
  • Loppers: cutting larger branches around 1″ thick
  • Handheld saw: removing branches wider than 3″
  • Hand pruning shears: cutting small twigs and branches
  • Rubbing alcohol or peroxide for cleaning tools

How to Prune an Apple Tree

Step 1: Shape the Apple Tree

Apple tree full of ripe red apples and with bench below on a slope in autumn
Image credit: Robert Schneider via Shutterstock

Now that you’ve determined when the tree should be pruned and gathered all the essential tools, it’s time to start the job. This means you need to determine a shape and see just how much the tree needs to be pruned. Apple trees usually thrive with plenty of space between each branch, so it’s important to remove overcrowding.

It’s a good idea to layout how you will shape your apple tree by pruning. You should always do your best remove overcrowding and aim to allow the most sunlight to glimpse through the branches. Sunlight is crucial so your apple tree can produce the best quality of fruit. This shape should somewhat resemble a pyramid, with shorter branches at the top and larger branches at the bottom. The branch at the very top of the tree, known as the lead branch, should come directly from the trunk, while other lateral branches should spread horizontally from there.

Step 2: Remove Branches

Pruning shears removing branches
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Most pruning will be done with your hand shears, though loppers and saws will be beneficial for removing larger branches. V-shaped branches should always be removed since they are likely to split in the future.

When you are pruning, it’s important to make sharp, clean, slanted cuts about 1/4 inch away from the next outward bud. By cutting around a bud that is facing outward, the tree will continue to grow away from the center of the tree which is crucial for allowing the branches to get as much light and air as they need.

It is also crucial to remove any unnecessary scaffold branches. Scaffold branches are connected to the lead branch and there should only be two to six per tree. Determine which branches should be removed based on their angles: good scaffold branches will have a 45-50 degree angle. If the angle is any smaller, they will not be able to support the weight of the fruit and will break off.

After that, it’s time to remove the suckers, which are the unnecessary branches that grow near the base of the tree originating from the root. You should also cut off any dead or damaged branches, as well as downwards facing branches. Finally, prune the remaining branches by about 1/3 of their original length to promote healthy growth.

Tips for Pruning an Apple Tree

Gardener cutting a hedge with a garden pruner, close up. Single pruner. Female hands with pruner cut Apple tree, close up. Garden care, landscape design.Gardener Trimming Plants.Pruning fruit trees.
Image credit: Nastya Sokolova via Shutterstock

Before you go, there are a few tips and tricks, as well as some reminders, that are important to remember before you start pruning your tree.

  • Pruning should be done during the dormancy state, not when leaves or fruit are developing
  • Straight upward (except the lead branch) and downward facing branches should be removed
  • Remove any weak, damaged, dead, or diseased branches
  • Thin the tree by removing weaker branches and the weaker side of forked branches
  • Create a cone or pyramid shape for optimal lighting
  • Clean pruning tools between cuts with rubbing alcohol or peroxide

Get to Pruning!

Pruning is in the best interest of your tree and the fruit production. Plus, it will keep your yard looking neat and tidy rather than wild and unruly. It usually only needs to be done once a season and is a great way to get the most out of your tree and help it become stronger for the next growing season.

Now that you know all the best tips and tricks for pruning your apple tree, you’re all set for the coming season. If you have any methods for pruning or picking your apples, let us know in the comments!

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