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Pruning Apple Trees

Madhurjya Bhattacharyya Feb 12, 2019
All fruit trees need annual pruning, especially during the phase in which they are dormant. Apple trees, if not pruned early in their lives, may result in a plentiful harvest in one year and a bad harvest in the next.
An apple tree is one of the most common trees found in home gardens. It is necessary to prune the tree so that it has enough exposure to sunlight, besides promoting air circulation thereby encouraging the production of fruits.

When to Prune Apple Trees

The best time to prune apple trees is late winter because it helps stimulate regrowth, thereby making it grow more in the next season. You may opt to prune it in spring or summer, but doing so in these seasons may not give you a good harvest in the next.
Fall season should also be avoided as it induces the plant to grow new leaves and shoots, when in reality the tree should get ready for the season ahead. If new leaves and shoots grow, they may not have enough time to grow in the right manner, possibly damaging the tree.

Pruning Mature Apple Trees

Apple trees have a tendency to grow vigorously at the top and become too large. This is why it becomes necessary to cut down the spread and height of mature apple trees. Growth of this tree is enhanced by pruning, light cropping, and nitrogen fertilization.
While pruning old trees, you should make sure that you do not over invigorate it while trying to reduce its size, as this may lead to low quality produce.
Limb orientation is another important aspect of controlling the excessive growth of the tree. Instead of pruning upright limbs, they can be tied down or positioned horizontally to inhibit vegetative growth, thereby stimulating fruit production. If you are unable to re-orient a large limb, you may opt to remove it.
Positioning the limb stimulates growth, which is a good substitute to pruning. In case there are more limbs than necessary, they can be removed over a period of a couple of years to prevent the tree from going into a vegetative state. If you want a particular area of the tree to grow more, you can head cut the tree and remove old spurs and water sprouts.

Pruning Dwarf Apple Trees

Irrespective of the size of apple trees (be it large sized or dwarf varieties), they should be pruned every year. For pruning the dwarf variety, the method remains the same. You need to remove the central leader by around two to three feet so as to maintain its height. This needs to be repeated every year.

Pruning Neglected Apple Trees

Many times people purchase a property in which an apple tree already exists, and it has been there for several years. The tree has not been properly pruned, thereby making it look weak and bushy. The quality of fruit produced is also low. Such a tree needs corrective pruning. The aim is to try to open the inner branches of the tree to good sunshine.
For achieving this, the shoots which grow vigorously should be removed from the base. You should select about 4 lower scaffold branches which are equally spaced apart. Branches with poor scaffold should be removed first, and they should be cut off at the base.
At times, it is recommended to evenly space corrective pruning over a period of a couple of seasons. If you opt for severe pruning during winters, avoid fertilizing the tree in the next spring.

Pruning Overgrown Apple Trees

If an apple tree is overgrown, you need to consider its health first. You can tell a lot about a tree's health from its branches when it sheds all its leaves. It would need enough room, around a couple of feet between branches for new growth.
While cutting the branches, ensure that you cut it as close to the main branch as possible, so that no stubs are left behind. Remove any branches that are three feet above the ground. The first level of branches should be slightly more than 30 inches above the ground.
Any dying, diseased, dead, or downward growing twigs or branches should be removed. Never cut more than a third of the tree at a time. Thus, pruning an apple tree is not that difficult; but care must be taken to avoid cutting too much of the plant at once, as it may get injured and even die.