For fruit growers and especially those who enjoy a good apple, there are two lessons worth learning. These are, when to prune apple trees and how to prune apple trees. Once learned these tricks will ensure successful flowering, keep the trees in the correct shape and have less chance of contracting deceise.
Whether you have just bought some apple trees or have become heir to a few through moving to a new home you might well be asking the very same question. Especially so if you are new to fruit tree growing you may be wondering how and when to prune apple trees. The good news is, there is nothing to scientific or difficult to concern yourself about and knowing only a few basic rules will see you become an expert.
The overall theory of pruning apple trees is to first train the young tree to grow efficiently, and then to promote the best production of good quality fruit as the tree matures.
By training a young apple tree to grow in the correct fashion you enable the tree to develop a strong structure that will support heavy apple growth and have a tree shape that will be easy to manage in later years. A well-applied regimen of training and pruning your trees stimulates strong growth of only those branches you wish to keep as lasting parts of the mature tree.
Once the young apple tree has been trained for several years to form its shape, annual pruning then becomes the means of keeping the desired shape and encouraging the best fruit production.
Most pruning is done to encourage growth and the best time to prune apple trees is during late winter while trees are dormant. The wounds inflicted by pruning heal best then, plus flower buds are easy to spot. You can also prune your trees in late summer, but only if you wish to discourage growth.
So what is the secret to pruning apple trees? Simply put, the best apples will grow on branches that are between two to five years old. To keep a good supply of branches at this age, prune the older branches out each year, allowing younger branches to replace them. Follow the steps below.
Apple Tree Pruning Basics
Most apple trees grown by home gardeners are small-to-medium sized, and are best trained to the central-leader or pyramid system of pruning. The central-leader pruning method suits trees that have a dominant central trunk with lateral branches at regular intervals. In essence, it is a cone or pyramid shaped tree.
With the central leader pruning method, more sunlight is able to reach inside the tree. Basically, you prune the upper branches to stay shorter than the lower branches. Wide spacing between the upper and lower branches is key here, and a good rule of thumb is to keep the branches about three feet apart on a mature tree.
It is essential to make clean cuts, so always use good-quality, sharp pruning shears, and for bigger cuts use sharp lopping shears and saws. For those with more than one tree to perform a pruning schedule on adding a set of electric pruning shears might be a good idea.
The first thing to do is cut away all dead, broken, or diseased branches. Also cut out any wood that crosses over or crowds other branches.
Next, identify the central leader and prune other limbs that compete with it. Look the tree over and decide which branches you want to keep. Your goal is to keep more horizontal branches and less vertical branches.
Pruning Old Apple Trees
Remember with a mature tree, to choose two or three of the oldest larger branches on the tree for pruning. Take into account their position and whether a younger replacement branch is nearby. Often you’ll see this choice is easy to make.
Remove suckers from around the tree base, and spindly shoots and water sprouts from along the limbs. Make your pruning cuts nearly, but not completely, flush with the branch, leaving no stubs (these can become hosts to rot and disease.) If you do make a pruning cut that is completely flush with the limb or the trunk, the wound will not heal as quickly.
If your task is pruning apple trees that have been neglected over tiime, do not prune severely all at one time. Excessive pruning can be too much of a shock to the tree’s system, so spread the work over two or three years.
What’s the best teacher for pruning? Experience! Learn about how and when to prune apple trees by following good, basic fruit tree pruning instructions and you’re bound to become a seasoned pro. A few wrong cuts will be many times better than no pruning at all.