Best Guide to Pruning Apple Trees, Gardening Tips

Last Updated on April 8, 2024 by Real Men Sow

Pruning apple trees are best done in late winter or very early spring. The trees become dormant, which happens in the winter between November and February. When apple trees are dormant, their leaves fall and would be conserving their energy in the roots, trunk, and main branches. It’s best to complete pruning it before its growth starts in the spring, never do it in early winter for the cuts might welcome diseases that you’d want to avoid. 


Importance of Pruning Apple Trees 

  1. Establishing a basic structure of the tree is easy to maintain
  2. Removing any dead, diseased or damaged wood would keep the tree healthy.
  3. This will allow sunlight to access the ripening fruits.

The best fruits are the ones at the top of the tree since they’re at the part where it gets more sunlight. A pruned tree isn’t just a tidied up tree, its shape’s purpose is for optimum fruiting. There are three kinds of shaping of the tree: Central leader, Modified, Open center or Vase shape

Where to Start Pruning the Apple Tree? 

The Central Leader is created when you prune your tree to a conical shape. The Modified Central Leader is pruned to be more rounded. The Vase shape is pruned to have an open center. If your only goal for the tree is to get the greatest yield, it’s best you shape your apple tree to a conical shape, the central leader. 

Understand Your Apple Tree Buds Before Pruning

What’s the Difference between Growth and Flower buds?

Growth or wood buds are Smaller than flower buds, they grow tight into the branch or stem. They’re more pointed and slender. Whereas flower buds are Larger and plumper than growth buds. It’s easier to differentiate the two by November. They grow on spurs, the short and stubby branches, where fruit is produced.

How to Prune the Apple Tree Buds

Prune above the growth buds will help you control the growth of the tree, choose the bud that faces the direction of where you want new growth buds to go. If you choose to prune a growth bud that faces the interior of the tree, it will grow towards it. If you choose to prune a growth bud that faces away from the tree, it will grow outwards. 

Apple Tree Pruning Cuts

Thinning cuts

This type of pruning cut means you’ll remove the entire branch. You’ll cut them from their point of origin. Doing this opens the interior of the tree and this is the preferred type of pruning cut for apple tree pruning.

Heading cuts

This type of pruning cut is made along the length of a branch. This would encourage vigorous growth below the cut. This type of pruning cut is only necessary for young trees, as trees mature, doing this will no longer be necessary because they don’t need lots of new branches.

How to Prune an Apple Tree

It’s best to remove the Dead, Diseased, or Damaged branches as a start. Dead Branches are brittle and they snap easily. Diseased Branches are of a different color than the branches around it. Damaged Branches are branches that have crossed and rubbed against each other, they may also be the branches that were broken due to the weight of the apples from the previous harvest.

You should attend to these three because they may spread disease to the rest. Cut above the nearest bud on healthy wood. 

If the branch you’re removing is a large lateral branch, it’s best to make 3 cuts to avoid tearing the trunk. The first cut should be below the branch that is about 6 inches away from the trunk and only ⅓ of the branch’s thickness. The second cut should be made 3 inches from the first, you may cut it all the way, or the branch itself would snap off. The third cut should be removed all the way, but should leave 3cm – 4cm of it connected to the tree to help the tree grow over the wound.

Steps to Pruning Apple Trees

Heading cuts and outward-facing buds

The heading cut can be anywhere along the length of a branch, since its aim is to encourage growth. Do this cut above the growth bud and expect a new branch to grow towards the direction of the bud.

Heading cuts are only done when you’re still establishing a young tree. Once you’re done with the initial shaping of the tree, it should be avoided. 

Pruning suckers, whorls, and water sprouts

The suckers, whorls, and water sprouts are the branches that will never bear fruit and creates a dense leafy area, hindering the tree to be open. They should be pruned using a thinning cut. Identify them through their similarities, they are thin and whip-like branches . 

Remove downward growing and crossing branches

Downward growing and crossing branches are branches that interfere with the shape of the tree, meaning it’s obvious that they should be removed. Downward growing branches would be useless because they are shaded. Crossing branches may rub together and welcome diseases. 

Use a thinning cut to remove the branches completely.

Remove vertical branches to leave the central leader

Branches that are growing vertically away from the central leader should be cut off. This is because they would close off the top of the tree. They should be cut right back to the leader.

The interior wood that does not go with the flow of the shape should also be removed, but take note that you should not remove more than ⅓ of the tree’s branches. 

The upper branches should be pruned back, making them shorter than the branches below them. Using thinning cuts to take branches back to their origin will encourage bushy growth at the top of the tree, so make sure to use it.

Pruning Flower Buds

Flower buds grown from spurs can become crowded after years of growth. Getting your spurs crowded will give you a smaller fruit that may not ripen properly. The spur systems are to be pruned, leaving 4 or 5 flower buds. Doing this would give you a decent size of fruit. 

Real Men Sow
Real Men Sow

Hello, I’m Pete and I’m currently based in the west of Scotland, in a small place called Rosneath, where I’m exploring my garden adventures. I personally started gardening around 6 years ago and initially, I started out by growing my favorite fruits and berries, such as strawberries, Raspberries & Gooseberries. Since then I’ve added a lot of vegetables and working closely with my neighbor, it’s been a lot of fun.