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If you have apple trees, knowing how to prune apple trees correctly is critical to the health of your trees and the amount of harvest you’ll receive. Learn how to prune apple trees in winter or if your climate is more suited to summer pruning.
Pruning is necessary for many reasons, it helps to reduce disease by removing diseased or dead branches and opens up the canopy for air circulation and fruit ripening. When done properly, pruning keeps your tree healthy and vigorous, when done wrong, you can actually cause quite a bit of harm. But don’t fear, I’ll walk you through every step.
Prune apple trees when they’re dormant and you have at least 2 weeks of dry weather after making your pruning cut. Apple trees are pruned in later winter or early spring, before the tree begins bud break (when the leaf and fruit buds start to unfurl) in eastern areas of the United States.
However, the best time to prune apple trees in the Pacific Northwest is during the summer when the tree enters into a second dormant phase. You should never prune an apple tree in the fall.
Because your fresh pruning cuts leave the tree susceptible and open to disease, you don’t want to prune when it will be wet for 2 to 3 weeks after you prune. Note: ice and snow are considered dry in regards to fungus and bacteria spores. In wet parts of the country like the Pacific Northwest, the best time to prune an apple tree is in July. For more on fruit tree care read How to Care for Fruit Trees in Fall and Winter
For years I pruned in late winter and early spring as you’ll see in the video below, but learned from a nursery expert that was likely the reason I was beginning to see some signs of disease in my trees and have now switched to summer pruning only.
After selecting your pruning time based on climate, it’s important to have proper pruning tools.
Before pruning, always clean your shears, loppers, and saws with alcohol to avoid spreading any disease between trees and allow them to dry fully before use.
Folding Saw – Heavy Duty Pruning Handsaw for larger branches
Steel Pruning Shears for smaller branches and bushes
Long-handled loppers for medium branches or spots that are harder to get into
Often times I learn best by seeing so if you’re looking for how to prune apple trees video, I got ya covered below!
Start by removing dead or diseased and broken branches first. Next, remove any sucker shoots.
Remove branches that cross or are rubbing against one another.
Remove lower branches, especially any that are within 2 feet of the ground on dwarf or semi-dwarf trees and within 4 feet of the ground on standard apple trees.
Thin out branches at the top to allow light to penetrate the upper canopy to the middle and lower branches.
If scaffolding branches are too close together, pick the stronger of the two and remove the other.
Remove sucker shoots (they grow straight up and don’t produce fruit).
When a tree has been neglected and not pruned for several years, never remove more than 1/3 of the tree. Spread the pruning out over several years to get it fully pruned and back into shape.
It’s important to make the correct type of pruning cuts. Whenever you’re pruning your apple tree, make sure the cut is clean. Choosing the proper pruning tools and keeping them sharp will ensure this.
1. When removing a full branch, cut right at the collar close to the trunk.
To remove a full branch, go to where the branch meets the trunk. Cut straight up and down, right next to the collar, but not into it.
2. Pruning to a bud
When tipping a branch or cutting out a diseased portion but not the entire branch, you want to find an outward-facing bud to make your pruning cut. Cut at a 45-degree angle about 1/4 inch away from the bud.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.