pruning apple trees

Pruning – Apple Trees

Pruning is an essential step to maintain tree health, promote fruit production, and enhance aesthetic appeal. In this article, we will explore the stages of pruning apple trees, including planting, young trees, mature trees, and fruiting trees.

Planting & Formative Pruning

When planting an Apple Tree, it’s important to consider the tree’s future growth and shape. The first pruning should happen during planting to remove damaged or crossing branches. The main goal is to create a strong framework by shaping the tree to have a central leader with several evenly spaced lateral branches. The lateral branches should grow at a wide angle from the trunk, preventing narrow crotches that could split under the weight of fruit. Pruning should reduce the tree height to 1.5 meters and remove up to half of the tree’s top growth.

Young Apple Trees

In the early years, pruning should focus on developing a well-balanced structure. Training young trees will help to create a strong framework, which will support future fruit loads. Pruning should be done during the dormant season, preferably in late winter or early spring before bud break. During the second year, select four or five evenly spaced lateral branches and remove the rest. These lateral branches should have enough space between them to allow adequate light penetration and air circulation. In the third year, select four to six more branches and remove any sucker growth or shoots emerging below the graft union.


Mature apple trees require annual pruning to maintain their shape, control tree size, and promote fruit production. For mature trees, remove diseased, dead, or damaged branches during the dormant season. Branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other should also be removed to avoid damage to the bark. Pruning should also focus on removing any water sprouts, which are vigorous vertical shoots that grow from the tree’s trunk or branches. These water sprouts shade the fruiting wood, reducing fruit production, and weakening the tree’s structure. Prune water sprouts to two or three buds, leaving the strongest shoots.

Pruning for fruit production

Fruiting apple trees require specialized pruning techniques to improve fruit quality and quantity. During the dormant season, remove branches that are overbearing, weak, or not producing fruit. These branches shade the fruiting wood, reducing fruit size and quality. Thinning is an essential step to reduce the number of fruit clusters and improve fruit size and quality. This should be done after the natural fruit drop in late spring, leaving one fruit per cluster, spaced 10-15cm apart. Branch thinning will also reduce the weight load on the branches, preventing branch breakage.

Tree Selection For The Right Climate

Apple trees are widely cultivated throughout the world and can adapt to a range of climates. However, they prefer moderate climates with cool winters and warm summers. In areas with mild winters, these trees may not receive enough chilling hours, which is the number of hours the tree needs to be exposed to temperatures between 0°C and 7°C to break dormancy and resume growth in the spring. Insufficient chilling hours can lead to poor fruit production and irregular fruiting patterns.


Apple trees are susceptible to various pests and diseases, which can affect tree health and fruit quality. Common apple tree pests include aphids, mites, and codling moths. Aphids and mites feed on the tree’s foliage, reducing photosynthesis and weakening the tree’s structure. Codling moths are a major pest that can cause significant damage to fruit production.

To prevent pest infestations, it’s essential to maintain proper tree hygiene and monitor for signs of pest activity. Pruning can also help to reduce pest populations by removing infected branches and promoting air circulation.


Apple trees require cross-pollination to produce fruit, which means that pollen from one tree must be transferred to another tree’s flowers. Most trees are not self-fertile, which means that they need another apple tree of a different variety nearby for pollination. Bees are the primary pollinators and planting flowers that attract bees nearby can help to improve pollination rates.

Links for Further Reading:

  1. “Apple tree pruning: a beginner’s guide” by RHS:
  2. “Apple Tree Care: When And How To Prune Apple Trees” by Gardening Know How:
  3. “Apple Tree Problems: Common Pests & Diseases” by Garden Design:
Checklist for Pruning Apple Trees:
  1. Remove damaged or crossing branches during planting
  2. Develop a strong framework with a central leader and lateral branches
  3. Select four to six evenly spaced lateral branches Remove any sucker growth or shoots emerging below the graft union
  4. Remove diseased, dead, or damaged branches during the dormant season
  5. Remove water sprouts to two or three buds, leaving the strongest shoot
  6. Remove overbearing or weak branches in fruiting trees
  7. Thin fruit clusters to one fruit per cluster, spaced 10-15cm apart
  8. Prune to maintain the tree’s shape and size Avoid narrow crotches and branches that shade fruiting wood Interesting
Apple Tree Facts
  1. The crabapple is the only apple native to North America.
  2. The apple tree is a member of the rose family.
  3. Apples were brought to North America by European colonists
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