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How to Prune Apple Trees: A Step-by-Step Guide

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How to Prune Apple Trees: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you’re a fan of apples and want to enjoy the juiciest, most delicious fruits from your own apple tree, then you’re in the right place. Pruning apple trees is a vital part of caring for these trees and we’re here to guide you through it. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey into the world of apple tree pruning. Let’s explore:

  • why you should do it
  • the best times to prune
  • the tools you’ll need
  • how to prune apple trees step-by-step
  • and how to care for your tree afterward.

Why to Prune Apple Trees

So, you’ve got an apple tree in your yard, and it’s flourishing with branches full of leaves and fruits. Why in the world should you start cutting them? Well, there are some very good reasons for it.

First of all, pruning isn’t just about making your tree look neat and tidy (though that’s a nice perk). It’s primarily about ensuring your tree’s health and maximizing fruit production. By snipping away the right branches, you allow more sunlight and air to reach the core of the tree. This makes it happier and healthier, and when the tree is content, it produces more fruits for you to enjoy.

Pruning also helps in the battle against disease. Removing dead or diseased branches prevents these issues from spreading throughout the tree, and it can save your entire orchard from disaster.

You should not prune a tree for the first three years after planting, as this is the time it takes for the tree to establish itself. Don’t expect any fruits up until the fourth year, but proper pruning will make a huge difference going forward.

When to Prune Apple Trees

Even though you won’t truly harm your apple tree by pruning any other time of the year (they are pretty tough ones), we prefer doing most of our pruning during the dormant season, usually in late winter or very early spring. At this time, your tree is taking a rest, so it’s less stressful for it. Remember, a happy tree is a productive tree.

But, there are exceptions. Sometimes, you might need to prune in the summer, too. For instance, if your tree is getting a little too wild and woolly, some summer pruning can keep it in line, or if you see signs of disease.

The Tools You Need

Now that you know why and when you should prune, let’s talk about what tools you’ll need for the job. No need for a fancy, high-tech arsenal. A few basic tools will do the trick:

  1. Pruning Shears: These are like your apple tree’s best friend. You’ll use them for small branches and fine-tuning.
  2. Loppers: For the slightly thicker branches (0,5 – 1,5 inches in diameter) that your pruning shears can’t handle.
  3. Saws: When it comes to the big boys, saws are your go-to. A pruning saw or bow saw works wonders on branches thicker than 2 inches in diameter.
  4. Safety Gear: Gloves, eye protection, and maybe a safety goggle if you’re feeling particularly cautious. Remember, safety first!
How to Prune Apple Trees: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Prune Apple Trees Step-by-Step

All right, it’s time to get our hands dirty, but not before we know what we’re doing. Follow these steps for a successful pruning session:

  1. Aiming for the Pyramidal Shape: For that perfect apple tree, aim for a pyramidal shape. The top branches should be shorter, letting sunlight reach the lower ones. Keep it classy with a central leader growing straight up.
  2. Getting rid of Dead, Diseased, and Damaged branches: Cut dead branches that break easily, diseased ones with funky colors, and damaged ones, like those that couldn’t handle the apple weight. Trim them back to the nearest healthy bud.
  3. Choosing the Healthiest Central Leading Branch: Your tree’s central leader should be the focus point. If there are multiple leader branches, pick the healthiest one and prune the rest. Keep it strong, one leader to rule them all.
  4. Managing Scaffold Branches: Scaffold branches are the main structural limbs of your tree. Keep them strong and healthy. Create 2-6 scaffold branches, evenly spaced around the central lead branch. The right angle (45-50 degrees) keeps them strong and fruit-bearing.

    Also, prune branches drooping down (they can’t hold the apple weight) and the ones growing inwards (so they don’t rub each other the wrong way).
  1. Dealing with Suckers: These are the pesky shoots that grow like crazy. Get rid of them to make space for the fruit-bearing branches.
  2. All-Around Trim: Cut all branches back by a third of their original length for a healthier tree. Remember to leave buds facing outward for that A+ shape.


You’re not off the hook just yet. Once you’ve pruned your apple tree like a pro, there are a few more things you should do:

  1. Proper Branch Disposal: Don’t just leave your pruned branches lying around. Properly dispose of them, whether through composting, chipping, or recycling.
  2. Fertilization and Mulching: After a good pruning, your tree could use a little boost. Apply some organic fertilizer and a layer of mulch to keep the soil happy.
  3. Disease and Pest Management: Pruning can uncover lurking pests and diseases. Deal with them swiftly to keep your tree in top shape.
  4. Ensuring Tree Health: Remember, a healthy tree is a happy tree. Keep an eye out for any issues and address them promptly.
How to Prune Apple Trees: A Step-by-Step Guide


There you have it! Pruning apple trees isn’t as complicated as it may seem. With the right timing, the proper tools, and a good understanding of the process, you can have a thriving, fruit-bearing apple tree right in your backyard. So grab those pruning shears, get out there, and start shaping your tree to perfection. Your reward? Bountiful apple harvests and a healthier, happier tree. Happy pruning!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best month to prune apple trees?

Prune standard apple trees in the winter, between November and March when they are dormant. Trained apple trees, on the other hand, should get their summer pruning in August, with a quick touch-up in winter if needed.

How can I shape my apple tree for better fruit production?

You should prune your apple tree to an open-centered crown. This shape will help your tree to concentrate all of its precious energy to fruit production.

How often should I prune my Apple Tree?

To maintain a nice, open-centered shape that maximizes fruit growth, you should prune your apple trees every winter.