How to Prune Apple Trees
In this article you will find out how to prune apple trees. (One of several articles from the author on how to prune fruit trees). Pruning apple trees can be done several ways. This operation often causes concern, and considerable variation in ideas exists on the subject, generally. Concerning bush trees in the small garden, the following points should be borne in mind. First, one may ask, "what happens if no pruning is done at all"?
The answer is that too much growth may be made, the branches will be too congested and, although fruit will be borne, it may be smaller than it should be. Then, the stage may be reached when tree growth will slow down, and too many fruit buds will be formed in relation to the new growth. In short, one has to aim at a balance between wood (shoot) growth and fruit bud formation.
If very hard tree pruning is done after the early years more wood growth than is needed may be produced and fruiting will be delayed. One method of how to prune apple trees to avoid, is the cutting off of all the new growth at the same level each year, i.e. beheading a tree at a given height. This only encourages more wood growth, and gives the tree little chance to make fruit spurs and fruit buds.
How to prune apple trees - Pruning of a young tree:
To start with the pruning of a young tree, after planting, this may have 3 or 4 main branches. The 1-year-old wood (the newest growth) should be cut back half way, to an outward-facing bud. Strong shoots may be cut back less hard, and weaker branches rather harder. Next autumn, or winter, the new growth that arises from this cutting back is treated similarly. Keep only the best two or three shoots that arise from the original branches (leaders) and cut out any shoots that cross the centre of the bush, the aim being to encourage an outward framework of branches, i.e. cup shaped.
The main apple tree shoots should be treated similarly for the following years. Meanwhile, the main branches will be furnished with side shoots (laterals) and all these that grow out from the tree (outward that is) can be left their full length. Those growing inwards should be cut back each winter to two buds from the base.
In connection with how to prune apple trees, in the early years, the question of whether fruit formed in the first season after planting should be left or removed, is often raised. If the tree is making good growth. I suggest that a few fruits be retained. To leave many may cause a check in growth.
How to prune apple trees - Regulated System:
A logical stage forward from no apple tree pruning is the method known as the Regulated System. This can be followed with standard trees, half standards and strong-growing bush trees, i.e. those on vigorous root stocks. Briefly, with established trees this entails only the removal of crowded or crossing branches, thinning out unwanted shoots, and taking out any dead wood. With this method on how to prune apple trees, sizeable branches have sometimes to be removed, and a pruning saw, with a curved blade is best used for this purpose. The cut surfaces of sawn off branches should be painted over with white lead paint to prevent entry of disease spores.
How to prune apple trees - Spur Pruning:
For established bush trees on the less-vigorous root stocks, the harder method of pruning, called Spur Pruning, is sometimes followed. This, however, is best modified to give a method called the Established Spur System. This is designed to encourage a system of fruiting spurs, close to the main branch-work, and is useful for weaker growing varieties in particular. New lateral growth from the branch frame work is pruned back to two or three buds from the branch. New growth will arise from these buds, which will in turn be pruned similarly the following year.
A spur system of fruit buds will be formed at the base of these shoots which will bear the fruit. These spur systems will need to be thinned out, as they begin to crowd the tree, in order to encourage new growth and reduce the amount of blossom. Some laterals growing towards the outside of the tree may be left to extend naturally; these will form fruit buds and bear the earliest fruit while the spur system is being formed.
Some varieties bear fruit on the ends of the shoots, tip bearers, as they are called, and it is essential to make provision for a certain amount of unpruned wood. These unpruned laterals may be cut back to fruit buds or spurs, when their length demands. In short this method on how to prune apple trees aims at a compromise between hard spur pruning and leaving some laterals unpruned.
How to prune apple trees - Renewal System:
From spur pruning, a further method has been evolved, called the Renewal System. This method which may at first appear complicated to the amateur is, in fact, a successful way of controlling wood and fruit formation to the best advantage. It consists of shortening a proportion of the annual growth in order to produce more wood, leaving some unpruned to form fruit buds. These should be well spaced out over the branch length, to ensure that fruit will not be crowded. The number of laterals, or new growths, to be shortened, depends on the variety and growth of the apple trees.
A strongly growing tree can carry more fruit, therefore perhaps half of the laterals could be shortened and half left untouched. On a weaker tree, which tends to form fruit buds at the expense of new growth, 2 in 3 of the laterals may be pruned. In this system the individual characteristics of the tree need to be catered for; there is no hard and fast rule. Laterals which are pruned to 2 or 3 ins. in length, will form new wood, which is treated as before, either to be left, or shortened in due course.
How to prune apple trees - Cordon Trees:
Basically, these are Spur Pruned; that is, all the young growth, each year, is shortened back to within 2 or 3 buds of the base, where fruit buds will form and a spur system is built up. Space, or lack of it, often dictates that this hard cutting back has to be done, to keep the trees within limits.
A modified system is to leave some of the longer laterals full length and curl them round in a circle, tying them firmly with fillis string to make a loop. These loops will form fruit buds along their length in subsequent years, and may be left intact so long as there is room for them. As others are retained, the oldest may be cut out. Espalier trees may be treated in the same way as Cordons.
How to prune apple trees - Biennial:
Bearing Some varieties of apples tend to produce a heavy crop one year and a light one the next. If one has several trees, this tends to balance out, as all the trees may not have the same "on or off" tendency. If one has only 1 or 2 trees however, biennial bearing could cause a total loss of crop one season, and the trees would be likely to produce a heavier crop than usual the next year, and a lighter than average the following season.
Where this is happening, before the expected cropping year, pruning of new wood should be very light, and spur systems should be reduced. A proportion, say one third, of the blossom should be removed at flowering time. In other words aim at reducing the over-heavy crops. Finally, when you have learnt how to prune apple trees, all pruning should be done when the trees are dormant, i.e. in autumn or winter.
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"As this has been a very long winter, is it still possible to prune an apple tree 25th March?? or is it too late? The tree does have some very tight buds on it, but is looking congested in terms of branches and new growth from last year."
"I need to lop off two of five main branches (to make room for a shed); can this be done in the summer without kiling the tree, if I paint white lead on the cuts?"
"how do you prune old apple trees, that just send out long shoots that reach for the sky like witches brooms ? Please "
"Names such as spurs, laterals, shoots, tip bearers and fruit buds, and descrip-tions such as cutting back less hard and rather hard should be shown in large detailed pictures."