Pruning apple trees can be a daunting prospect to many gardeners, but it really needn’t be. Take your time and you can’t go far wrong. And remember that doing something is better than leaving the tree to grow out of control. It is best to prune apple trees while they are bare, I try and cut in spring just before the trees begin to regrow.
Where to start?
The easiest place to start is any dead, damaged or diseased wood. Taking this out will help promote healthy growth and its a really good way to ease yourself into pruning the tree. You should be able to pick out the dead and damaged wood fairly easily be sight, look for brittle branches that are often slightly darker than the rest of the tree.
Remove touching branches
The next thing I like to attend to is removing touching branches. Look for areas where the tree rubs against itself. These can be really harmful to the tree, they will rub against each other creating open sores over time. These sores have the same effect an open wound would have on your skin, they are the perfect entry point for disease and infection. Remove these branches as soon as you find them.
You may not have heard the term water sprout before but you will recognise this growth. These thin, quick-growing shoots are often a response to pruning in older trees. They are very unlikely to bear fruit and can create a dense canopy which is not conducive to healthy fruit growth. Remove all water sprouts at their base.
Clearing the canopy
Now here come the bigger, more serious cuts. We want our apple tree to have an open and airy canopy, this encourages strong fruit growth and also lowers the chance of disease. To achieve this we may need to make some big cuts, any vertical growth that is competing with the main trunk of the tree should be removed. These will be growths off the main trunk of the tree that then grown straight up, competing with the main trunk. These may be large, thick branches so you will have to be brave here!