Confused about pruning apple trees?

Finally found my notes about pruning apple trees from one of the talks my local Horticultural Society hosted. What a confusing subject as you’ll see from my earlier post! I’ll try and outline the basics.

General Principles
Pruning in the winter months will promote mainly vegetative growth which once two years old will start to develop sexual buds on the lower part of the stem.

Pruning in the summer months, mainly July and August, will promote sexual growth. Also pruning at this time of year will slow the vigour of the plant.

You need to determine whether the tree is tip or spur bearing as the pruning methods for these trees are very different.

As with all pruned trees and hedges it is important that regular feeding is taking place.

The bud of an apple tree is a condensed shoot which will develop into a vegetative or sexual growth. You need to get the right balance between the two. Most often apple trees lack sufficent sexual buds so careful pruning is required.

In older trees there may be too many sexual buds meaning reduced vegetative growth. It’s possible to carefully remove the sexual bud allowing a vegetative bud to develop.

Spur Bearing Trees
There must be a leader shoot on each branch, this leader shoot is cut back by one third of the growth made in that year to an outward facing bud.

The same branch should have a replacement leader which will normally be located back into the base of the branch. The replacement leader will prevent the tree becoming too large as in future years you can prune to this replacement leader keeping the tree in a well defined shape.

Generally leaders should be spaced about 30cm apart.

Once the leader and replacement leader have been selected and pruned the majority of the small lateral growths can be pruned back to 4-5 buds to create new spurs.

Tip Bearing Trees
The majority of the fruit buds will develop near the end of the branches on two year old wood.

The aim is to stimulate new growth and still maintain good fruiting. To do this you need to consider the tree shoots in thirds. Each year for years 1,2 and 3 cut back one third of the shoots to 2-3 buds. The tree will continually regenerate over a three year period with the best fruit being on two to three year old growth.

That’s it, simple really?!? Best of luck out there!


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