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How to Prune an Apple Tree - Winter Pruning best for Pruning Apple Trees. 

Late winter months are the best time for pruning apples - and pears - and should be carried out each year for best crops.

An added attraction of pruning your apple tree in the winter, is that you can see the overall shape of the tree better than in the growing season - when the branches will be clothed by leaves.

Winter pruning your apple tree also brings you out into the garden. Most important, when you are up close with your apple tree, you can soon spot first signs of problems such as apple canker etc.

If your apple trees are not pruned annually, then they will bear less fruit as the years go by, and also be more prone to several diseases, as the overcrowded branches start to rub against each other and allow fungus spores and the like to enter the tree.

Winter pruning is most important with bush and tree type apples - rather than trained cordons and espaliers. The latter are best pruned and trained in the summer.

Pruning Apple trees is the subject most likely to put gardeners off growing their own crop of apples, but it really is a simple task. The basic aim, is to end up with a well balanced tree that is open at the centre - shaped something like an opening tulip flower! Create a main framework - this is normally five or six main branches - over several years if necessary. Older, neglected trees will need to be subjected to our renovation procedure!

Spur fruiting Apple Tree imageTypical fruiting on a 'spur bearing' tree. You will see that the apples are growing from short spurs along the main branch, and not at the tips as with 'tip-bearers'. One of the spurs - for next year - can be seen forming top right.

  • When Late Winter from December through until February. Make sure that you are not causing problems of ground compaction in waterlogged soil. If it is too wet, then keep off the garden. Late winter pruning, means that any cuts will have the benefit of a short healing time. Earlier winter pruning will mean open cuts that cannot start to heal until the tree starts its spring flush of growth.
  • Where. Depending upon the type of fruit bearing branches you have. Some apple varieties form their fruit on the tips of branches - 'tip bearers ' and others on short spur growths along the main branches. Most will be spur bearing types - unless of course, you just have one tree which is a tip-bearer! Whichever type of tree you have, the basic start to all trees is to cut out all crossing and rubbing branches, remove any branches with obvious signs of disease - especially canker.
  • Why Because you will get more fruit - and healthier fruit as well - if you prune your apple trees each winter.
  • What Use sharp secateurs for the normal pruning cuts, but invest in a good pruning saw - the type that you have to 'pull-cut' rather than 'push-cut' with. Don't try to use your general handyman saw. It will probably bind in the damp wood. You can use a pruning paint if it makes you feel happier - especially with the larger cuts. Commercial growers do not normally bother, and they are the professionals!


If you have several large branches that need to be removed, consider doing this in stages - maybe over two or three years. If you remove too much growth, it will prompt your apple tree into lots of vigorous growths - at the expense of fruiting growth! Hard pruning always leads top a heavy flush of growth. Always cut out the water growths. These are the vigorous shoots that tend to shoot up skywards from a previous pruning cut, or even from along a main branch. These can be seen quite clearly when carrying out winter pruning of your apple tree.

You do not want to be climbing a ladder to pick your apples, so reduce the height of the tree back to main branches or new framework over a few years. The same is true of spreading branches. Bring them back under control and aim for this open cup shaped apple tree.

On Spur Bearing varieties, reduce the growth made in the previous year by about one third. Best to make your cut just above a good strong bud which points in the direction you wish the new branch to grow. You will not be cutting off flower fruit buds with this third of last year's growth. You will see the fruiting spurs along the older wood. They are typically 4 6in long protruding from main branch.

On Tip-bearing varieties, All of the last year's growths on the main stems, should be pruned back to the first or second strong healthy bud. The exception to this, is that any new shoot less than 12in long, should be left un-pruned.

Basically, that is all that is needed for winter pruning of your apple trees.

Summer Pruning of Apple Trees here

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