garden/ gardening/ Gardening Tips/ Homesteading

How to Prune Apple Trees

April 6, 2016 (Last Updated: August 4, 2019)

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Prune your own apple trees….it’s not as hard as you think!

Do you have apple trees? Then they need to be pruned annually. Hiring someone to do this task just doesn’t make sense, when you can do it yourself. My husband Rod does all our pruning and prunes for several others every spring too.  It’s time to learn how to prune apple trees.

Full Disclosure: Rod is not an arborist and does not have any formal training when it comes to pruning.  He just has years of experience and results that work….that means, the apple trees survive and thrive!

The apple trees are loaded year after year! These are his tips and what works for him!  Rod’s famous words of wisdom… Don’t worry too much about how it turns out…If you don’t do it perfect, it’s okay.  It’s like a bad haircut…It will grow back!  Just take it slow and step back to see how it’s coming along!  My advice…as a total novice…just don’t take off too much! (I don’t like bad haircuts)

Pruning apple trees in the spring.

These trees are very mature apple trees.  The “bones” of the tree are already there.  New trees still require pruning, but the process is just a bit different because you are forming the shape each year.  Pruning on new trees is minimal. These tips are focusing on the mature tree.

You will need pruners.  Rod uses two: one long handled lopper and one small handheld pruner.   If you need to remove larger branches, you will need a handsaw.

Three things to keep in mind while pruning

  1. Keep branches growing out, not up.  Cut off all vertical shoots.
  2. Cut off any damaged branches.
  3. Try not to let tree get too wide. Stand back and look at the branches.  If they are extending out too far, give them a trim.
  4. Anticipate spacing for fruit and branches. Take a look at each cluster.  If the cluster is too tight, remove one of the small branches.

Cut off the vertical shoots on an apple tree.

Remove all shoots that are growing straight up.

Pruning apple trees

Pruning apple trees. Remove all damaged branches.

Remove any damaged branches.  This branch was snapped during the late fall when a moose got into the orchard.

Pruning apple trees

Rod removes branches that get too crowded or too wide.  The picture below show a branch where the apples will be growing.  It can have up to 3 or 4 apples.  This branch has enough space for the apples….no need to prune here.

Pruning Apple Trees


Taking a break from Pruning Apple Trees

While Rod works, the rest of us have fun…I mean are working hard too!  Taylor went for a ride, cause Sugar needed some exercise!

Pruning Apple Trees in the spring.

It’s okay to use a ladder!  Most pruners do.  Rod prunes about half the tree from up in the tree and then finally has to use the ladder to reach the rest!

Pruned Apple Tree

One apple tree finished….several more to go.  Guess who is on branch clean up duty?

Pruning apple trees

Yeah….I climbed up the tree to snap several of these pics!  Pretty brave of me, huh?  Good luck pruning your apple trees….using a ladder is much easier than shimming up the trees!

We get a huge harvest of apples every year. Some recipes we make are Apple Pie Filling, Apple Butter, Cocoa Apple Cake, Apple Fritters and we also press the apples into Cider.  

Tips and steps on how to prune apple trees. Pruning apple trees is a necessary task. Learn how to do it yourself! #appletrees #pruning

You might also find How to Prune Raspberries helpful.

How to prune raspberries.

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  • Reply
    April 3, 2017 at 4:33 am

    I love this. We just purchased a house that has about a dozen apple trees n about 6 pear trees and I had no idea what to do with them. This definitely will help me trim them back. Thanks

    • Reply
      April 3, 2017 at 5:42 am

      Lucky you to get that many trees! It’s work pruning them now, but will be so great in the all when you get a great harvest of apples and pears!

  • Reply
    Sarah Anderson
    June 10, 2016 at 9:51 am

    What is the issue with vertical branches? I don’t think I have seen a tree with them before unless you count the trunk. I have read before that a tree can get multiple trunks if your not careful, and that you should prevent that because it can kill the tree. Is that the issue you are trying to prevent?

    • Reply
      June 10, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      The only problem with vertical branches is the tree becomes too large and difficult to pick the fruit. Pruning helps control the shape of the tree.

  • Reply
    April 9, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    This is so helpful! Love it! Saving for when I need it!

    • Reply
      April 10, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Thanks, Mira!

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