How to Prune an Apple Tree

The best time of year to prune apple tree is late winter or early spring before the tree’s sap starts to flow.

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Pruning Basics

Pruning is a horticultural practice that alters the shape and growth of a plant. It involves the selective removal of certain parts of the plant, such as branches, buds, or roots. Pruning can be done for a variety of reasons, such as to improve the plant’s appearance, remove damaged or diseased parts, or to encourage fruit production.

Why prune

Pruning is a horticultural practice involving the selective removal of certain parts of a plant, such as branches, buds, or roots. Reasons to prune include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining the health of the plant, and both increasing and decreasing the size of the plant.

When to prune

Winter is the best time to prune most fruit trees, including apple trees. The exception is that young apple trees, those three years old or younger, should be pruned in late summer or early fall. Winter pruning allows you to see the structure of the tree more clearly and make cuts that will encourage growth in the coming season.

The Pruning Process

Pruning is an important part of keeping an apple tree healthy and productive. It encourages new growth, removed damaged or diseased branches, and helps the tree to bear fruit. There are a few things to keep in mind when pruning an apple tree.

Cutting away dead or diseased wood

The first step in pruning any fruit tree is to cut away any dead or diseased wood. Diseased wood will be discolored and/or have cankers on the branches. Dead wood will be dry and Brittle. Use sharp pruners to make clean cuts on branches that are up to one-half inch in diameter. For larger branches, use a pruning saw. Make sure to sterilize your pruning tools before and after use with a bleach solution or rubbing alcohol to prevent the spread of disease.

Next, remove any crossing or rubbing branches. These types of branches can damage the bark, which can invite pests and disease into the tree. Cut these branches back to the point where they meet another branch or the trunk of the tree.

Finally, thin out overcrowded branches to increase air circulation and light penetration into the canopy of the tree. Cut these branches back to their point of origin on the trunk or main branch.

Cutting away crossing or rubbing branches

Crossing or rubbing branches damage each other, causing wounds that can lead to disease.start by removing the smaller of the two branches that are crossing or rubbing. If both branches are the same size, remove the one that is pointing toward the center of the tree.

Cutting away suckers

Before you start pruning your apple tree, familiarize yourself with the different parts of the tree. This will help you understand where and how to make cuts.

The trunk is the main structure of the tree that supports the branches. The main branches grow directly off the trunk. The scaffold branches are the main branches. The secondary and tertiary branches grow off the scaffold branches. shoots are small, quick-growing stems that come off the main trunk or branches. Suckers are shoots that come from the roots of the tree.

When pruning, you want to remove any suckers that are growing from the roots of the tree. You also want to remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. In addition, you want to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. You also need to thin out crowded areas to allow for better air circulation and sunlight exposure.

To remove suckers, cut them off at their base with a sharp pair of pruning shears. To remove a dead or diseased branch, cut it off at its point of origin on the trunk or branch. To remove a crossed or rubbing branch, cut it back to a lateral branch (side branch). To thin out a crowded area, make heading cuts (cut back to a lateral branch) on some of the main or scaffold branches.

Cutting away water sprouts

Water sprouts are vigorous, vertical shoots that grow from the trunk or branches of a tree. They are often referred to as suckers. Water sprouts compete with the fruiting spurs on a tree for nutrients, water and sunlight, and produce fruit that is small and of poor quality. For these reasons, it is important to remove water sprouts from apple trees.

Water sprouts can be removed by hand or with pruning shears. To remove a water sprout by hand, grip it near the base with one hand and pull it away from the tree. If the water sprout is too thick to break by hand, cut it away with pruning shears. You can also use a pruning saw for large water sprouts.

When cutting away water sprouts, make sure to cut them as close to the trunk or branch from which they are growing as possible. Make sure not to damage the bark of the tree when removing water sprouts.

Proper Tools for the Job

The most important tool you need for pruning an apple tree is a good pair of pruning shears. You’ll also need a stepladder to reach the higher branches. You may also want to use a pruning saw for the thicker branches.

Bypass pruners

Bypass pruners are the type most often used by gardeners. They have two blades that slide past each other, like scissors. One of the blades is sharpened all the way around, while the other has a beveled, or curved, cutting edge. This design allows you to make clean cuts that heals quickly with little damage to the plant.

Anvil pruners have a single cutting blade that closes against a flat surface, or anvil. This design is good for cutting through thicker branches, but it tends to crush or damage thin stems and small twigs.

Loppers are like giant bypass pruners and are used for cutting branches that are too thick for bypass pruners. There are also loppers that have an anvil cutting design.


Loppers are one of the handiest tools you can have in your arsenal, and they come in a variety of sizes and styles. For our purposes, loppers are long-handled pruning shears with blades that range anywhere from 8 to 36 inches in length. The blades are either anvil style or bypass, and the handles can be either straight or curved. Anvil loppers have a single cutting blade that closes against a metal plate, similar to a hammer hitting an anvil. Bypass loppers have two cutting blades that slide past each other like scissors, which results in a cleaner cut.

Pole pruners

Pole pruners are long-handled shears with blades at the end of a telescoping pole. They are used to cut branches that are too high to reach with hand pruners. The length of the pole on pole pruners varies from 3 to 16 feet, making them useful for cutting branches up to about 15 feet above the ground.


The type of saw you use will be determined by the size of the branch you need to cut. For branches less than 2 inches in diameter, you can use a pruning saw. These come in both folding and fixed blade varieties. Folding pruning saws are more compact and can be tucked away easily, but they may not be as sturdy as fixed blade models.

For branches 2 inches or larger in diameter, you will need to use a pole saw or a Chainsaw. Pole saws are long poles with a cutting blade on one end, while chainsaws are powered by either gasoline or electricity. If you are using a chainsaw, be sure to read the safety instructions carefully before beginning.

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