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How to properly prune my apple tree?

I bought a house and there was an apple tree there. When I bought it in late Sept/Oct there were a few apples on the tree still. I tried a bite out of one that was looking clean and good. It wasted like Fuji apple. I doubt the tree was properly pruned, watered, and plant food.

I want to try to prune this tree back so that next summer I have the best yield of good apples. The tree is close to my house so if I take the little rubber cord that holds the branches up off, then it will impede the walkway on the side of my house.

How should I cut this thing back? I read online some stuff, but it was confusing. I have a lot of branches going up, it looks like that's how the tree was told to grow. Can someone with experience please look at the photos I attach and give me some input? I will number the areas so that it may make it easier for you to give me good replies.


Greener Thumb
Posts: 1014
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:14 am
Location: SUSSEX


I think that you may have a problem with this apple tree.
The branches on the path side 1.2.and 5, are going to always present a problem because of their nearness to the path.
I would guess looking at the growth stages that it is 7 or 8 years old and been pruned in such a way that it has started to go skywards. The trouble being that it is too near the path to start with.

There would be a lovely way to slow the tree down and create a garden divider with your tree, but I don't know if this is what you would want.

The largish branch nearest to the front of the picture ( to the right of 2 ) would pull down I suspect quite easily into a near horizontal position to the right across the garden.
Rather like a hedge-layer would lay a branch in an overgrown hedge.

The rest of the tree would need its hight reduced quite hard and kept down until that branch had sprouted new shoots and caught up with the rest of the trees hight.

It would take about three years to get the complete effect but well worth the effort.

Whatever other pruning you do ( other than a drastic re-working ) I don't think will not stop the tree from going ever skywards.
If it is a Fuji the trees natural tendancy for strong growth ( it being a strong triploid variety ) will make for a constant battle.

Sorry if this sounds too drastic...but it can be fun to try.

An apple a day.....keeps me in work.

Pippin Limbertwig
Full Member
Posts: 28
Joined: Mon Sep 14, 2009 10:22 pm
Location: SW Virginia (Appalachia)

Some basics

A couple of thoughts to add to the good information Jona has posted:

"When you are done pruning you should be able to throw a cat through the tree without it getting hung up on branches." - This is a quote from my extension agent who really does like cats. Light and air in the center of the tree are important to its health.

1. Remove branches that are damaged (broken or bark-split).
2. Remove branches that touch or cross each other.
3. Remove branches that grow straight up (water sprouts).
4. Remove branches that turn back toward the center of the tree.
5. Remove branches that come off the trunk at acute angles.
(and not in this case - 6. Remove branches that turn down.)

When you take off a branch make a clean cut as close as possible to the scaffold (main) branch. When you shorten a limb the new growth will be in the direction of the last bud you leave. Clip the small branches at a 30 degree angle just past the buds.

The year after a drastic pruning you should get fruit - and also a lot of water sprouts. they can be removed in the summer or wait until you prune again next winter.

General care: Spray with Dormant Oil before the buds open in the spring. Estimate the diameter of the trunk about a foot from the ground. Spread 1 pound per inch of 10-10-10 on the ground under the dripline (under the branches).

Since the tree will need to be grown off-balanced because of the space you may want to force it to stay very compact - it may have a tendency to uproot.

If you are nervous about the pruning, just do one step at a time - look at it for a few days then do more. Anything you do will help the tree.

good luck.
Pippin Limbertwig

"Let us watch our beginnings, and the results will manage themselves." Alexander Clark

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