How to prune Apple Trees
Healthy apple trees need minimum pruning, but effective pruning methods have been found to improve yields, product quality and tree health in the long term. In a few words, we prune young nonbearing trees in order to determine their shape and stimulate fruit development. Newly planted apple trees need to be pruned even the same day they are planted, according to the shape we want to create. Spherical shapes, conical canopies, flat fan shapes and Y-V shapes are the most common patterns. There are pros and cons when choosing each canopy shape. Nowadays, V shapes are the most popular in commercial apple orchards, because they produce the highest yields, while making harvesting a lot easier.
We prune mature trees in order to maintain their shape, improve aeration and sunlight penetration, remove dead, diseased or broken branches and remove any competing leader or crossing branches. Especially providing good aeration and sunlight penetration (by “opening up” the inner part of the tree) are vital for tree health, as crowded apple trees are more susceptible to pests and diseases. Productivity and product quality will also surely decline in the medium to long term in crowded trees.
As a rule of thumb, we must remove every branch that grows vertically at an angle greater than 60 degrees. Those branches will most likely consume tree’s valuable nutrients in order to grow quickly, but without being able to produce fruits. As a second rule of thumb, we should also remove downward facing branches, because they will most probably break from the fruit weight. As third rule of thumb, we may not remove more than 25% of the tree throughout the same year. It is better to prune little and often rather than removing one third of the tree during a period.
Apple trees are pruned when in dormancy, but at least a couple of weeks after the last frost (February-March). We should not prune when leaves are developing (suckers are excluded – we can remove suckers as soon as we see them).
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11. Apple Tree Pruning
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