How To Prune A New Apple Tree

Knowing how to prune a new apple tree correctly is essential for its growth and development. Pruning helps ensure the tree grows a healthy framework, starts fruiting sooner and can support heavier crops. Though it is a bit of a learning curve to get used to it, experts agree that the first few years are the most important for corrective pruning. To get it right, there are four basic steps and tools needed. With a sharp pruning shears in hand and the correct timing for pruning, any novice can become a ‘pruning pro’.

First up, timing. Pruning should be carried out at least once a year, preferably in the springtime, when the sap of the tree is flowing. It is not advised to prune during the autumn months when leaves begin to drop. Next is to understand the tree and decide what needs to be pruned. Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches as well as any shoots that are growing in the wrong direction. Then thin out excess branches, to bring light and air into the centre of the tree. Remember the thumb rule: 10 living branches per fruiting spur. Lastly, angle the pruning cuts. Cut the stem right onto a bud (a bud will have a slight swelling and may contain a nascent leaf) and make the cut at a 30-degree angle to allow rain water run off.

When to Prune a New Apple Tree?

Apple trees should be pruned every year for the first two or three years after planting and then regularly for at least two years afterwards. Prune in winter to prevent disease and in summer for shape. Pruning in autumn, just before winter, will help prevent any dehydration of the wood. In the wintertime, wait until the tree is dormant before making any major pruning cuts. This is when the tree can best accept pruning without suffering from shock.

Types of Pruning a New Apple Tree

There are two types of pruning that need to be undertaken when working with a new apple tree. The first is heading cuts. This is where a healthy growing shoot or branch is cut or shortened to keep the tree’s shape and prevent it from growing too tall. Bleeding of sap can occur during the summer months due to cuts made during the spring. To reduce this, prune when the sap is not flowing. The other type is thinning out cuts. Too many branches in the centre of the tree can make fruiting spurs less productive and cause overcrowding. To allow for more light, air and nutrients to reach the tree, thin out the excess branches.

Tools for Pruning New Apple Tree

It is important to have the right tools for pruning. Sharpen shears before trimming and wear gloves when handling tools to prevent injuring the hands and arms. Secateurs are beneficial for making precision cuts, especially for removing dead or diseased branches. Pruning saws are useful for thicker, more substantial branches and for taking away large dead wood. Loppers are designed for larger branches that shears cannot reach and are ideal for any pruning needs between 20 – 30cm in diameter.

Essential Rules for Pruning New Apple Tree

Firstly, always prune back to a bud. Pruning to a bud helps allow the tree to grow back in a more structured, uniform way. Secondly, don’t prune too much. Too much pruning reduces fruiting spurs and decreases the production of fruit. Thirdly, prune with an open cavity for airflow. This can prevent disease building up in the tree as the expanding wood of the tree does not trap moisture. Finally, use protective clothing. Protective eye wear and clothing can help minimise any risks of injury.

Extra Tips for Pruning a New Apple Tree

Never prune off more than 25% of a tree in any one season as it can put too much stress on the tree. Dead wood can be identified by a break in the bark that indicates the branch is dead. When pruning, make sure to seal all wounds with a pruning seal to protect it from disease. Pruning also helps allows more sunlight and air to filter into the centre of the tree to help increase fruiting spurs.

Cutting Back an Established Apple Tree

Established apple trees that have been producing fruit for several years should be very carefully pruned. Place each cut exactly where it needs to go with precision. When pruning to reduce height, balance the cut evenly and by removing a couple of branches every year, the tree can be drastically transformed. If a tree looks like it is too congested with branches, look out for ones crossing over each other and, if necessary, cut them back all the way to the trunk. Make sure to ensure cuts are made at a bud so that the tree can regrow in the direction desired.

Lifting an Apple Tree

Lifting an apple tree is the process of removing or shortening the root system of a tree, so that it can be easily moved. It is important to be gentle when carrying out this process, and to have a plan for where the tree is going to be relocated so that it can easily be situated straight away. To successfully lift an apple tree, start by loosening the soil around the tree with a tool such as a spade. Dig down carefully, taking care not to damage the bottom. Measure the distance around the root ball and prepare to relocate it in this same space.

Maintaining an Established Apple Tree

Annual maintenance is needed to maintain an established apple tree. Springtime is the best time to shape and prune trees. Deadwood should be removed and any branches crossing over each other and growing in the wrong direction should also be taken away. To optimise fruiting, always prune when the sap is not flowing but dormant. Don’t be in a hurry when pruning as it can be hard to correct any mistakes. Established apple trees also require yearly fertilising. Follow the instructions for the type of fertiliser exactly, ensuring to not overdo it, as apples do not require a great deal of nutrients.

Gordon Wesson is an environmentalist and author who lives in the Pacific Northwest. He has been writing for many years about topics related to trees, the environment, and sustainability. In particular, he is passionate about educating people on the importance of living in harmony with the environment and preserving natural spaces. He often speaks at conferences and events around the country to share his knowledge with others. His dedication to protecting our planet makes him one of the leading voices in his field today.

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