How to prune your tree for the best apples

Having apples ready-to-pick in your backyard is wonderful in late spring and early fall, but getting the most from your apple tree means pruning it the right way. Find out how and when to cut to enjoy a delicious apple-bearing tree.

How to prune your tree for the best apples

During the first four years of the life of a fruit tree, you'll want to prune to develop a strong, regular framework of branches.

  • Once you've done that, the next aim is twofold: to keep the tree open to light and air and to maintain the right balance between growth and fruitfulness.
  • Winter pruning (late fall to late winter) promotes growth by directing energy to growth buds at the expense of fruit buds.
  • Summer pruning (from mid to late summer) on the other hand reduces foliage and promotes fruit buds to grow.
  • Depending on your preference, you'll want to prune at the right time.

Fruit buds and growth buds

When pruning a fruit tree, you must be able to distinguish between a fruit bud (which will produce a blossom and then fruit) and a growth bud (which will produce a new shoot). To make matters even more complicated, growth buds may develop into fruit buds, making it important to know the difference.

  • A heavy winter pruning promotes growth buds.
  • A summer pruning (after new growth is made) tends to promote fruit buds.

The difference between spurs and tips

Some apple varieties produce most of their fruit on short growths known as spurs. These varieties include 'Golden Delicious', 'McIntosh', and 'Stayman'.

  • But some varieties also produce fruit on one-year shoots (tips), both terminally and laterally. 'Rome Beauty' and 'Jonathan' fall into this group.
  • We now have so-called spur strains, and these trees make about one-third less growth and are heavily laden with spurs. 'Golden Delicious', 'Red Delicious', 'McIntosh', 'Winesap', and 'Rome Beauty' are available as spur strains.
  • For backyard apple trees on dwarfing stocks, the spur strains are recommended.

How to make a proper pruning cut

Use sharp shears, otherwise damage may result and disease may enter.

  • Cut just above an outward-pointing bud; do not leave a stump above it, because it will die back and can harbour disease.
  • Cut in the same direction as the bud.

When will my tree bear fruit?

A tree should not be allowed to bear more than one or two fruits in the first year after planting. However, a cordon may fruit within a year after planting; while a dwarf tree on a vigorous rootstock may take five years.

  • The time a tree takes to reach full bearing capacity can vary from four to 15 years, depending on the variety of tree, rootstock, and kind of pruning.
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