How And When To Prune Apple Trees

How And When To Prune Apple Trees.

This article covers:

Here are the basic principles of apple tree pruning.

  • Remove problematic branches
  • Ensure the remaining branches are well-spaced
  • Make the lower branches wider than the upper ones
  • Prune at the right time

Every guide on apple tree pruning has these principles at its core. So, focus on these principles and keep reading. We want to help you master how and when to prune apple trees.

When to Prune Apple Trees

The best time to prune apple trees is late winter. Early spring also works if you can prune before the growing season begins. These two periods are perfect for at least two reasons. One, the tree is dormant and bare. Therefore, there is no foliage to complicate and disrupt your work. Two, recovery is faster because the growing season is about to start.

Therefore, late winter and early spring are when to prune apple trees. Anything before or after could be problematic. For instance, apple tree pruning in late spring could affect growth and fruit production. Likewise, pruning apple trees in summer, autumn, or early winter is also problematic. The new growth may not develop and become strong enough to survive the cold winter months.

When to Prune Apple Trees

How to Prune Apple Trees: A Step-By-Step Guide

Now that you know when to prune apple trees, let’s move on to the “how,” starting with a list of equipment you’ll need for the job. 

  • Pruning tools: These included secateurs, shears, loppers and pruning saws.
  • Climbing tools: This could be a ladder or raised platform.
  • Protective clothing: This includes work clothes, goggles, gloves, boots and hard hats.

Get those gears, then follow these steps to prune your apple tree.

Prepare the Pruning Tools

Sharpen and sterilise them. Sharpening your pruning tools will make the job easier. It will also allow you to make clean cuts, reducing the stress on the tree. Meanwhile, sterilising your pruning tools will reduce the risks of spreading infections and diseases. You can use rubbing alcohol or bleach for sterilisation.

Examine the Tree First Before Making Cuts

You can’t just prune indiscriminately. You have to do it in line with the basic principles of apple tree pruning (discussed earlier). So, take some time to examine the apple tree.

Identify the branches that should be pruned, trimmed or left alone. Get to work. Then, step back to examine your work. Repeat this until you finish pruning the apple tree.

Remove Diseased, Dead, and Damaged Branches

These should be the first to go. In fact, you don’t have to wait until winter. You can remove them at any time. Even better, remove diseased, dead and damaged branches as soon as you notice them.

Remove Low and Downward-Growing Branches

These are some of the least productive branches on an apple tree. They could even affect other branches by blocking sunlight and airflow or attracting roaming wildlife. Therefore, the next step in apple tree pruning is to remove branches that are lower than 4 feet or growing downwards.

Remove Branches and Shoots Growing at Less Than 45 Degrees From Leading Trunk

These branches and shoots are usually physically weak and less productive. Remove them so the apple tree can focus on stronger, healthier and more productive branches.

Remove Branches That Are Blocking or Competing With Others

This is the final step in apple tree pruning. Usually, you want to remove the least well-placed, productive, useful or healthy of the competing branches. These unfortunate branches include inner, weak, secondary, low, and downward-growing ones. 

How to Prune Apple Trees: A Step-By-Step Guide

Tips for Pruning Apple Trees

Angle Your Cuts

This will allow the cut to drain faster, speeding up recovery. Another way to speed up recovery is by treating the wounds with tree sealant.

Shape the Tree Into a Pyramid

Do you remember when we said, “Make the lower branches wider than the upper ones”? It’s one of those basic principles of apple tree pruning. That statement essentially describes a pyramid. That’s the ideal shape for an apple tree.

Actually, the ideal shape for an apple tree is a pyramid built around one leading trunk and four to six well-spaced scaffolding branches. The pyramid shape allows more sunlight to reach lower branches, while the spacing and reduced body mass allow air and sunlight to circulate better.

Don’t Remove More Than 25% to 30% of the Tree at Once

Apple trees can take over-pruning but at the risk of poor fruiting and excess regrowth. So, don’t remove too much at once, even when dealing with an out-of-control tree. If you need to renovate an out-of-control apple tree, do it gradually over a period of 2 to 3 years.

Tips for Pruning Apple Trees

Why Do Your Apple Trees Need Pruning?

Here are the three main benefits of apple tree pruning.

To Control an Apple Tree’s Size and Growth

Some varieties of apple trees can grow as tall as 30 feet. Even dwarf varieties can still reach around 12 feet. Therefore, the tree could take up too much space and look unkempt. Apple tree pruning prevents this.

To Improve Tree Health and Stability

With time, the overgrown apple tree will become a danger to itself and its environment. For example, the dense foliage will affect air and sunlight circulation, allowing pests and diseases to fester. Likewise, the tree or one of its branches could fall on a property or person.

To Improve Fruit Production

Pruning an apple tree forces it to focus more energy on fruit production. The removal of less productive branches also reduces competition. Therefore, the remaining branches get more energy and become more productive. They also get better air and sunlight circulation, leading to improved ripening of fruits.


As you can see, apple tree pruning is easier than many think. Besides, you have room to make mistakes. Apple trees are very resilient when it comes to pruning. That’s why people can prune in summer or late spring without dire consequences. It’s also why some go two to three years without pruning. Therefore, you can also afford to learn on the job.

However, if you want the best possible effect, follow our advice on how and when to prune apple trees. You can also hire a professional apple tree pruning service. Better yet, reach out to us and let us help you find apple tree pruning quotes from reputable gardeners in your area.  

Author: Eleanor

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