Pruning Apple Trees Need Not Be Painful
If you happen to drive by an apple orchard in late winter, when the weather is still cold and there’s still snow on the ground, you’ll sometimes see a crew pruning apple trees with seeming reckless abandon. Instead of a snip here and a snip there, you’re witnessing a wholesale removal of branches.
Just how many branches should be removed when pruning apple trees often depends upon the size or age of the tree, and whether it has been allowed to become overgrown over a period of several years. You could very easily have a tree or two like that in your back yard if they’ve been neglected for several years. Sometimes the lack of anything approaching a bumper crop can be dismissed as an “off year”, but get several of those in a row and it could be that your apple trees need some attention.
The First Cut May Be The Hardest
Your first attempt at pruning apple trees might go something like this. You have the pruners or a saw in your hand but you’re hesitant to start. It’s a little like one’s first attempt at oil painting, often typified by a reluctance to touch the brush to the canvas. After all, if you make a mistake, haven’t you ruined the painting from the start? Unless you start on your apple tree by cutting into the trunk, you’re not apt to do too much damage. The fact of the matter is, if you simply cut away vegetation, with the goal of making the tree more attractive, you’ve probably done it a favor and, assuming you’ve pruned the tree at the right time of the year, you could well be rewarded with a much bigger harvest with much bigger apples.
The lesson in pruning apple trees, is that it is not as complicated as you may have feared. Certainly, there are some tips and techniques you should follow to do the best possible job. In addition, it’s always nice to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you cut this off or cut that back, what is the intended result? With a little knowledge about pruning, you’ll do a much better job, have fun doing it, and take pleasure in the end result a few months down the road. While your neighbor might think you’re attacking your trees with reckless abandon, probably killing them in the process, you’ll know exactly what you’re doing. You’re taking steps towards having the largest and most delicious apples in the whole neighborhood, if not the whole town.
Prune In Winter – Fine Tune In Summer
Pruning apple trees is done during two times of the year. The main pruning occurs during the winter months, when the tree is dormant. It is during this winter pruning session that you are essentially shaping the tree, and pruning to maximize the size of the summer crop. A second, lighter pruning is done during the late spring or early summer. This second pruning primarily involves removing unwanted vegetation, such as sprouts, which will not bear fruit, will direct energy away from fruit bearing branches, and may hamper air circulation among the branches. A profusion of sprouts and leggy branches also is not very pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint.
Which Branches To Cut
You obviously want to prune with a good crop in mind, but there are some things you can do first, without worrying too much about what and where to cut. Unless your tree is a very young one, with not too many branches to work with, there are probably a number of branches that can be lopped off. First off all, cut away any suckers. These are the straight branches growing vertically, which can be anywhere from a few inches in length, to several feet. Some look like fishing poles. Cut them off at the base. They do nothing for you, or the tree. Also cut away any broken branches. A broken branch, besides being unattractive, also can lead to the possibility of disease, just as can happen to us if we don’t attend to a break in our skin.
Can you see through the tree’s branches, or are they crowded?
The next step is to tackle the inner branches. Cut away some of the criss-crossing branches, at least enough to “open up” the tree for improved air circulation. If the interior of the tree is too crowded, damp weather may bring on an attack of powdery mildew. Good air circulation can go a long ways towards preventing such an occurrence. If one of the branches is pointing towards the interior of the tree, cut that one off, if both are, cutting both off is a good idea. Also, apples do better if exposed to some sunshine. Cutting away excess branches will help here.
If two branches are rubbing, cut at least one of them off or cut it back. Also remove downward growing branches, and interior branches that are growing straight up, like suckers will do. Finally, when you’re pruning apple trees, it’s good practice to cut off weak branches and trim back branches that appear strong but have gotten too leggy.
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