How To Properly Prune An Apple Tree: Important Tips

An apple tree should be pruned regularly in February or March. This way, the popular fruit tree will produce a good and healthy harvest for many years. How best to proceed and what tricks and tips there are, read here.

How To Properly Prune An Apple Tree: Important Tips

Fruit trees once shaped entire landscapes and are still popular trees that we cultivate in our gardens and whose fruits we enjoy every year. Often, however, many do not know how to properly prune a fruit tree. At the same time, there are very simple rules on how to raise pome fruit – apple and pear – to a richly fruiting tree.

Why do you need to prune an apple tree?

In order for your apple tree to produce a large amount of fruit each year and remain healthy and strong in the long run, regular pruning of the branches is essential. This mainly involves taking away older branches to get a thinner tree crown. This allows for better air circulation, so that more sunlight can also reach the individual apples.

When do you have to prune apple trees?

Generally, you should prune an apple tree while it is in its dormant stage. So, topiary can be done from November to March, but the timing also depends greatly on the growth rate of the particular tree. However, if you want to limit the growth of your apple tree, you can also prune it back in the summer.

Pruning apple tree in winter

In late fall or winter, due to the lack of foliage, it is usually easier to see which branches should be removed and what can remain. However, you also run the risk that the tree then puts plenty of energy into new shoots and you have to prune again in the summer.

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Pruning an apple tree in summer

Summer pruning is actually rather unusual for fruit trees. However, the ideal time is then in July or August, so that the tree still has time to heal its wounds on the shoots. Also, you should not prune your tree too much during this time. In fact, proper apple tree pruning must still be done in the winter.

Caution. Avoid this mistake
Do not cut off one-year-old shoots. On them usually develop leaves, which provide important energy for the apple tree. Later, flower buds also grow on them. If you cut off these shoots, an important part of the supply would be lost and the harvest would be much smaller.

What is important when pruning the apple tree?

Before you can get started pruning the shoots, you need to consider how old your tree already is and whether it has already been pruned this year. Namely, if it is a young apple tree, you will need to do a nursery pruning first. If your tree is already older, a maintenance pruning is enough.

This is what you need for pruning the apple tree.

The most important thing for the success of your work is the right tool:

  • stable ladder (for older trees)
  • sharp pruning shears and pruners (gardener’s knife with curved blade)
  • hacksaw and wound wax (for the treatment of tree wounds)
  • You will also need good and frost-free weather.

Instructions: Properly prune young apple trees

Who buys a high trunk in the nursery, usually gets a little tree that stretches its branches wildly determined into the sky. Fruits will hardly ever grow on such vertical branches. Therefore, at the beginning of the crown must be formed.

Education pruning young apple trees

To form a “pyramid crown”, the strongest vertical shoot is selected as the central shoot. Three other healthy shoots are selected as leading branches. Then the central shoots and leading branches are shortened (see drawing) and the leading branches are tied down in an almost horizontal position, because this slows down the growth of the apple tree. It is best to use coir rope for this and don’t constrict the branches too much. The leading branches usually do not need pruning next year, only the central shoot will shoot up and then need to be shortened by about three quarters of the year’s growth. However, it should still protrude 20 centimeters above the side shoots.

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Pyramidenförmige Baumkrone

The right pruning for young apple trees

Basically, when pruning young crowns, all downward leaning, inward growing or crossing shoots are cut off – this is also called thinning. Every year, if possible, pruning should be done in February. However, if the growth was low, for example, if the leading branches are almost horizontal, then this is omitted completely.

In the second year, the young side shoots grow away from the leading branches. If they fit into the pyramid pruning pattern, they are only shortened. However, if they grow inwards, they are removed. In the third year, fruiting branches normally form in addition to the side branches: these can be recognized by the round, thick buds, which already give a hint in winter that a flower and possibly a fruit will develop in the coming spring. The flower buds can be distinguished from the leaf buds by their pointed shape.

Der richtige Schnitt

Correct pruning of older apple trees
Older fruit trees usually require rejuvenation pruning:

Select leading shoots

Older trees are also pruned by first selecting which branches are considered leader shoots and which remain as center shoots. Lead branches should always be at a 45-degree angle from the center shoot. If the branches are steeper, they must be splayed. To do this, you can use a notched branch piece to spread the leading branch. The side branches can also be shaped; they should grow as flat as possible, at about a 60-degree angle away from the leader branch. In addition, unkempt trees need to be thinned out generously.

Thinning out the tree crown

Then remove anything that grows inward or crosses. You can also now move on to shortening leader, lateral and fruiting branches. For leader branches, cut back half of the wood that grew the previous year to an eye that faces outward. Now three side branches should remain per leader branch. If these protrude too far from the crown, they are cut back to blend in. Fruiting wood remains unpruned when young. Only when it competes with the side branches in length should it be trimmed at the tip.

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Rejuvenation pruning for old trees
If you have an apple tree in your garden that has not been pruned for years, you should spread the pruning over two to three years so that the tree is not stressed and subsequently grows completely out of control.

Recognizing and pruning water shoots

Water shoots, or also known as water sprouts, are long, thin shoots that grow vertically upward on the tree, usually on a dormant bud, and are often lighter in color than other branches. You can easily remove these whenever you prune your tree.

Have an apple tree properly pruned

If you don’t quite feel up to pruning yet, use this online tool to find professionals who will be happy to do the maintenance work for you or show you once.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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