How to prune an apple tree

The main reason why apple trees are pruned is to help form your desired tree shape in its early years. As your apple tree ages, pruning is used to maintain the trees open habit and to the balance between growth and fruiting.

Apple trees should be pruned annually when young, to form and maintain the tree's shape. They should also be pruned to remove badly placed shoots before they grow into branches.

How to prune an apple tree
Winter pruning directs energy to the growth buds at the expense of fruit-forming buds, and should be kept to a minimum in the early years in order to regulate growth without delaying cropping unduly.

Early fruiting can be encouraged by bending outwards, and tying down shoots in order to open up the tree. This is because horizontal or pendulous branches produce more fruit buds.

Generally, pruning to encourage growth of apple trees is carried out in frost-free weather during the winter - between leaf-fall and bud-burst.

Summer pruning is confined to apple trees grown in a restricted form such as step, espalier or cordon. It is less stimulating to further growth and also removes unwanted shoots.

How to prune an apple tree
All cuts should be made cleanly and just above the selected bud in order to aid healing. Cut any young shoots just above a growth bud facing in the direction in which growth is required. Large and unwanted branches should be cut out flush to the trunk. Small cuts usually heal easily, but large cuts should be paired with a knife and painted with a suitable wound healer.

Growth buds - which predominate on young trees - can be recognised as being pointed and closely pressed against the shoot. Unless they are at or near the ends of the growths of the previous year, or a pruning cut is made above them, they tend to stay dormant.

Notching, by removing a small wedge of bark and wood just above a bud can cause an otherwise dormant bud to grow. On the other hand, growth can be retarded by bud-nicking, which consists of making a deep incision just below a bud.

Growth buds may change into fruit buds during the following summer or die out in time. Fruit buds on the shoots increase as trees mature. they are often rounded and usually stand away from the shoot. In the following season, leaves and flowers are produced and short stems from which become spurs. Certain apple varieties produce growths with fruit buds at their tips, for example 'Tydeman's Early, and 'Worcester Pearmain'. These varieties are known as tip bearing, and growth is erratic unless the buds are removed. Pruning cuts made above fruit buds often result in unsatisfactory growth, but this treatment should be carried out on weak growing trees..

How to prune an apple tree
Annual apple tree pruning involves the shortening of lateral and leading shoots. A leader is the shoot at the end of each branch. If the tree is growing strongly - 18 inches of more growth in the previous year - the leading shoots require no pruning, this is because up-right leaders make more growth than horizontal ones. If a leading shoot is badly placed and not continuing the general line of of the branch, it should be cut out in favour of a better placed lateral.

The best laterals or side shoots on young trees will later form the main branches. if left unpruned, fruit buds often form along part of the laterals, while pruning induces further growth.

Dead and diseased shoots and branches should be removed as soon as they are noticed. As should all crossing and congested stems in order to allow light into all parts of the tree.

As mature trees make annual growth, the number of fruit buds increases. Some of these may need to be reduced or you will receive a heavy crop of only small fruit. As apple trees grow larger, less attention may be given to leaders and laterals , and pruning can be confined to the removal of complete branches in November. Pruning should always be done before a winter wash is applied.

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