346 Moosehead Trail (Route #7), Dixmont, ME 04932 | (207) 234-2043
Apple trees need to be pruned every year. Pruning helps the trees to yield higher quality fruit and keeps the trees healthy.
One should prune the trees to keep the branches growing slightly above horizontal. All branches that grow straight up or down should be removed. One should know the difference between non-bearing sucker growth and fruit bud bearing branches, as these two growths are pruned very differently. Finally, apples need sunlight to ripen; trees should be open and airy for good fruit and to minimize disease.
One of the keys to successful pruning is using the proper tools. Inexpensive pruners will not cut properly and may damage the trees. Good quality tools can be purchased at www.benmeadows.com, www.gemplers.com or locally at R.D. Faulkner in Brewer and if you look carefully also at Lowes etc. We prefer bypass pruners as they cut close to the branch and make the neatest cut.
Bypass hand pruners are made by various manufacturers [photograph courtesy Herb Crosby]
Larger, lopper pruners are better for bigger branches [HC]
Japanese made handsaws cut only on the backstroke [HC]
A pole clip is also helpful for cutting higher branches
Here are some things to look for when pruning apple trees.
Suckers or watersprouts should be the first to be removed
Suckers can grow straight up from a branch or from the trunk as shown here
Suckers can also grow from the roots of the tree
Fruit buds can be seen on the left, leaf buds on the right [HC]
Suckers/watersprouts are last years growth and can be quite tall. They don't have fruit buds and are more red or maroon in color. When cutting suckers it is important to cut them down close to the branch and not leave a stub which will only grow more suckers. Branches will heal over naturally if cut properly (see photo #3). After the suckers are removed look for branches that are crossing each other growing back towards the trunk or are dead. Then look to keep the size of the tree to a point where you want to maintain the size. You can do this by cutting down the top and bringing in the lateral branches. Remove any branches that are near the ground or will be on the ground when the apples are present. Cutting branches to a bud that is on the bottom will encourage lateral growth. If rehabilitating old trees make the cutting a three or four year process. Don't remove too much the first year.
Improperly cut branches will grow suckers [HC]
A properly cut branch is cut to the base and will not regrow suckers [HC]
Properly pruned branches heal themselves and require no maintenance
When branches cross, one of them should always be removed [HC]
The last bud on a cut branch determines the direction of future growth [HC]
A bias cut above a leaf bud helps to determine future growth
A pole clip at work [HC]
A polesaw makes it easier to prune within a tree [HC]
Below are three YouTube videos from the New England Apple Association. The first two are on pruning and the third is on grafting apple trees. These videos are quite interesting and very well done.