How to Prune Old Apple Trees

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Learn how to prune your old apple trees to ensure a healthy and fruitful harvest each season.

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The Benefits of Pruning

Many people believe that pruning is a necessary evil when it comes to keeping trees healthy, but this simply isn’t the case. In fact, pruning can have a number of benefits for trees, including promoting new growth, preventing disease, and allowing more sunlight to reach the leaves.

Pruning Increases Sunlight and Air Circulation

Pruning your apple trees not only makes them look better, but also increases the amount of sunlight and air circulation that reaches the fruit. This is important because it helps to prevent fungal diseases and encourages the growth of strong, healthy fruit.

Old apple trees tend to produce more fruit than young trees, so pruning is especially important for those that are bearing a large crop. If you don’t prune your trees, the weight of the fruit can break branches and make it difficult for the tree to get the sunlight and air it needs.

In addition to preventing disease and encouraging healthy growth, pruning also makes it easier to harvest your apples. If branches are growing into each other, it can be difficult to reach all of the fruit. By pruning away some of the branches, you’ll make it easier to get to all of the apples when it’s time to pick them.

Pruning Reduces the Risk of Storm Damage

One of the main benefits of pruning apple trees is that it helps to reduce the risk of storm damage. Strong winds can damage trees by causing them to bend or break, and heavy snow and ice can add extra weight that can snap branches or even topple the entire tree. By trimming away dead or diseased branches, as well as any that are growing weakly or crossing over each other, you will make your tree much more resistant to high winds and heavy loads.

Pruning Improves Fruit Quality

Pruning apple trees can have many benefits, including improved fruit quality. By removing crowded or poorly located branches, you allow more sunlight and air to reach the fruit. This results in larger, more evenly sized apples with better coloration. In addition, pruning can help increase the amount of fruits your tree produces.

When to Prune

Proper pruning of apple trees is critical to the health and vigor of the tree and the quality of the fruit it produces. The time of year to prune apple trees differs depending on the climate. However, as a general rule, the best time to prune apple trees is in late winter or early spring before the sap starts to flow.

Late Winter or Early Spring

While the tree is dormant, prune to remove any broken, dead or diseased wood as well as any crossing or rubbing branches. Trees that are excessively vigorous may also be thinned to reduce their size. This type of pruning should be done every few years to keep the tree healthy and promote fruit production.

In late winter or early spring, before the buds begin to swell, prune apple trees to shape them and encourage fruit production. When pruning, make sure to remove any suckers that are growing from the roots as well as any small branches that are growing straight up from the trunk or main branches. These branches will not produce fruit and will only take energy away from the parts of the tree that do bear fruit.


Summer pruning is a type of pruning that is done in late spring or early summer. This type of pruning is mainly done to shape the tree and remove any dead or diseased branches. Summer pruning is also a good time to thin out the apple tree so that the fruits can mature better.

How to Prune

Pruning apple trees is a vital skill for any gardener or orchardist looking to maintain a healthy, high-yielding crop. While the specifics of pruning will vary depending on the type of apple tree, the age of the tree, and the climate, there are some general principles that should be followed. In this article, we’ll go over the basics of how to prune an apple tree.

Remove Dead, Diseased, or Damaged Wood

Before you begin pruning, it’s important to understand that you should never remove more than one-fourth of the living tissue from a plant in any one growing season. When pruning apple trees, start by removing all dead, diseased, or damaged wood. diseased wood will be a different color than the healthy wood and will often be discolored or have cankers. Dead wood will be brittle and will snap easily. Damaged wood is usually the result of storms or other trauma and will have jagged, torn bark.

After you have removed all of the dead, diseased, or damaged wood, you can begin shaping your tree. Remember to always make your cuts just above a bud or branch so that new growth will emerge in the desired direction.

Cut Back Crowded or Overlapping Branches

1.Start by pruning away any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Cut these back to the point of origin or all the way back to the trunk if necessary.

2.Next, prune away any branches that are crossing, rubbing, or otherwise growing into each other. You can either cut these back to the point of origin or remove them entirely.

3.Finally, prune away any branches that are crowded or overlapping. If possible, cut these back to the point of origin. If not, remove them entirely.

Remove Water Sprouts and Suckers

Water sprouts and suckers are fast-growing shoots that detract from the tree’s vigor and fruiting potential. Suckers originates from the root system, while water sprouts grow from latent buds along the trunk or branches, often appearing near pruning cuts. These growths are easy to spot and remove when they’re small. But if left unchecked, they can soon become large, woody limbs.

To remove a water sprout or sucker:
1. Make a clean cut at the base of the shoot, angling the cut so that it faces away from the main trunk or branch.
2. Try to make your cut as close to the trunk or branch as possible without damaging it.
3. If the shoot is large, you may need to make a three-cut method: make a notch on either side of the shoot about 6 inches (15 cm) above where it meets the trunk or branch; then make a final cut in between these two notches, removing the entire shoot.

Thin Out Dense Foliage

Old apple trees can become overcrowded and produce less fruit as a result. To thin out an old apple tree, remove about one-third of the branches, cutting them back to the main trunk or to another lateral branch. Do this in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.

Tips for Successful Pruning

Apple trees need to be pruned every year to ensure they remain healthy and produce a good crop of fruit. However, pruning an old apple tree can be a bit tricky. Here are some tips for successfully pruning an old apple tree.

Use Sharp, Clean Tools

When pruning apple trees, use sharp, clean tools to make clean cuts. Apple trees can be pruned with either hand pruners or loppers. Hand pruners are best for small branches, while loppers can handle branches up to about two inches in diameter. Sanitize your tools before use by wiping them down with rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach solution. This will help prevent the spread of diseases from one tree to another.

Make Cuts at the Right Angle

One of the most important things to keep in mind when pruning old apple trees is to make cuts at the right angle. The ideal angle is 45 degrees, which will allow the cut to heal quickly and encourage new growth. Avoid making flush cuts, as these can damage the bark and make it difficult for the tree to recover.

Avoid Leaving Stubs

One of the most common mistakes when pruning apple trees is to leave stubs. This can be tempting, especially if the branch is large and seems too thick to cut all the way through. But, memories of whittling down a branch to a nub as a child should be all the motivation you need to avoid doing this! When you leave a stub, it will not heal properly, leaving the tree susceptible to disease and pests. In addition, it can be difficult for new growth to emerge from a stub.

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About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books

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