Apple trees need proper pruning

Apple trees are pruned in the early spring when trees are dormant. The purpose of an apple tree is to produce large, healthy fruit that is easy to pick.

Apple trees are pruned in the early spring when trees are dormant. The purpose of an apple tree is to produce large, healthy fruit that is easy to pick.

Apple trees are usually pruned in one of three ways; central leader, open center or modified leader.

When the central Leader which is the main stem, is not cut back, the tree will grow to its maximum height, making it hard to pick fruit, unless the top is grafted to semi-dwarfing rootstock.

In the open center or vase is style of pruning the central leader is removed at 30 – 26 inches (.75 to 1 metre) from the ground. Low side branches are pruned to grow tall and wide with an open center. In colder areas, open centre often results in sunscald from the heat of the early spring sun reflecting off the snow.

In the modified leader pruning method the top of the central leader is removed once 7 – 12 strong lateral or side branches have formed.

Removing the top of the leader reduces the tree’s height, encouraging the tree to spread outwards. This method is common on the prairies unless he rootstock is semi-dwarfing.

In the modified method, young trees are trained to a central (might be modified) leader with branches radiating in 4 directions; like an X. Ideally there should be 3 different levels of branches growing from the main leader. Each level should be at least 6 in. (15 cm) higher or lower than other branches.

Space between the branches insures that air circulates throughout the tree and branches do not rub. The tree is also pruned in the shape of a pyramid. Shorter branches at the top, ensuring the bottom branches receive sunlight.

When pruning apple trees, start by removing all watersprouts, suckers and dead wood. Water sprouts are new branches that grow 2 or 3 feet upwards in a season. They are easily identified as they do not have any side branches. If the sprouts stop growing in August they will survive the winter, otherwise they winterkill. Water sprouts that grow for more than one season, grow into the tree, rubbing against existing branches.

Suckers are new growth that comes from the roots not the grafted part of the tree. If left intact, the suckers will outgrow the graft using all the nutrients, eventually killing the grafted stock

Next eliminate crossing branches. Remove the one with the least desirable characteristics; pointing towards the center of the tree, torn bark, weak angle or smaller in diameter.

Remove narrow angled branches as they produce weak unions and are likely to split under stress of a crop of apples or a heavy snow.

On young trees, branches can be trained to grow at a wider angle. Pull them downwards with a string attached to the ground or weight them down with a milk jug. Slide the handle of milk jugs on the branch then add enough water to cause the branch to go downwards to the desired angle.

Leave the weights in place for a year or so until the branches hold the desired shape. Remove all branches that hang downward under another branch. Hanging branches are a repeat of the upper branch, and receive minimum light

Remove branches or part of branches that are duplicating another. As with the hanging branches, shaded ones do not receive enough sunlight to grow well and produce good fruit.

Cut back the top branches until they are slightly shorter than the ones below it. Continue doing this until the tree is a pyramid shape. The sun reached all branches when a tree is pruned in this fashion.

Fruiting wood grows on branches that are over 2 years old. They are easily recognized as they are thicker and grow slower than other branches.

As the tree ages, remove older fruiting wood from the center of the tree and keep the new wood closer to the end of the branches where the apples will receive more sunlight and be easier to pick

To keep apple trees in top shape they should be pruned yearly.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at or

Just Posted

Big-time entertainers to perform in Red Deer during the 2019 Canada Winter Games

Musicans announced include Walk Off the Earth, k-os, Brett Kissel

Builders say it’s not the time for higher permit fees in Red Deer

Construction industry is hard hit by slow economy

Bighorn Country telephone town hall for Red Deer area set for Wednesday

Residents can phone in from 6:30-7:30 p.m. to hear about the project or ask questions

YouTube revises policy, bans dangerous prank videos

SAN BRUNO, Calif. — YouTube is trying to prevent otherwise bright people… Continue reading

May’s govt faces no-confidence vote after huge Brexit defeat

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a no-confidence vote Wednesday,… Continue reading

WATCH:2019 Canada Winter Games torchbearers announced

Sixteen torchbearers announced with others to be revealed during Opening Ceremonies

Alberta doctor accused of sexual assault asked to voluntarily give up practice

College says Dr. Barry Wollach should discontinue his practice, given the seriousness of the allegation against him

Speedy acceptance of Saudi shows refugee system’s flaws

Who would not wish Rahaf Mohammed well? The 18-year-old Saudi wants to… Continue reading

Hertl’s hat trick leads Sharks past Penguins 5-2

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Tomas Hertl needed just three games to get… Continue reading

Starring role beckons for Canada’s Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich

BERLIN — Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies could be thrown in at the… Continue reading

Bus singer gives voice to Venezuela’s growing diaspora

LIMA, Peru — A year ago, Venezuelan migrant Reymar Perdomo was singing… Continue reading

Corey Hart to be inducted into Canadian Music Hall of Fame at Juno Awards

TORONTO — Crooner Corey Hart will join Canadian music royalty in the… Continue reading

Lucic, Kassian each score twice to power Oilers in 7-2 win over Sabres

EDMONTON — Milan Lucic and Zack Kassian each scored a pair of… Continue reading

Big Valley family gives back to community

Donates $24,560 to Stettler Health Foundation and Edmonton Stollery Children’s Hospital

Most Read