How to prune your apple tree for a bumper crop

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood 23 December 2017

Now is the time to give your dormant apple trees a good prune before new season growth starts to emerge. The benefits from this are twofold: to encourage and nurture a strong, disease-free tree and—more importantly—to ensure a healthy crop of apples in the coming season.

The tools

You’ll need a pruning saw for removing any large, damaged branches as well as a pair of sharp pruners for smaller twigs and a pair of decent loppers for medium sized branches.

When choosing the latter, make sure you use cross cut loppers. Anvil loppers are great for crunching through dead wood but will leave living limbs mangled and at the mercy of diseases, and you really want to be making the cleanest cuts possible.

Read more: How to choose the right apple tree


The method

When pruning, you should be looking to sculpt the tree into a goblet shape—one that has a nice, open middle to allow sunlight in through the canopy to ripen and colour the fruit.

  1. Begin by removing any dead or diseased branches with your pruning saw. Don’t bother smearing any tree paint over the wounds to help with the healing process—as long as your cut is nice and flush against the leading branch it will bark over naturally.
  2. Look for and remove any branches that cross each other and remove any overly crowded spurs.
  3. If your tree has reached the desired height, cut back any new growth at the ends of the branches by around two thirds. Leave young laterals to develop fruit buds.
  4. If you want to encourage a stumpy tree to grow taller, leave leaders and hack back any lateral branches.
  5. Afterwards, clean your equipment thoroughly and if required, smooth out any burrs on your pruner blades with a whetstone.
  6. Finally, clean off any resin residue with WD40 and a liberal dose of elbow grease.