It’s pruning time!

Been thinking that your backyard apple tree needs a bit of attention? Now (late March to the end of April) is the time to do it!

Spring pruning is an opportunity to remove any disease from your tree, correct any structural problems, and encourage proper growth. We have a fairly rigorous pruning method in our orchard because we’re focused on production, but the basic concepts are the same for your backyard apple tree. 

Take a look at your tree from all sides. When we prune, we want to promote good airflow and access to sunshine. Look for the following when deciding what to remove:

  • Dead or diseased limbs. Don’t put anything that’s diseased in a compost pile, remove it from your yard or burn it so that the disease doesn’t spread. 
  • Branches that grow straight up or straight down from a limb. These limbs take energy but won’t grow apples. Branches that grow at an angle slightly above horizontal are the best for growing fruit.
  • Limbs that lay on top of or cross over other limbs. These are bad for airflow and block the sun from lower limbs.
  • Limbs that grow backwards. These are bad for airflow and create a messy tree.
  • Limbs that are growing from the main stem at a height lower than your knee. These will droop down when they’re laden with fruit and the apples will rest on the ground. Alternatively, remove any limbs that make mowing around the tree difficult. Long grass around the tree can harbour mice, which can cause damage to the base of the tree.

We don’t want to remove too much (ideally no more than 25% of the tree), and it’s better to make a few big cuts rather than a lot of little cuts. If your tree hasn’t been pruned in a while, it may take a few years to get it back into shape. Pruning too much at once can make a tree go wild and you’ll end up with a lot of leafy growth, suckers (fast growing uprights), and a big mess to deal with next year.

We use a variety of tools depending on the size of what we’re removing. A chainsaw is good for big limbs, but a handsaw or clippers are sufficient for smaller limbs. Make sure that your tools are sharp so that your cuts are clean. And of course, work safely and wear the appropriate protective equipment.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you first look at those tangled branches- we still do with some of our older rows! Take a deep breath, make your cuts with these tips in mind, and remember that it can take a few years to get an unmanaged tree under control. Take a few pictures before, during and after pruning to document your work so you can track your progress and see what worked (or didn’t) for the next pruning season. 

Have fun and happy pruning!