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How to prune apple trees: A 3-part video series

Produce more high quality apples by pruning

Annie Klodd, Extension Educator-Fruit and Vegetable Production 

Perhaps you've recently planted some apple trees, and you are ready for the next steps to help them produce a healthy crop of fruit.  Or maybe you just moved into a home with a couple of trees in the yard. Either way, pruning will be a crucial part of caring for these apple trees. 

Why prune? 

Pruning is essential for reliable fruit production from year to year. If left to their own devices, apple trees will develop dense canopies and many small fruit with uneven ripening, reduced quality, or generally lower productivity. Pruning focuses the tree’s energy into producing larger, higher quality apples and increases airflow through the tree, reducing disease potential.

How to prune an apple tree

Last month, we went outside to the apple orchard at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center to film a three-part video series on pruning apple trees called "Apple Tree Pruning Made Easy." Thank you to David Bedford and Emily Tepe for assisting us in this effort. You can watch by clicking on the video boxes below:

 Apple Tree Pruning Part 1: 

Apple Tree Pruning Part 2:

Apple Tree Pruning Part 3:

Videos produced & edited by Gail Hudson, UMN Extension Communications Specialist

How often should I prune an apple tree?

Apple trees should be pruned every year during dormancy. Early spring is a great time to prune, after the coldest winter temperatures have passed but before the trees break dormancy and bloom. Branches vary in sizes, so a mix of small hand pruners, loppers, and a hand saw will help cut various sized branches more effectively. 

Pruning goals

When pruning an apple tree, keep these three goals in mind:
  1. Eliminate dead, damaged, and diseased wood.
  2. Thin out enough branches for sunlight to penetrate throughout the tree canopy
  3. Maintain a conical tree shape with a strong, vertical central stem (central leader)
Several specific tasks can help meet these goals. 
  • First, pruning should focus on maintaining productive branches containing fruiting buds, while reducing the amount of excess vegetation that is either less productive or is getting in the way of sunlight reaching the fruit throughout the tree. Pruning involves eliminating some fruiting buds, and that is okay. 
  • Look for places in the tree where branches are overlapping or crossing each other, and remove the one that is less productive or is interfering more with the rest of the tree. 
  • Remove all “water sprouts,” meaning thin, unproductive shoots that are growing vertically from a main branch. 
  • Remove branches growing downward as well. 
  • Keep the branches near the top of the tree shorter than those closer to the bottom. For more information on choosing where and how to prune, please watch the video series.
Pruning should be repeated every year to maintain healthy trees and high quality harvests. For more information on caring for apple trees, visit these links:

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