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How to prune an apple tree without fear.

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James Kilkelly
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Joined: 30 May 2006
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Location: West of Ireland

PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:48 pm    Post subject: How to prune an apple tree without fear. Reply with quote

How to prune an apple tree without fear.

Apple tree pruning time is upon us again. Now I know even the slightest mention of pruning apple trees brings fear and confusion to many gardeners. Worry not; it's quite a simple task, as I will show you in due course.

Timescale and tools.
Anytime from November to February is the window I would recommend for your apple-tree pruning. Prune outside of this time and you run the risk of wounds not healing and an increase in the chances of infection by airborne tree diseases through fresh cuts.

"Why prune my apple trees at all if I run the risk of infecting them" I hear you ask? Well, pruning these orchard apple trees not only improves the quality and size of the fruit borne but it also keeps the trees themselves to a manageable size, which is important if cramming as many plants as possible into your garden is your aim.

. A few tools for apple tree pruning, loppers (top), secateurs (bottom left), and handsaw (bottom right), photo / picture / image.

Before you begin to prune you will need a few tools. Depending on the thickness of stems to be pruned you will need a hand pruners (secateurs), a long handled pruners (loppers) and a small handsaw.

If you don't have the likes of loppers in your tool shed, you can always borrow it and other tools from a fellow gardener for the task. To prevent disease transfer between plants and gardens, you must wipe down your tools, borrowed or otherwise, with alcohol or surgical spirit before and after pruning. It goes without saying that all your cutting tools should be sharp, to allow you to make clean cuts with no snags.

Begin pruning.
The following instructions cover the pruning of a four year old and upwards spur-bearing apple tree. As most trees are purchased as two-year old spur bearing specimens, this will cover a tree growing within your garden for two years or more.

Arrow The first thing I always do when beginning apple tree pruning is to remove all the dead, diseased and crossing (rubbing) branches. Where two were crossing, only one will remain after I finish. This is especially important towards the centre of the tree as a mish-mash of branches prevents free air circulation encouraging apple tree ills such as scabs and moulds

Arrow Like a detective working through a process of elimination, I next focus my attention to the all of the trees side shoots also known as laterals. Any lateral shoots growing out from the main upright stems (leaders) within the body of the tree should be cut back.

Arrow Prune them to within four buds of the upright stem they grew from. Ideally your cuts should be made just beyond an outward facing bud, as this maintains the trees correct growth habit of shooting outwards rather than inwards.

The reason why we cut the side shoots to within four buds of the main stems is to produce spurs. Spurs are side shoots (3-5"), which end in flower buds; these flower buds produce our fruit.

Your pruning encourages the tree to grow more of these fruiting spurs by removing competing and unproductive wood. If your tree ever starts to produce too many apples to the detriment of the fruit size, you can always prune out a quantity of its spurs the following winter to redress the fruit quantity/size balance

Arrow Leave all side growths or laterals that are growing on the outer edges of the tree unpruned, only cut these back if they are causing an obstruction (to paths etc).

Arrow Leave your vigorous upward leader stems unpruned; only cut these back if they are causing an obstruction (wires etc), or if the height of the tree is casting too much shade into your garden.

Arrow When finished with your pruning you must remove from the site any dead or diseased wood, also burn all seemingly normal clippings to prevent the spread of unsightly apple scab (the fungus Venturia inaequalis).

Sin é, apple tree pruning in a few easy steps. Time for you to tackle your own trees now. One final word of encouragement, Its almost impossible to kill an apple tree by pruning it, so go ahead without fear.

Any queries or comments on How to prune an apple tree without fear, please post below.

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