Late winter is the perfect time to prune your apple trees (and all other fruit trees) while they are still dormant. In North Texas and the South, February is the time to do this pruning.
Pruning is a skill that I am still developing, but I thought that I would share some of the things that I have learned and read that you may also find useful.
Types of Pruning Methods
For apple trees, there are a couple of different ways to prune your trees. You will need to decide which method works best for you.
One method is the central leader method, which essentially shapes the tree into a traditional form with a main trunk. The tree in the photograph above appears to be growing on a central leader.
The second method is the open vase or open center method. This format does not have a main trunk but rather has three or four secondary trunks branching from the crotch of the main trunk.
For a suburban garden with limited space, my favorite pruning method is the central leader method for a more traditional looking tree with ornamental presence.
The photograph below is a tree that has been pruned to have more of an open center.
Strategies when Pruning
Some strategies when pruning apples include:
- remove downward pointed branches and shoots
- remove shoots growing straight up - watersprouts.
- remove branches growing inward that will block sunlight
- do not prune more than 1/3 of the tree canopy.
- make sure all of the branches will get plenty of exposure to sunlight and do not cover each other up
Central Leader Pruning
It is very important to focus on pruning for a good shape early in a tree's life, particularly the first three year. When you order a bare-rooted apple tree, you will often receive a whip that is a single, straight trunk without any branches or scaffolding. If you are working with a branchless whip, that first year's pruning will be crucial, because it will establish where the first level of scaffolding or branching starts.
Aggie Horticulture has a nice discussion on pruning - here. The following two diagrams are from the Aggie Horticulture / AgriLife Extension Office's discussion on growing apples in Texas. They provide a good visual for establishing your scaffolding.
First growing season:
Second growing season:
The following video discusses encouraging a central leader and scaffolding on two year old trees.
The next video gives a fairly good overview of pruning a tree using the central leader method. I like this video's treatment of pruning above the bud of a young tree branch to form the tree in a desirable structure.
The following video also discusses encouraging a central leader. It also talks about making pruning cuts in order to encourage branching or scaffolds.
Open Center or Open Vase Pruning
The following set of videos address pruning a tree into an open center or open vase shape. This method is effective for fruit production because it allows all of the secondary trunks to receive significant sunshine for fruit production.
Here are a few more videos in a 2 part series from the University of Maine, discussing the pruning of a mature apple tree:
Of course there are other methods of pruning your trees, such as espaliering. Additionally, if you are planting a high density commercial or U-pick orchard, some growers are using high density cordons like the one below.
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