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More Fruit, Please: 5 Tips for Pruning Apple Trees

Turn apple tree pruning into reality.

Like a car’s undercoating or a driveway’s resealing, anyone who owns an apple tree knows it should be pruned, at least in theory. But, even in the realm of natural things, compared to, say, re-shaping snowball cedar hedges or planting some lettuce seeds, there is something mysterious about the ignoble apple tree.

We need to start with an approach. Before jumping into our list of pointers, you need to first sort out: why am I pruning? What is the point? What am I trying to accomplish?

The first thing you need to consider is shape. A pyramid is most common. Looking at the figure below, you can see the advantages. Most of the fruit is low-down and easier to pick. All of the leaves can get plenty of sun, even those at the bottom of the canopy.

Then, there’s density. An unpruned tree can become crowded fast. This limits airflow. Mold can build up on the branches, leaves and fruits. An excessive number of low quality fruit is produced. This can set the tree up for all kinds of problems. Mildew can grow. Branches can snap. And this excessive stress on the tree can leave it vulnerable to disease and pests.

What is the right density? Good question. Each apple should be six to eight inches from the next and the major branches should be far enough from each other that you can “throw your hat” between them.