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How to prune an apple tree

A lustrous green dome and branches heavy with rosy red fruit — that’s how an apple tree should look in August, but most garden trees fall well short of this orchard ideal. Too often, crops are disappointing, with fungally infected, distorted leaves and an outline as lopsided as one of Lady Gaga’s hats.


Heavy-handed pruning is the usual culprit for this sorry state of affairs, followed by a period of neglect during which the tree fights back with rampant, unbalanced regrowth. This emphasises the importance of buying an apple on the right rootstock in the first place — anything from M9 for very dwarfing to MM106 for a 15ft specimen.

Pruning is often the cause of the problem, but it can also provide the cure, bringing your apple tree back to health and productivity. Restorative pruning is usually done in winter, but, where crops are poor, there are advantages to doing it now.

With the leaves on the tree, it’s obvious what’s growing well and what’s dead. Removing the foliage also reduces the vigour of over-enthusiastic growers before they muscle beyond their bounds.

Don’t worry at this stage whether your tree produces fruit on spurs close to branches (spur-bearers) or on the tips (tip-bearers). This exercise is about creating a strong, productive framework, but bear in mind that on tip-bearers, some of next year’s crop may be lost. Most trees are spur-bearers, with a few notable exceptions, including ‘Discovery’ and ‘Bramley’, which are both tip and spur-bearing.

Follow this advice for branches up to 3in across — for anything larger, I’d advise calling in a tree surgeon with a chainsaw.

You will need …

Bucket for collecting mouldy fruit
Folding pruning saw handy as you can stick it in your back pocket while climbing the ladder
Or a carpenter’s wood saw more economical to buy than specialist pruning saws and man enough (when new) to handle large branches, but less wieldy when climbing the ladder
Ladder and short length of rope to secure to the tree


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