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Properly prune an apple tree

An apple tree should be pruned regularly in February or March. The popular fruit tree will bring a good and healthy harvest for many years. Read here how to proceed and what tricks are there.

Fruit trees once shaped entire landscapes and are still popular trees today that we cultivate in our gardens. Often, however, many do not know how to properly prune a fruit tree. There are very simple rules how to raise pome fruit - apple and pear - to become a richly fruiting tree.

When should an apple tree be cut?

In general, you should prune an apple tree as long as it is in its dormant phase. The topiary can therefore be done from November to March, but the time also depends on the vigor of the tree in question.
Tip: If your apple tree grows very strongly, delay the pruning, because this will inhibit growth and short, fertile shoots will appear earlier.

You need that for the apple tree pruning

The most important thing for the success of your work is the right tool:

  • stable ladder (for older trees)
  • sharp pruning shears and hip (gardener's knife with curved blade)
  • Hacksaw and wound wax (for treating tree wounds)

You also need good, frost-free weather.

Young apple trees

Anyone who buys a high trunk in the nursery usually gets a little tree that stretches its shoots wildly into the sky. Hardly anything will grow on such vertical branches. Therefore, the crown must be shaped at the beginning.

Tree training for young apple trees

In order to form a "pyramid crown", the strongest, vertical shoot is selected as the central shoot. Three other healthy shoots are designated as leading branches. Then the central shoots and leading branches are shortened (see drawing) and the leading branches are tied down in an almost horizontal position, because that slows down growth. It is best to use coconut cord for this and do not constrict the branches too much. The leading branches usually do not need any more pruning in the next year, only the central shoot will soar and then have to be shortened by around three quarters of the annual growth.

The right cut

Basically, when cutting young crowns, all shoots that slope down, grow inwards or cross each other are cut off - this is also referred to as thinning. Every year the pruning should be done in February if possible. However, if growth was low, for example in the case of almost horizontal guide branches, then this does not apply at all.

In the second year, the young side branches grow away from the leading branches. If these fit into the picture of the pyramid section, they are only shortened. However, if they grow inward, they are removed. In the third year, fruit branches usually form in addition to the side branches: These can be recognized by the round, thick buds, which already in winter give an idea that a flower and possibly a fruit will appear in the coming spring. One can distinguish the flower buds from the leaf buds on the basis of their pointed shape.

Properly cut older trees

Even older fruit trees can still be brought into shape with a few tricks:

Even with older trees, a selection is first made as to which branches are to be used as leading shoots and which to remain as central shoots. Leading branches should always extend from the central drive at a 45-degree angle. If the branches are steeper, they must be spread apart. A notched piece of branch can be used for this purpose, with which the guide branch is spread apart. The side branches can also be shaped; they should grow as flat as possible, at about a 60-degree angle away from the guide branch. In addition, unkempt trees have to be thinned generously.

Remove anything that grows or crosses inward. You can now move on to shortening the leading, side and fruit branches. In the case of the leading branches, half of the wood that had grown in the previous year is cut back to an eye that faces outwards. Now there should be three side branches per guide branch. If these protrude too far from the crown, they are cut back so that they fit in. Fruit branches remain uncut in the youth stage. Only when they compete with the side branches in length do they have to be shortened at the top.

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Getting an apple tree cut properly

If you are not quite confident about the cut, you can use this online tool to find professionals who will be happy to take care of the maintenance work for you or show you how.