By Nate Krause on March 19, 2021
If you have not been out to trim up those apple trees, now is the time to go out there and start hacking away. A question we get quite regularly is how should I prune my trees. Although we cannot possibly teach you everything about pruning in this blog post, we will try to explain the 6 basic steps we try to remember when pruning our apple trees without trimming it down to nothing or leaving too many branches.
A few most before you start; Be sure to have sharp pruners, a cut on a tree is similar to one on your own body. A rough cut with dole pruners will take longer to heal and can cause disease. When using sharp pruners the tree is more likely to heal much faster and lessen the chance of disease. Remember to pick up all your branches off the ground. These branches will decompose and carry diseases if not removed. Make sure you have a good ladder. Nothing is worse then being unstable in high places.
Now that you have the essentials here are our 6 steps to pruning:
- Reduce your crop load- One of the first thing you will need to get over is that it is ok to cut branches off that have many fruit buds. I know personally I still struggle with this aspect of pruning. Apple trees are precocious by nature though, meaning they will naturally set a lot of fruit thus making fruit very small if not thinned. By pruning your apple trees you are taking potential apples off your tree allowing the tree to put more energy into less apples making them the desired size.
- Keeping trees in their space- This is more for the commercial grower. In our orchard we have trees about two to three feet away from each other. You at home are not going to have this problem however it is a good way to think about pruning. Think of your tree like its in a bubble anything outside of that bubble and infringes on another object needs to be taken out.
- 50% Rule- This is a big one and is often times not done correctly. Once your tree starts to produce past the first few years its important implement this rule. The 50% rule is when a side branch gets 50% or larger then the truck or lead branches it is time to take out the smaller branch. If you do not take out those larger side branches they will start to compete with the lead which you do not want happening on your tree.
- Allow for Sunlight- This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when you are deciding what branches to remove. Most all red apple varieties and especially in western Washington need as much sunlight as possible to ripen. Most all vertical growing branches we take out because these are the most likely to shade future apples. If your apples are shaded by other branches, they will not turn that beautiful color of red when you expect them to and in some cases not ripen at all. So look to always allow sunlight.
- Stimulate new growth- A big part of why we prune is to stimulate new growth. Your best producing branches are 3 to 5 years old. After that time period size and quality are reduced. By taking out older branches it will increase the quality of your crop.
- Remove dead or dying wood- This is a fairly easy and straight forward rule to remember. Over time some parts of the tree become infected with bacteria and in our case here in Western Washington, fungus. By removing these branches it keeps your tree fresh and healthy.
Pruning apple trees is a difficult thing to master. Not every tree and situation is the same. We personally here at Swans Trail Farms make plenty of mistakes. But try to remember these 6 steps and hopefully it will improve your confidence and increase the quality of some nice juicy apples in your near future. As my beautiful Texan wife would say “Happy Pruning Y’all.”