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Connecticut Garden Journal: Time To Start Pruning Apple Trees

Feb 2, 2017

As you drive around the state, you'll notice orchards are being pruned. You can start pruning apple trees anytime after the New Year, up until the flower buds start swelling. 

I like to wait until March when the days are longer, sun is stronger, and temperatures are warmer; not for the trees, but for my comfort. 

Pruning trees is hard for gardeners. The overriding fear is you'll prune out too much, and the tree will die.

That rarely happens. Fear not! Pruning is a science and art.

Besides some basic rules, it also comes down to imagining the shape of your tree, based on where new branches will grow after pruning. That's because pruning will stimulate buds below the cut to grow into new shoots.

So, on to the pruning rules. Prune out dead, diseased, and broken branches anytime. Prune out crossing or rubbing branches, ones that shade other branches and branches shooting straight up through the center of the tree.

Prune back to the trunk or side branch, not leaving a stub. Prune to open the tree enough so a bird can fly through it. Favor branches with at least 45 degree crotch angle.

Branches with narrow crotch angles are more likely to split during an ice or snow storm. Make pruning cuts on an angle, 1/4-inch above an outward facing bud.

Remember that bud will form into a branch and grow in the direction it's pointing. Try to create scaffolds of branches, evenly spaced around the trunk.

For old apple trees, don't prune off more than 1/3rd of the growth in any one winter. That may shock the tree.

Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about shrub pruning. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.