Amateur gardeners and those who plant only for leisure and hobby rarely know about a particular planting technique called pruning. Fruit-bearing trees like the apple tree benefit much in pruning. Why? Because pruning improves fruit production and stimulates growth under good growing conditions for the tree.
Pruning is not widely practiced by homeowners or independent farmers because the process is delicate and it can kill a tree if not done properly. The experts in tree cultivation and management are called arborists and the study or practice of learning how plants grow and respond to cultural practices and to their environment is called arboriculture. Arborists practice arboriculture techniques (selection, planting, training, fertilization, pest and pathogen control, shaping, pruning of plants and trees) to examine the condition and maintain the best growth and fruit production of trees and other plants.
Our focus for today is pruning apple trees. To simply put it, pruning is the removal or cutting off of a portion of a tree while still maintaining its integrity. The most ideal season to start pruning is during the winter season or in the beginning of the spring season when the tree is dormant because this means that the stored energy and nutrients of the tree will remain unaffected.
In pruning, you need a pair of gloves and a hedgeshear or pruning shears. In rare instances, the expression “nipped in the bud” is used when pruning is done by finger nipping if the buds are soft to pinch off.
For an apple tree, pruning should be done when the tree turns one year old. There must be at least four buds or branches from the trunk. Then, cut a portion off the tree, a little higher from the fourth bud. Mark the tip portion of the tree which is left so you know where you pruned it. In the second year, you’ll see several buds branching out from those left from the first pruning. Cut at least 12 inches off the outward facing buds and mark the tips again.
In the third year, there will be additions to the branches. Same applies to the fourth year. Repeat the pruning step mentioned in the second year of pruning. Remember that apples grow on the branches from the previous year, so make sure that your branches are in a healthy condition. Remove any diseased branches and water sprouts. Diseased branches are those that have a different color, usually darker, than the rest of the branches. Meanwhile, water sprouts are thin branches that grow upright and never bear a fruit. They suck the nutrients that are to be absorbed by the main branches.
A five-year-old apple tree is considered mature already. It is the real thing as you’ve come to understand apple trees — the real apple tree shape. Now, you just need to maintain its branches by pruning out those facing downward and/or the damaged branches. The best way to view an apple tree to see the candidates for pruning is by stepping back at least three meters or so until you see the full frontal view of the tree and from there you can better assess how to prune the apple tree you see.