Pruning is very beneficial to apple trees whether they are young or mature. For young trees, regular pruning helps ensure that they will grow from a strong root base and for mature trees, it is essential in order to make sure you have a good crop of apples each year. The spring is the best time of year for this task because the tree hasn’t had time for any new growth to start developing. You can prune trees during the summer, but at this time you should only remove what are called suckers, that are shoots growing up from the root.
Sticks and broken branches need to be taken care of when you do your spring pruning. You do have to take a careful look at all the branches of the trees to remove those that are growing downwards instead of upwards, branches that tend to cross over each other and those inside that are growing upwards.
The norm for many people is to leave the apple tree untended for several years after they plant it. This is not the correct thing to do. You should start pruning the tree as soon as growth starts to appear. The branches should also be pruned so that the tree has the shape of a pyramid – small branches on the top and gradual increasing size of branches to the bottom. The top shoot should be the leader, which means that you cut back all the other branches and leave this one so that it grows straight up. The lower branches should extend further out than those higher up on the tree and this will give the tree its shape.
As the branches start to develop, scaffold them by pruning the branches that seem to bunch too closely together. This will give you lots of room between the branches. As new growth starts to develop in the pruned areas, cut them off.
The first thing you need to do each spring is to inspect the top shoot. If you notice any branches trying to compete for this top spot, cut them off. As the tree grows and you scaffold the branches each year, you will have three or four sets of branches on which apples will develop and grow. You need to keep this many on the tree and prune out any that show signs of disease or that are preventing the older branches from growing as they should.