Pruning your apple tree will help it keep its shape, keep the branches nice and open and will stop them getting too tall so that – when the time comes – harvesting the fruits can be done easily and safely from the ground.
Now is the time to tidy up those apple trees, so choose a nice day (or as nice as you’re likely to get in winter!), get your pruners and loppers ready and follow the advice of our friends at Pots & Trowels. They have lots of hints and tips for keeping your apple tree in tip-top shape, so read on to find out more and watch the video below where Martin Fish of Pots & Trowels breaks it all down step-by-step.
When should I prune my apple tree?
From December through to late February/early March is the ideal time for pruning your apple tree, as the tree will be dormant through the winter. All the leaves will have fallen off too, giving you a better visual view of the tree’s overall structure.
The general aim is to keep plenty of air movement through the branches of your tree, and the easiest way to do that is to carry out your apple tree maintenance annually. Keep on top of it by giving your tree a good prune once a year on a dry winter day to get rid of any smaller branches that might begin to crowd the tree a little too much, or any branches that have grown too tall.
How do I prune my apple tree?
All varieties of apple tree respond slightly differently to pruning and all naturally have slightly different shapes, so if you’ve got more than one type of apple tree growing in your garden then they might look slightly different and have different growing habits, but the pruning techniques are essentially the same for all of them.
The idea is to make sure that the interior of the tree remains uncongested and airy so that you can reach inside it with your arms. You don’t want lots of branches growing into the centre, as the tree will become crowded and it’ll prevent good airflow.
Tackle any branches that are growing inwards while they’re still small enough to deal with, with a pair of secateurs or pruners at the base of the branch. Check carefully for any smaller branches that are rubbing together or crossing over each other and take them out too. If these branches are left to grow they’ll get bigger and will eventually begin to rub more on other branches and cause problems later down the line.
If your apple tree has a habit of growing vigorously upwards, then it’s worth considering also trimming upwards growing branches to reduce them in height to enable you to keep harvesting your apples more easily and without ladders when harvest time comes.
Shorten any branches to a healthy bud by as much as you see fit, but usually it’s recommended to trim new growth by a half to two thirds to keep the tree in check. By reducing the length of these taller branches, you will get buds developing lower down on the stem. Removing newer growth will also divert the energy from all that growth back down into what will become fruit buds.
By pruning your apple tree this way, you’re trying to encourage the branches to grow sideways and outwards if possible, rather than inwards or upwards. The goal is to work around the tree, gradually thinning as you go, reduce the height and ultimately keep your tree nicely under control.
If you’re a little unsure on what should stay and what should go, then check out the video at the bottom of this page to see how Martin goes about pruning his apple tree for more guidance – and to see some Darlac garden tools in action!
What garden tools do I need to prune my apple tree?
Secateurs are great for smaller tree pruning work – any branch around as thick as a finger is fine for secateurs – but if you need to deal with a thicker branch then we recommend using a tool that delivers more cutting power to take care of this, like a pair of loppers.
Our Expert Telescopic Bypass Loppers (the ones Martin is using in the video below) are ideal for this task. The handles of these loppers extend so you can reach taller branches without the need for ladders, making for a safer job. If you’re dealing with a tree you haven’t pruned for a while, or there’s a bigger branch that needs removing, then you might want to consider using something like a pruning saw to tackle this.
Checking your apples stored from autumn
If you’ve still got apples in cold storage that you harvested back in autumn now is a good time to give them a check. To ensure long storage that will see you through the winter, apples need to be kept as cool as possible in a shed or garage. If you store them somewhere warm they’ll just wither away or rot, spoiling the whole crop, so make sure you have a place that is suitable for storage that is also pest free.
When you check over your fruits, if you notice any that are starting to bruise then they will very soon start to rot. If they’re in close contact with a healthy apple then the rot will start to spread and affect the healthy apples, so check through them every week or two and get rid of any bruised ones to keep your stored apples at their best. You can chop up any apples that are no longer any good for eating and put them out on a bird feeder as winter progresses. This way, it will keep the blackbirds and thrushes happy whilst not wasting that fruit you’ve spent time growing.
Check out Martin and Jill Fish’s book, Gardening on the Menu, for some inspiration on how to use up all those lovely apples you have stored, as well as growing tips, tricks and recipes to show you how to get the best out of your homegrown produce. You can see the delicious-looking apple and toffee pie from their book featured in the video!