Cutting back apple trees

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by mowinginva, Mar 13, 2008.

  1. mowinginva

    mowinginva LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 440

    A lady has two apple trees she wants us to cut back. They are both about 15' to 20' high. How far back do you think we could cut them without hurting them? One has a dead limb about 3' from the ground that goes into the main trunk. That tree might be better off cut down, but I don't know if the lady will go for that. Any advice?
  2. Kate Butler

    Kate Butler LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 640

    Post some pictures. Apple tree pruning is close to an art. If she wants apples you need to do more that just whack it wherever you feel like it. If they are just flowering crabapples, it doesn't matter so much. Just don't ever take off more than 20% of live wood in any 12 month season.
  3. mattfromNY

    mattfromNY LawnSite Bronze Member
    Male, from Central NY
    Messages: 1,582

    As far as the dead limb goes, I've seen apple trees with no center, just a ring of bark about 3 inches thick, look deader than dead, that grow the nicest and biggest apples you can find.
    We trim apple trees in January preferably, Feb. if we have to.
    Like Kate Butler said, depends on what you are trimming for, fruit or ornamental.
  4. DD3

    DD3 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 9

    Heres kind of the basics to pruning. Start with all your dead, damaged and diseased wood. Then take all your crossing and rubbing branches out. Then prune what ever else you feel needs cleaning up. Just never remove more than 25% of living tissue in one growing season, just as Kate said. Any tree flowering in the spring should be pruned after it has flowered, you can prune trees that flower in the summer anytime now.
  5. mowinginva

    mowinginva LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 440

    We, probably, won't be out to the jobsite until we go to do it, so pics are, most likely, out of the question.
  6. mowinginva

    mowinginva LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 440

    The trees are not flowering yet. She does want them trimmed for fruit, I'm quite sure. She wants them cut back, but from what you guys are saying, it may not be a good idea to cut them back much at all. Pruning might be the best route.
  7. RAlmaroad

    RAlmaroad LawnSite Silver Member
    from SC
    Messages: 2,249

    Gees: What a BIG subject. Like said; "Cut out dead wood and one of the overlapiing branches" Now remove any suckers from previous year--These are one year growth branches going straight up and are lighter in color than other branches. Go for a 10--2 pruning technique. Cut off a center branch leaving a fork on a main trunk that spreads at 10 o'clock and 2o'clock. Stand back and look at the tree--your looking for some vertical spacing between layers--sorta like a layer in a cake--Hard to explain. I will not cut more than 25% of the height back. This is severe pruning and will result in so many suckers this summer that the tree will get bushy. If at all possible tell the homeowner to pull off those suckers by hand--do not cut as it will promote growth. Pulling them or wringing them off is better.
    Like said a big job to explain and only experience will help here. Books on the subjects are of no use except to start a fire. No matter what you do--watch the laterial growth (How far the limbs grow outward) as much as you watch the upward growth. Good pruning starts when the tree is planted.

    Check out this thread:

    Mr. Vaden is one of my true heros on trees. His work is a careful blend of art and nature--Outstanding work and look forward to getting his CD.
  8. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    If these are real apples your chief concern is disease and for that reason cutting in late spring - before the tree breaks dormancy has always been the rule of thumb.
    A simple way to reduce hieght is to cut the leader down to size you want. This is a practice of orchardists to open the center to light, air movement, etc. Your lower branches will still produce apples and you can consider where to go from there.
    What percentage of the leader can you top? Safely? I do 1/3 for myself on all trees as a rule, but for hire, maybe check with a 'Fruit Growers' publication to increase your odds of success.
  9. Kate Butler

    Kate Butler LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 640

    Lord knows, I've pruned more than 20% in a season, but it gave me wintertime nightmares ("will the client sue if the trees die" nightmares). Luckily, they all survived and thrived (throve?? - but that just doesn't sound or look right).

    Regardless, if you are pruning for money, caution is better and safer. If you're working on your own trees try both (conservative and radical) and look at the results to determine which you prefer.
  10. KGR landscapeing

    KGR landscapeing LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,544

    radical befor they start blomming you can normaly get lucky. after they start just wait till after there full bloom. make sure all ur cuts r clean and that your not marking any scratchs on stuff ur not cutting off. thou anything over 20 ft i cant really do anything with. other then get out the saw vroom vroom. and with apple trees you gotta make sure that you can get under them and low branchs the deer and animals will eat the fruit off of

Share This Page