Fruit Growing

How to prune mature apple trees

Pruning apple tree loppers

This article covers pruning old and neglected fruit trees, if you would like to learn how to prune younger or freshly planted trees please read ‘An introduction to pruning apple trees‘.

I get asked a lot about how to prune older trees, particularly from gardeners who have moved to a new house and have inherited unruly and unproductive specimens. The other common issue is dealing with a older tree that has been pruned too hard either by a previous owner or by the gardener themselves. I hope this article will help avoid pruning problems while also giving some assistance in correcting mistakes that have already been made.

How to prune a mature appe treeOld and unproductive trees in a commercial orchard would normally be removed (a well pruned new tree will produce far more fruit in the long run) but in the garden there are often other things to consider. You may want to keep an old tree for the beauty it ads to your garden or for sentimental reasons, in this case there is more to consider than just fruit yield.

Reasons for renovating old trees include:

1. To enhance their appearance in the landscape.

2. To restore an old tree with sentimental value.

3. To get better quality fruit.

Pruning apple tree loppersIt is worth bearing in mind that it will take at least 3 years to restore an old tree and in that time you can easily be harvesting quality fruit from a new, healthy semi dwarf tree. It is also not worthwhile trying to save a diseased tree so if the main framework is badly cankered you should remove it and plant a new tree.

Before we get going on tree restoration I am including a list of common pruning terms which should make the following information easier to understand. Don’t get overwhelmed on your first read through, it’s not as complicated as it sounds!

Common Pruning Terms

Dormant – An tree is in a dormant state in the Winter approx between November and February. At this time the leaves have fallen and the tree’s energy is conserved in the roots, trunk and main branches.

Tip bearing – Fruit is produced on on the tips of the branches. Tip bearing varieties are relatively uncommon. Any pruning of of shoot tips will reduce the yield of a tip bearing tree.

Fruiting spur on an apple treeSpur bearing – Fruit is produced on small lateral branches called fruiting spurs. You are more likely to have a spur bearing tree than a tip bearer. You can see a fruiting spur in the photo growing from a small lateral branch.

Partial tip bearers – Many varieties of apple bear fruit on tips and spurs. Partial tip bearers are pruned in the same manner as spur bearers.

Fruiting or flower bud – Fruiting buds (sometimes called flower buds) are larger and more plump than growth buds and have a downy surface. Flower buds produce flowers which mature into fruit.

Wood or Growth bud – Growth buds are smaller than flower buds, they are more pointed and grow flush with the branch.

Outward facing bud – Any growth bud which faces away from the centre of the tree.

Terminal bud – The growth bud at the tip of a branch. Removing the terminal bud will stimulate the buds below to produce woody side shoots which will become new lateral branches.

Spur – Fruiting branches which produce apples, they look like small and stubby compressed stems with fruiting buds.

Leader –The leader is a clear central-leading branch that grows upwards ahead of the other branches.

Apple tree scaffold or lateral branchesScaffold or Lateral branches – Scaffold branches are the main supporting branches of the tree.

Crossing branch – Crossing branches are branches that cross each other creating a dense canopy in the centre of the tree.

Downward branch – A downward branch hangs down from a lateral or scaffold branch, these will never produce fruit and should be removed.

Whorl – A whorl is where three or more small branches originate from the same location, it is common on unpruned mature trees.

Water Sprouts – Water sprouts are thin branches which normally grow straight up from lateral branches.

Remove suckers apple tree pruningSuckers – Suckers are unwanted shoots which grow near the base of the trunk. Most apples are grown on grafted rootstocks to control the size of the tree (the immature tree has been joined to a root from a different variety) so the root suckers will not be the same apple as the above ground tree. Suckers also grow faster and stronger than the tree itself and can even out compete it if they are not removed.

Dead Wood – Dead wood is as the name suggests any dead or diseased wood. Dead wood will be obvious when the tree is in leaf due to lack of any leaves but can also be recognised in Winter as it is dark and brittle, often with bark falling away.

Canker – Canker is the most common apple tree disease and is identified by areas of dead, sunken and crusty bark. Canker is highly likely in old and neglected apple trees, the extent of the disease will decide whether the tree is worth saving.

How to prune a fruit treeWhen to prune and how much to prune.
Pruning should be completed when the tree is dormant. It is far better to prune a tree just before it comes our of dormancy with early March being ideal. Early winter pruning leaves open wounds exposed to the elements at a time when the tree is unable to repair itself. Pruning when the tree is not in its dormant phase will result in excessive new leafy growth as the expense of fruit production.

The reason restoring an older tree will take 3 years or more is that (a) we don’t want to over stress the tree by making too many wounds (remember every cut is an entry point for disease) and (b) we don’t want to stimulate vigourous, uncontrolled growth that will severely reduce yield and adversely effect the shape of the tree. I think it is helpful to remember it took more than one season for a tree to become overgrown so it will take more than one season to correct.

Poor tree pruningThe most common mistake is ‘topping’ shown opposite where excessive pruning has produced a tangle of fast (and weak) growth. This will mean no fruit the following year and a lot of work to restore fruiting for subsequent years. The weak forked joint between fast, new growth and a large limb also leaves the tree more susceptible to storm damage in later years.

There are two types of cuts you use when pruning a tree; thinning cuts and heading cuts. A thinning cut but means removing complete branches right back to the point where the branch joins the trunk. When renovating an old tree nearly all your cuts will be thinning cuts. A thinning cut allows air and light into a tree and doesn’t trigger uncontrolled growth.

A heading cut is used to shape an immature tree. It involves cutting a branch anywhere other than its point of origin and will stimulate growth below the cut. A major heading cut (referred to as ‘topping’) causes a tree to fight back and quickly try to replace all foliage that has been removed. Heading cuts on main branches produce dense upright growth that congest the tree, block out light and severely hamper fruit production. It will take years to sort out. To understand the effect major heading cuts have on a tree it might help to look at ‘apical dominance’ as follows:

Aptical dominance pruning

Apical dominance it the process that allows the tree to grow upright so it can present its leaves to the sun and make energy. Without apical dominance tree growth would be completely random. The leading bud (the last bud at the tip of a branch) produces the hormone auxin that controls the buds below and prevents them producing new branches. If the leading bud is removed (by a heading cut) auxin levels fall and the buds lower down spring into action and produce new lateral branches. Once the leader is gone everyone wants to be king! You can see the result of major heading cuts in the ‘NOT GOOD’ image below.


how to prune an apple tree

The trees environment
Before doing any renovation it is a good idea to concentrate on the trees general health. Plenty of light and good airflow will be essential for a good recovery so cut back any hedging or large shrubs that may be causing congestion. In many cases apple trees are planted too close together so you may need to decide on trees to keep and trees to remove altogether. A slow release feed like good garden compost spread around the base of the tree will also aid recovery. Avoid high nitrogen feeds however as they will stimulate too much new growth.

The tools of the trade
To prune an old tree you will need am good quality secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw or bow saw. You will need the pruning saw or bow saw more in year one and will be using the secateurs and loppers every year thereafter. To keep a fruit tree in top productive condition it will need a small amount of pruning every year.

Marking tree for pruningMy top tip for the day is to get yourself a pack of coloured chalk. I find chalk very helpful for marking the branches I am thinking of removing but also for highlighting the ones I definitely want to keep.

You need to take your time in contemplating the finished shape of your tree and only start cutting with a definite plan in mind. If you are new to this (we all were once) marking the branches will take a lot of the stress and uncertainty out of the job and ensure a cool and calculated result.

Ok, are we ready to start pruning? Here we go……

Pruning fruit tree step 1Year 1 – The first year of pruning is to remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood and to open out the centre of the tree. You should not remove more than 25% of the tree per year or it will try to repair the damage by producing too much new growth. All the cuts you will be making at this stage will be thinning cuts.

First remove any dead wood, it will be obvious from its appearance and lack of buds or new growth. Dead wood is not counted as part of the 25% limit.

Look for damaged wood where two branches have been crossing and rubbing or where branches have come into contact with a neighbouring tree and remove.

Apple canker diseaseAny branches showing signs of canker will need to be taken down. Bear in mind that canker is a fungal disease that can be spread through contact. Even when removing dead wood care should be taken as canker was likely the cause of its demise and may still be present. It is good practice to dip pruning tools in a sterilising solution as you work to avoid spreading the disease.

With an old tree it is better to make a small number of large cuts than a large number of small ones. Neglected trees often have a crowded main branch framework so the objective of pruning is to improve branch spacing, allowing light and air to reach all parts of the tree. The resulting open ‘goblet’ shape is better for ripening fruit, easy picking and yearly pruning.

How to prune and established apple treeIt is likely that you will have one or two large branches crowding the center of the tree. This branch (or branches) need to be removed right down to the union with the trunk.

Old apple tree pruning tipsDo not cut flush but just above the ‘collar’ which is the raised ring where the branch meets the trunk. The cut should be at an angle (often facilitated by the tree anyway) to allow water to run off. If the branch is too large to remove in one go it can be taken down in sections as long as the whole is finally removed. Do not leave partial limbs or stubs, thinning out entire limbs will result in considerably less regrowth. You will be surprised how much difference removing just one large central branch will make in opening up the tree.

Next remove any suckers from the base of the tree, at that stage you are likely to have reached your 25% rule and should leave the tree alone until the following season. This is the point where you will be tempted to do more, don’t. This is the point that separates the amateurs from the pro’s.

Step 2 haowe to prune apple treesYear 2 – Pruning in the second year will be more concerned with shaping the tree and building on the ‘goblet’ shape you initiated in year 1. The goal in pruning a tree is to remove congestion. As we’ve said we are trying to get as much air and light into the tree while also cutting out crossing branches that will rub and be an entry point for disease. As with year 1, the 25% rule still applies.

Spend time at this point contemplating the tree and try to picture the ideal shape to suit your needs. Are the fruiting branches too high up and out of reach? Are there low hanging branches that block access to the tree for picking and pruning? There is an old saying that a tree is well pruned if you can throw your hat through it, keep this in mind as you look at your tree.

How to remove tree branches safelySafely removing large lateral branches
If you are removing a large lateral branch the method is to make 3 cuts to avoid the branch tearing at the trunk as it falls. Make the first cut below the branch about 6 inches from the trunk, this cut should be about a third of the distance into the branch.

The second cut is made about 3 inches below the first, you may need to cut all the way through but it is likely the branch will snap off when you reach the depth of the first cut.

You will be left with a stump with can now be safely removed from the tree. Cut tight to the branch collar but not completely flush with the trunk of the tree.

Downward facing branches – If you look at the main tree diagram above you will see a number of branches that are growing towards the ground. These restrict access to the tree and are shaded from the branches above so won’t fruit well. Remove any downward facing branches cutting back to their point of origin.

Upward growing branches and new sprouts – Remove any branches that grow straight up from any of your main lateral branches. You will also have a large number of new vertically growing whip like stems (water sprouts) as a result of the previous years pruning, snip these off at their base. You will also have water sprouts facing away from the centre of the tree which are valuable as new lateral branches. Leave these until your final pruning.

Prune crossing branches apple treeCrossing branches – Crossing branches congest the tree but also rub off each other creating wounds in the bark. Any cut or wound is a potential entry point for disease so these must also be removed. You can see in the picture opposite 2 rubbing branches that have died, probably from disease that entered at the contact point.

Shading branches – If you have one large branch network growing directly above the other it will be shading the lower one and preventing it from producing good fruit. Choose the healthiest looking branch that fits your vision for the tree and remove the other.

Competing branches – At this point you may have reached your 25% quota but if not you can start some lighter pruning to shape the canopy of your tree. Up till now you have probably been removing large branches but we are now concentrating on the smaller branches growing from your main lateral framework. If branches are growing into the same area and competing with each other they need to be thinned out by removing them at the point where they join the main branch.

Picture bright, open space as prime real estate. If you have a number of small branches competing for that space thin them out. If you have a group of small branches in the same area remove the middle one, chances are it will solve the issue and leave room for the ones either side to breathe.

Pruning apple tree year 3Year 3 – Depending on how much pruning you were able to do in year 2 you may have some more competing branches to remove to open out the tree. It is a simple diagram below but this is the sort of shape you are looking for. Notice how all the branches are exposed to sunlight while all the branches that were being shaded from those above have been removed.

Apple tree prunig diagram

Once you have cut out any competing branches Year 3 is more about fine tuning than major surgery. At this point we need to start to look at how the tree behaves when pruned and how we use this to help it to produce the best fruit. . As you know there are two types of cuts we can make when shaping a tree, thinning cuts and heading cuts. So far you have been using thinning cuts and removing entire branches. Heading cuts are used to shape a tree when young and are not usually required with mature trees unless as part of a restoration. To use heading cuts accurately we need to look at the types of bud on the tree and how they respond to pruning.

Growth and flower buds apple treeGrowth or wood buds (Left)
Growth buds are much smaller than flower buds and grow tight in to the branch or stem. They are slender and more pointed and look more scaly than downy.

Flower buds (Right)
Flower buds are larger and more plump than growth buds and have a downy surface. You will easily see the difference in growth and flower buds by November. Unless you have a tip bearing (unlikely) variety flower buds grow on spurs which are short, stubby branches where the fruit is produced. I a tip bearing variety you will see the flower buds at the branch ends.

When training a tree we are concerned with the growth buds. Heading cuts are made above growth buds and will produce a new branch facing the direction the bud is pointing. For example, if we prune above a growth bud facing in to the towards the centre of the tree we will get an inward growing branch (which we don’t want). By pruning above growth buds facing outwards we encourage the tree to form an open habit rather than a congested one.

As with year 2 you will have a large number of new water sprouts growing both vertically and at an angle from your lateral branches. Remove any vertical sprouts or those facing the centre of the tree. Any sprouts facing away from the trunk can now be trained to become new fruit producing branches or removed if they are growing towards a congested part of the tree.

Apple tree pruning cuts

Stand back and look for open gaps in the framework where there are no branches shading from above. Leave any outward facing sprouts that are growing towards empty areas and remove the rest. It is common for sprouts to grow in pairs, you can remove one and leave the other if it is growing in the direction you want. If you want to modify the direction of a sprout look for a growth bud facing the direction you want and prune above it at an angle of 45 degrees. You can see examples of a good pruning cut above.

As we are using heading cuts at this point (remember apical dominance) be aware that pruning new wood will result in new lateral branches being produced below the cut. Any laterals that don’t fit your plan can be removed later by pruning back to their point of origin.

That’s it!
I hope this article has been helpful. Obviously this a general guide and might not fit your tree exactly but all the same principles apply. Here’s a quick 123 reminder:

  1. Don’t top your tree.
  2. Don’t remove more than 25% of your tree in any given year.
  3. Make a small number of big cuts rather than a big number of small cuts.
  4. Open the center of the tree, make sure all branches have access to light.
  5. Remove the 3 D’s, dead, diseased or damaged wood.
  6. Finally shape you tree using minimal heading cuts.


  1. Heather Notermans

    Hi, I have an ancient apple tree (probably over 70 years old), that was usually pruned regularly and bore loads of fruit most years. It was not not pruned for 2 or 3 years following my husband’s death, until last year when I got someone who claimed to be a professional tree surgeon to do it for me. Although it still has it’s basic attractive shape, it has now grown branches going straight up (water shoots?) and I’m not sure how to deal with these in order to maintain a good shape. It did not have any fruit last year after pruning.
    Please could you advise?
    Thank you.
    ps. I have tried to send a photo, but it won’t attach!!

    1. Andrew

      Water shoots will appear after a heavy pruning, it’s the tree’s way of recovering. Trim the shoots through the growing season and possibly retain a few for training into fruit bearing spurs. Don’t worry, it doesn’t sound like your tree surgeon has done any harm.

  2. Sabs

    I moved into a house that has a matured apple tree. I am not sure how old the tree is, but I can tell its main trunk is slightly bigger than a no entry sign board . I have moved to this house 3 years ago and so far, I haven’t seen a single fruit. My neighbours do say it does produce lots of apple. As this is a big tree the branches of the tree have been cut using chainsaw in so many places and this was done before I moved in. Every year during summer I see the leaves get curled and there is powder like substance in the leaf and the branches have woolly aphids. I normally use a hose to get rid of the woolly aphids. Any advice will be helpful 1: no fruits 2: some leaves get curled 3: woolly aphid. My next-door neighbour has two small apple trees and they produce nice apples, so I believe there isn’t any pollination issue.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Sabs
      Sorry for the late reply to your query. If your tree was pruned by cutting back the ends of the branches this would cause a flush of vigourous new growth and no fruit. How long ago was the pruning done do you know? Sadly this is the most likely way the tree was pruned as most landscapers etc… don’t know how to deal with a fruit tree. It is difficult to advise on restorative pruning without seeing the tree. Would you like to send a photo me at andrew@quickcrop.ie?

      With regard to powder substance it is more than likely powdery mildew which is more likely to be a problem in dry years. What part of the country are you in and where is the tree planted, is it near a fence or wall which might prevent it getting sufficient water?

      Hopefully I can help here with a little more information.


  3. jose espada

    I have been diligently pruning and treating my apple tree and I am in my third year of doing so. I have apples, but in June they mostly drop or the survivors have been compromised by a burrowing pest. This year I pruned as you indicated and treated with a fruit spray in late December. What should I be doing with the treatments to maximize fruit bearing. Last year, I had a beautiful start with lots of blossoms and beautiful leaves, but in June the tips of the branches died and all of the apples dropped. This happened with my pears, peach trees and prune trees as well.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Joe

      That all sounds very frustrating. There are a number of possible causes which we need to rule out until we find the cause. Can I ask where you are located? Was there a drought in June when the fruits were developing, is it possible that the tree was starved of water? Also, what did the burrowing pest look like?

  4. Mr j carpenter

    My Daughter has just moved house and has a country cottage garden in it. is an old apple tree with this info on how to prune the tree well help me with the pruning . I thank you .

  5. Mary Wilson

    Hi Andrew, I am embarking on pruning my old apple tree. I have removed about 25% of the lower main branches, but now wondering what I should do with the top growth. In August 18 months ago I trimmed all the new vertical branches, and last year it became very dense with not much fruit. I will try to send a photo in separate email. Many thanks. Mary

    1. Andrew

      Hi Mary. Yes, it is difficult to advise without seeing a photo. In general you are trying to open out the centre of the tree, there is usually a large central branch which can be removed to achieve this. Your vigourous new growth won’t produce fruit and most should be removed unless any shoots are growing in a desirable direction and should be kept, they will become a fruiting branch in the future. I hope this helps. Andrew

  6. Al McEnhill

    Hi, great article. So, what is your recommendation to get the tree from setting so many flower heads into fruit? I’ve plucked flowers & reduced clumps manually, but that is a lot of work, and impractical in the high branches. I’ve been pretty successful manually but w the orchard getting larger, the challenge is real. thanks for your expertise!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Al. I am afraid there is no easy answer to this, the only way of thinning is to do by hand. I find it easier to thin fruits rather than flowers and do so after the ‘June drop’ when the tree will naturally shed some fruit anyway. You can remove more as you see fit but at least you will have a lot less to do (not all flowers will form fruit plus you loose some fruit in the ‘drop’, removing flowers is most labour intensive due to numbers).

      I don’t know the size of your trees or what rootstock they are on (dwarf, semi dwarf etc…) so it’s difficult to advise on an expanding orchard but regular pruning will help keep the fruiting branches as accessible as possible by preventing the trees getting too tall and keeping lateral fruiting wood as low as possible.

      I hope this helps.


  7. Peter

    Thanks for the useful guides! I bought my house two years ago and it has an old large apple tree that bears a lot of fruit. Last year I pruned the side branches and 3 D’s, to tidy it up a bit. Could not reach the top branches and didn’t want to take off too much first time anyway. Now it looks very tall and out of shape – kind of lanky! I would like to prune the tall upper branches now to give it a better shape, but am afraid of topping it and causing dense growth at the top – could you give me some advice please? I can attach a photo if that would help. Thanks

    1. Andrew

      Hi Peter. The main thing to remember is the difference between a pruning and thinning cut. You should ONLY be using thinning cuts which means any branch removed needs to be taken out down to it’s point of origin from the larger branch it is growing from. You can take out large branches in this way but can also take out smaller ones which might be crowding the centre of the tree or growing too tall. With older, unpruned trees it is common that there is a large branch growing up the centre of the tree which it is often best to remove. When doing major surgery like this you are best to restrict your work to one large branch per season. Topping will only occur with a pruning cut (any cut not removing the complete branch). A tree will also respond to a thinning cut by growing water sprouts but they will not be as numerous and won’t give you that dense clump halfway up a branch that a pruning cut will. I hope this helps. Andrew

  8. Peter

    Hi Andrew, thanks for your reply. Those long branches are some of the main branches of the tree, which grow from the very bottom near the base of the trunk. If I do heading cuts on these and completely remove them, I worry that I’ll be taking too much off the tree. So it would be a case of completely removing one of these this year, another next year, etc? Or are there other techniques for shortening these long branches without removing them completely? Thanks, Peter

    1. Andrew

      Hi Peter. Apologies for the late reply. Yes, you can do a thinning cut on any size branch and can actually remove quite a lot of height by cutting back side branches. Yes, in the image there is some light pruning on smaller branches which you will get away with. Is cutting larger branches mid way that produces the large tangle of growth. Having said that I would also try to make a thinning cut where possible, no matter how small the branch.

  9. Peter

    Hi Andrew, thanks for your reply. I meant to write “If I do thinning cuts”, not “heading cuts”, but I think I know what you mean. Will try a combination of thinning cuts and heading cuts this weekend and see how it goes 🙂 Thanks!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Peter, sorry, I was rushing and got it the wrong way around myself! Have amended my reply, I meant perform thinning cuts wherever possible. I wouldn’t worry too much, as long as you don’t cut a major branch half way up you’ll be fine.

  10. Joseph

    Andrew, just moved into a house in central New York. And I have roughly 13 apple trees and 4 of them are mature and well over grown with huge water shoots. I’ve started to thin it and open up the center but I’m not sure where to stop and be safe. I can email you pictures of your intrested in taking a look

  11. Nesta

    We have 3 old apple trees.
    Every year for many years every branch end has had every new growth on it cut back to its base.
    Every year millions of new growths replace them.
    The result is dense green hedge effect covering the entire tree, no light, no air what so ever.
    Please please how can such a bad situation be rectified?
    I was planning to see that the trees are not touched again for the next few years, to see if new leaders could emerge in a few years time.
    BUT our ‘gardener’ attacked one of the trees again in the same manner yesterday 15th October, in full leaf!
    I am not pleased, but gave kept my cool.
    I am thrilled in these early hours to come across you to ask.
    Kind regards Nesta
    I could send photograph.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Nesta
      It is difficult to advise without seeing the tree but the years pruning is definitely excessive and will result in the crowded tree you describe. If you have a very congested tree it may be worth looking at removing some larger branches to open it up. If you keep pruning at the ends the branches you will keep adding to the problem.

  12. Edward Walters

    Fantastic article Andrew! Thank you so much. My poor cooking apple has stood since the days of Queen Victoria as part of an orchard she owned and is now one of the very last ones left in the neighbourhood. Very dear to the family! But it has grown very dense in the canopy over the years; we’ve never really pruned it properly in the last decade or so, maybe more. I suppose we’ve been so hesitant to damage it that we’ve just not touched it at all! But now armed with your advice I’m ready to begin saving it in early March.

    Poor thing didn’t ripen a single apple this year, and it gets ravaged by brown rot and codling moth every year. This year was the first time I thinned the fruits as well, but I needn’t have bothered as there were so few up there and I just contributed to the lack of yield. I suspect a bumper crop next year – have to be careful not to encourage a biennial cycle. Will apply a grease band for the moth, and spray nematodes in a few days (when they arrive in the post), then mulch the base; anticipate the pruning and fruit thinning will help fix the brown rot problem (have been regularly disposing of the rotten fruits besides). Can’t wait to see it crop well!

  13. Jane Stone

    What a brilliant site. I’ve bookmarked it for future use and realise I’ve been doing it all wrong and really shouldn’t have been let loose with a pair of secateurs. All other sites assume previous knowledge and patience. Your site is very clear and informative so thank you.


    I have inherited an 80 year old tree in the allotment behind my house, together with 2 younger ones and am so thankful I found this article which explains the process so well. It is, however, still a complicated task especially for an inexperienced pruner on a neglected tree! I spend a lot of time taking a step back and studying the tree and don’t want to prune too much this first year. My question is can the pruning be completed over the course of a few days without being detrimental to the tree? It gives me more time to keep checking the method to make sure I’m doing it correctly.

    Also, not pruning related, but I would be interested to hear your views on growing mistletoe on apple trees. I know it is a parasitic plant but does it damage an apple tree or can they live in harmony? PS not considering this for the 80 year old tree!

    Thanks for your brilliant article Andrew!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Nicola. There is no problem pruning over a few days, taking your time will give a much better result. As regards growing mistletoe through an apple tree, I wouldn’t grow anything through a fruit tree as yow want as much airflow and light as possible. Just go around kissing people anyway and forget the mistletoe, I’m sure they won’t mind (once we’ve got over Covid).

  15. Tracy Walk

    Hi , i have been given quite a difficult task of trying to get 6 apple trees to produce better
    fruit. Im not sure but i think they are around 5 to 10 years old and they have not been taken very good care of and in very bad shape so i have been working on them possibly too aggressive ive pruned about 50 to 60 percent of the trees on 2 so far but i was taught by a tree surgen that when they are that bad to take them down to a starting period again and now im second guessing my self and not sure what to do with the last 4 trees. hopefully i have not damaged them and maybe you can give me some advice.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Tracy
      I am afraid it is very difficult to advise on pruning trees without seeing them. I apologise but I am not able to review photos as I get so many emails it is impossible to manage. Heavy pruning should be completed over a 2-3 year period following the instructions in the blog post. Andrew

  16. Christine Gray

    Hi, I have a few neglected old apple trees which have not been pruned for over 6-7 years. On a couple of them I have the following problem: about 20 cm up from the ground, off the main stem, 1-or 2- very vigorous branches grew, straight up, much taller than the rest of the tree now and still aiming up. They are quite thick already (2 to 4 cm diameter). The main stem of the tree is slanted/leaning on a side and looks quite old in comparison, with contorted (and some diseased) branches. Should I leave alone these tall straight new branches, encouraging the whole tree to revert and eventually cut the old part of the tree- or should I cut them from the base? Thank you.

  17. Valerie Vaughan

    Hi Andrew,
    Three years ago, after moving in to our new house (and garden) I asked an “expert” gardener to prune our beautiful old apple trees. They had given us a fantastic crop of fruit that first summer. He massacred them!
    They have not flowered or born fruit since.

    I was hoping they would recover naturally. I would like to do whatever I can to help. Could you give me advise on where to start and is there still time to prune this year? Advice would be greatly appreciated. I can forward photos if there is an email address/website to do so?
    Kind regards,

    1. Andrew

      Hi Valerie, just a couple of questions to help me figure it out. Did he top the tree? Do you have a mass of uncontrolled growth?

  18. Valerie Vaughan

    Hi Andrew,
    My comment is appearing as “awaiting moderation” for the last two weeks. Should I resubmit it?
    Kind regards,

  19. Valerie Vaughan

    Hi Andrew,
    Yes he appears to have topped the tree. He also cuy all of the main branches. These have had no buds, leaves or fruit for the last two summers.
    There are long spindly branches growing upwards and this year these have many buds but the branches have no leaves.
    Should I thin these or is it too late for this year? I have read your article and feel a bit more confident about pruning. Can I do anything to encourage a fruit crop for this year?
    Thank you,

    1. Andrew

      Hi Valerie
      I would be inclined to concentrate on shaping the tree this year and hope for fruit next year. The branches growing straight up are suckers and can be removed now. Although it is often written that suckers don’t form fruiting branches but this is not the case, they will eventually. You need to imagine the shape of tree you are trying to create and keep suckers that are growing or can be trained to grow in the direction you want to build the tree again. You can remove the rest. I know this can be difficult as they are so small but if a tree has been hacked as you describe it is really your only option.

      I hope this helps


  20. Joni

    I move into a Senior complex that has a huge, crowded, gnarly apple tree with fruit dripping to the ground, literally. Needless to say, the apples are smallish with a fair number of wormholes, but I think overall it is very salvageable, especially as others have made applesauce, etc from it in prior years.

    I can’t wait for late winter to start pruning it! Have read many articles and seen many videos, but your article is THE BEST, CLEAREST, and MOST COMPREHENSIVE of any for old, neglected trees (or any for that matter).

    Diagrams, photos, and glossaries are a God-send.

    Thank you for your considerate and considerable effort and offering!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Joni, thanks for your very kind words. I’m very glad you found the article helpful. Here’s hoping you can rejuvenate the tree!

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