Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pruning Apple Trees

This is not a "how to" essay on pruning apple trees. Folks know me as a humble man, claiming no expertise in any area. Indeed, my wife often reminds me that I have much about which to be humble.

When it comes to pruning apple trees, I think I am probably one of the many people who like apple trees and struggle with the question, "How much do I cut off."

First, let me quickly add that I make no attempt to prune my full-sized apple trees. I like to see them get really big, and then I harvest whatever apples they produce. Last summer was a bumper crop, and their limps were so thick with fruit that many of the branches broke. I was eating our apples till the end of February. We were able to pick less than half of the apples, and much of the fruit was left on the trees for the birds or knocked to the ground for the deer.
I was too busy picking apples to take a picture of the trees with fruit on them last fall, but here is a photograph of the three Haralson trees as they look now.
Lowest branches on these trees are about six feet from the ground. The top ten feet on the tree in the foreground is beyond what I can reach, even if I stand in the bucket of the front-end loader on my tractor.

But I like to try to prune my dwarf apple trees, and I've learned that on dwarf trees, you want to cut off vertical branches and encourage branches to grow horizontally.

Last spring Nancy and I stopped for our monthly shopping at Cedar Summit Farm, north of New Prague, where we buy grass-fed beef, eggs from free-range chickens, honey produced locally, and dairy products made on the premises. Check out their website.
We caught a quick conversation with owner Dave Minar, and since I know he is a man of many talents and much wisdom, I asked him about pruning apple trees.
He said, "Well, you want to cut off enough branches so that you can take the meanest and biggest tomcat on the farm and toss him through the middle of the tree."
Don't try this at home, Folks. Don't actually toss the cat. We all love kitties. This is just meant as something to imagine.
So if you can imagine what a tree might look like if you could indeed toss a big tomcat through it, you may come up with a tree resembling mine after I took Dave's advice.
I took these pictures today. I didn't have the courage to take a picture of what they looked like immediately after I pruned them this spring when the branches were bare.

If you line the trees up just right, I think you could get the cat through both trees with one good, strong toss.

The trees have lots of fruit and look like they are doing fine even after I butchered them.

If you want expert advice on pruning, I suggest contacting the University of Minnesota Extension. 
Also, I wouldn't mention the tomcat test.


  1. A very well pruned apple tree sir! Did you chop away at any of the branches that carried apples?

    -Oscar Valencia

  2. I'm amazed and pleased that someone from a tree service took time to comment, especially someone from the Big Apple of NYC. Thanks so much. Most of the branches I cut were shoots that reached for the sky and had some apples. Many of them were ten feet or more. Pruning was way overdue. I suppose I should have thinned out the apples as well, but I thought I had done enough damage for one day.