Unruly Apple Tree Pruning Advice

SprigOfTheLivingDead

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So my family and I moved into this house almost two years ago. When we were looking for a new house and land I didn't anticipate finding one with a couple of mature apple trees, along with about 15 crabapple trees. Anyways, since then I've been so focused on getting my tree farm going that I hadn't really paid any attention to the apple trees on the property and would now like to thin them out but really have no clue where to start. I don't think the previous owners put much effort into these and at this point they have so many criss crossing branches they don't produce a lot of apples. One of them hasn't given us an apple the last two summers, so I assume it hit that age where they no longer produce.

Anyways, I know you should classically have a single leader with alternating branches going off of it, but we're way past that ideal state at this point. Thoughts and advice? Have you attacked an apple tree of this nature?

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digitS'

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I'm no expert at all. My experience was pruning great numbers of roses inside a commercial greenhouse for several years. I also had Dad's fruit trees, 6 or 7, mostly the ones that I moved into his backyard, not willing to leave them behind when I moved into town from the country.

His neighbor was aware of me pruning those trees (to the best of my abilities) and asked if I could do something with an neglected apple tree in his yard. Yours look like they were once taken care of, even if several years have passed. His was au naturel from the start, I bet.

It took me two years pruning before that tree was even close to what I thought it should be. Balance was something that I think could be overlooked by some folks, besides the attention to horizontal and vertical. We are also told in the literature that only about 30% of the tree should be removed at a time. I am guessing that this is a maximum but you may need 3 years or more for what those trees really need .... to my way of thinking. Don't give up on them!

Steve
 

thistlebloom

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Mine didn't get pruned last year either and look similar to yours. There are are a few different ways to prune. One is the single leader with ascending branches like you mentioned. Yours look like they were done in more of a vase shaped structure, which is how I like mine. I'm attempting to moderate the height of mine, so I prune heavily, but as @digitS' said, try not to remove more than 30%. I'm not always so good at that, I seem to have latent bonsai'er genetics, haha.

So first thing I would do is go by the rule of diseased, damaged and crossing branches off first. Then I would address all those old waterspouts that are giving you the straight verticals. Stay with the form that was started with previous prunings IMO.
When you get all of that cleaned up shorten your branches ends by one third, to an outward facing bud.

Apple trees are pretty forgiving, but when they have been untouched for too long and there are large branches that would leave big wounds if removed, I would err on the side of leaving them. They can compartmentalize pruning cuts, but big ones close off slower and there is greater potential for disease to enter.

They may not have fruited if you had late freezes that killed the buds. I don't think apple trees get too old to fruit. We have some in the nearby state park that are ancient things, never get any care whatsoever and are loaded with fruit every fall.
 

thistlebloom

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Just took a closer look at your pics. I can see the framework where the large limbs end and there is a mass of smaller branches sticking up out of them. I would go for maintaining that height.

I have never done this, but I have read that you can get the pruners out in June again and remove water spouts and any misdirected branching that's heading into the interior. That's what I would like to do this year. I always get a crop of waterspouts shooting up, and that's just inevitable, so if I can correct it before they get ahead of me, my winter pruning would be much lighter.
 

Ridgerunner

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I haven't done one that bad. First I remove anything crossing, especially if they have been rubbed raw. Don't leave wounds. Next I remove water sprouts, I see Thistle just posted. I also kind of overlook that 30% rule.

Once I take out what obviously needs to come out I generally try to open up the middle so sunlight can get in if I feel I need to go further.

I imagine you know that if you are using a saw to cut under a limb so when it breaks off the bark doesn't peel. If you don't know what I'm talking about let us know.
 

thistlebloom

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I think Ridge is referring to the three cut method. First you make a cut on the bottom of the branch, about 4" out from where your final cut will be. Cut about a third of the way through the branch. Then make your next cut a few inches beyond that undercut so the branch is removed, then go in with the last cut at the branching collar next to the trunk. You probably know all that, but I'm drinking coffee and am feeling extra chatty!
 

SprigOfTheLivingDead

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Thank you @digitS' , I've heard that 30% thing before but had forgotten. I'll keep.my patience in check ;)
 

SprigOfTheLivingDead

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I haven't done one that bad. First I remove anything crossing, especially if they have been rubbed raw. Don't leave wounds. Next I remove water sprouts, I see Thistle just posted. I also kind of overlook that 30% rule.

Once I take out what obviously needs to come out I generally try to open up the middle so sunlight can get in if I feel I need to go further.

I imagine you know that if you are using a saw to cut under a limb so when it breaks off the bark doesn't peel. If you don't know what I'm talking about let us know.
I think Ridge is referring to the three cut method. First you make a cut on the bottom of the branch, about 4" out from where your final cut will be. Cut about a third of the way through the branch. Then make your next cut a few inches beyond that undercut so the branch is removed, then go in with the last cut at the branching collar next to the trunk. You probably know all that, but I'm drinking coffee and am feeling extra chatty!
Yep, familiar with that method, but appreciate the advice to make sure ;)

I planted an additional 12 apple trees. I think two died, but otherwise stuff is good outside of these two crazy trees
 

flowerbug

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if they're not a rare variety take 'em down and start over IMO. apple wood makes good fires and for smoking meats.

i forgot to mention that large enough chunks of green wood from an apple tree might be prime mushroom innoculation to grow your own mushrooms...
 
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SprigOfTheLivingDead

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if they're not a rare variety take 'em down and start over IMO. apple wood makes good fires and for smoking meats.

i forgot to mention that large enough chunks of green wood from an apple tree might be prime mushroom innoculation to grow your own mushrooms...
I'm going to look into that mushroom idea
 
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