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Apple trees also grow older and change naturally. Some specimens have also not seen a pruning shears for a long time. Both have unforeseeable consequences: the harvest is becoming more and more modest and the crown is no longer beautiful. Diseases may also spread. But an old apple tree can still have many years of life ahead of it. It is worth giving it new impetus with the right cut. We will show you how this can be done.

Pruning old apple tree

Before: a neglected treetop

Every apple tree needs a maintenance cut regularly, usually every two to three years. If the maintenance cuts are not made for many years, the tree grows completely uncontrolled. This is clearly noticeable in the crown:

  • Scaffold shoots branch out heavily in the upper area
  • reminiscent of a broom
  • the shoots sink downwards
  • the inside of the crown gets less and less light over time
  • consequently becomes more and more bald
  • the long fruit shoots hang over
  • hardly any young shoots are formed
  • the apple tree is aging more and more
  • Vital fruit wood is scarce
  • if so, then it is only in the edge area of the crown
  • each at the top and on the outside
  • dense crown promotes diseases
  • the fruit quality also decreases
Apple tree in the home garden

The rescue: a rejuvenating cut

A special cut that as taper cut is called, can revitalize such old, neglected apple trees. The aim is to promote new, healthy fruit wood. With this type of cut, however, it is not enough to remove a large part of the shoots and thereby align the crown. Every twig and every shoot, no matter how thin, must be examined carefully to see whether it can remain or must be removed. The following points must be carefully observed:

  • best time for cutting
  • suitable cutting tool
  • Establishment of a scaffold
  • size of the cut surfaces

The individual points are explained in more detail below. The apple tree owner should familiarize himself with this before using the shears.


Old apple trees are sensitive to cold, so winter is less suitable for radical pruning. Before you reach for the scissors, you should first let the icy days pass. Spring is the best time to prune the old apple tree so that it will later produce fruit-bearing shoots.

If a lot has to be removed during regeneration, some tree specimens can sprout heavily at the cutting points. In order for the rejuvenation pruning to produce the intended result, this new shoot must be pruned in the following years and thus reduced to a minimum. Summer is more suitable for this, since new growth calms down more quickly afterwards. Even if the competing shoots of a trellis shoot are very strong, they should be cut in the summer.

Appropriate cutting tool

The use of a suitable cutting tool is of enormous importance. Not only does it make it effortless to cut off the branches. Also the interfaces left will be smooth and clean. This is important so that the open wounds can heal quickly. This means that harmful germs cannot easily penetrate the interior of the wood. But which tool is the right one depends on the drive strength away. Pruning shears are ideal for thinner branches. A thicker shoot, on the other hand, is better separated with a saw. However, the following applies to every tool:

  • pay more attention to quality than price
  • Blades must be sharpened
  • the tool should be clean
  • disinfection before and after the cut is mandatory
pruning shears

tip: For a large, old apple tree, you need not only suitable tools but also a securely standing ladder. Climbing up the tree to cut can be dangerous. Nobody can cut thick branches and hold on tight at the same time.

Establishment of a scaffold

Before you dare to carry out a rejuvenation pruning, you should take a close look at the old apple tree. If it was cut regularly in the past, the original branch structure may still be clearly visible. You can use this as a guide for the rejuvenation cut. If this is not the case, you will need to establish a new framework by removing any competitive shoots later when pruning the old apple tree. If many shoots are suitable as scaffolding shoots, you still have to decide on about four of them. Otherwise, the crown can remain too tight and let little light through.

size of the cut surfaces

If an old apple tree has not been pruned for several years, its branches have had ample time to grow in size undisturbed. However, it is important not to leave cuts larger than 10 cm in diameter when cutting. Larger cuts dry up and are no longer overgrown with new plant material. Decomposing fungi and bacteria can spread to these spots and eventually destroy the entire tree. If the ideal scaffolding requires such cuts, you should not choose it. In this case, it is better to switch to a less favorable scaffold structure than to provoke unwanted diseases afterwards.

Taper Cut: Instructions

  1. Once it is clear which branches are to form the framework, the first step is to remove all competitive instincts.
  2. If powerful vertical shoots have formed on side shoots that are parallel to the central shoot, they must be thinned out towards the middle. If those branches are already strong, it's better to wait until summer to do them. Divert such a branch to a lower side shoot.
  3. Divert strongly branched, overhanging "brooms" to a young shoot. This should be further in and steep. Ideally, it should be selected in such a way that it harmoniously continues the direction of growth of the skeletal shoot.
  4. Also remove any remaining shoots that are growing inwards or steeply upwards.
  5. Completely remove strong fruit shoots. As a replacement, leave young shoots that spring directly from the framework.
  6. Divert fruit shoots that are too long. For this purpose shoots with flower buds that are further inwards and pointing diagonally upwards or outwards are ideal.

Instructions for severely senile apple trees

First, get an overview of the scope of the cutting measures. In the case of a very old apple tree, it may be that a third of the crown must be removed. It makes sense to rejuvenate such an old and neglected apple tree in several stages spread over 2-3 years. There are two reasons for this:

  • The tree can tolerate the dosed cutting measures better.
  • Furthermore, the new growth is not stimulated as much as it would be the case with a one-off rejuvenation.

If the old apple tree reacts only hesitantly with new shoots after the first cut, it makes little sense to continue cutting in the following years. It is better to remove the old apple tree from the garden and plant a replacement tree. However, if the focus is not on the harvest, the tree can of course remain. In this case, make smaller cuts on the outside of the crown to help the tree withstand winds.

cuts in subsequent years

A rejuvenation pruning is a major intervention for every apple tree, which it tries to compensate as quickly as possible. With the aim of restoring the balance between the root system and the crown. That is why many new shoots form at the cutting points in the 2 to 3 years after cutting. You have to remove at least half, even better two thirds, of this every year.

  • so wait until summer
  • the ignited urge to grow then calms down more quickly
  • first remove the shoots that grow steeply upwards
  • also cut inwards growing shoots
  • Leave flat shoots that grow outwards
  • they form the new fruit wood
  • never shorten the annual shoots
  • that would stimulate their growth again

After: a well-groomed crown

If the growth of an apple tree has calmed down after the rejuvenation pruning, the crown is optimally built up. The scaffolding is clearly visible, and light is once again penetrating the interior. New fruit shoots form. Now you can hope for a rich harvest with good fruit quality. But the willingness to cut must not let up again. Every two to three years you have to take care of the apple tree with a so-called maintenance cut.

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