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The cultivated apple (Malus domestica) forms its leaves mainly on the annual shoots. These ensure that the apple tree gets enough energy and can therefore produce a rich harvest. From the second year, flower buds develop on these shoots. This knowledge forms the basis of the annual cutting measures. If all annual shoots are removed, the harvest will also be smaller. The targeted cutting of selected branches is therefore of great importance.
The right time
When you need to prune an apple tree depends on a variety of factors. Pruning measures that take place during the winter months allow a good overview of the existing branches thanks to the missing leaves. Most apple trees tolerate winter pruning down to temperatures of minus five degrees without any problems. When the new vegetation period begins, the apple tree can put all its energy into developing new shoots. The winter cut is used to stimulate growth, while a summer cut slows down the growth rate. Since the tree loses a large part of its photosynthetic surface, shaping cuts are sufficient for the summer. The timing depends on these factors:Apple tree in the home garden
- hibernation: between January and April the tree tolerates pruning
- Frost: choose a day when there is no risk of frost
- growth spurts: summery topiary as soon as saplings appear
- breeding season: for conservation reasons do not cut when birds are nesting in the crown
Required cutting tool
When cutting an apple tree, it is important that the blades leave a clean cut. This means that pathogens or fungal spores cannot enter the wood. To prevent infection, you should thoroughly clean the blades and disinfect them before any action. Which tool you use depends on the branch thickness:
- Cut shoots up to two centimeters in diameter with pruning shears
- Cut branches up to four centimeters thick with pruning shears
- Cut branches with a diameter of more than four centimeters with a saw
The older the tree gets, the more magnificent and higher its crown develops. A stable folding ladder is therefore part of the basic equipment of every hobby gardener. With telescopic pruning shears, you can cut branches up to four meters high.
Cutting measures according to age groups
In the first years of growth, regular pruning is necessary so that the tree develops a rich crown. Patience is required until the first harvest, but regular pruning will give you high-quality apples for many years to come. The more frequently you cut the tree, the smaller the extent of the individual cutting measures. A tree experiences these cuts during its life:
- Plant pruning immediately after planting
- Education average between the second and fourth year
- some trees and shrubs require pruning up to the twelfth year
- Maintenance pruning starts from the sixth year
- Rejuvenation pruning makes sense for trees from the twelfth year
This pruning measure serves to build up a stable crown that brings good yields. With this pruning you set the future shape of the apple tree. Designate a strong central shoot that will form the base of the eventual crown and three to four leading side shoots for the crown framework. Ideally, these are at an angle of between 45 and 60 degrees to the main shoot so that they do not break under the weight of the later crown. The carrying guests should be arranged at a regular distance around the central drive. This gives you a pyramid shape that most closely resembles natural tree growth. This form is what you will get if you follow these rules:
- Cut weak branches in half
- Cut off a third of the lateral branches
- cut just above a bud
- Cut off branches of the leading branches up to the branch line
- Saw off thin and unsuitable shoots directly on the trunk
Notice: The central shoot is shortened so that the shape of the crown is a pyramid. The angle of their tip should be between 90 and 120 degrees so that the tree later develops horizontal fruiting wood.
The young apple tree will be trimmed further over the next few years so that it can compact its crown into the desired shape. For this it is important that competitive instincts are completely removed. Thus, the fresh shoot gets more light and can develop better. Water shoots are also undesirable and are removed in favor of the skeleton-forming branches and their flat-growing side shoots. How to proceed:
- Shorten the central shoot by three quarters of the annual growth
- Eliminate shoots that grow inwards
- Remove disturbing knots that do not contribute to crown formation
- Shorten growth on the skeletal branches by a third
Tip: You can tie down the leading branches with a coco cord so that an almost horizontal position is created. As a result, growth slows down and the leading shoots no longer have to be cut next year.
recognize water shoots
The branches growing steeply upwards, which usually develop inside the crown, are called water shoots. Older apple trees often develop numerous water shoots if they have not been pruned for a long period of time. They have a much lighter bark and softer wood than the other branches. These shoots have no value for crown formation and can be completely removed when they appear.
Maintenance pruning is done every three to five years to allow the tree to retain its crown. They serve to rejuvenate old fruiting wood and revitalize fruiting shoots. Dead branches are removed so that the tree is encouraged to sprout again. The crown has branched out well over the years, resulting in numerous water shoots. These must also be thinned out so that the leafy branches do not shade each other. This is how the apple tree gets new strength:
- Remove deadwood completely
- Cut shoots and inward growing branches at the base
- spare branches growing diagonally
After this pruning measure, your apple tree should have a balanced and light-flooded crown. Make sure there is a balance between the supporting framework and the horizontal fruiting wood. The diameter of this should be about half as thick as the cross-section of the supporting guide drives. When you carry out the measure depends on the weather conditions. Choose a frost-free day in late winter, because at this time you can already see the flower buds and spare them.
Tip: Watch closely how the apple tree develops after pruning. In this way you can draw conclusions for the next pruning measure and decide more easily which branch has to give way.
Fruiting wood grows upright in the juvenile stage until it blooms and bears fruit. Under this load, the wood bends towards the ground and the branch develops new upward shoots. No more fruit is to be expected on the hanging branches, so they rob the apple tree of energy. With the fruit wood cut, the aged branch is derived from the young wood. This measure is carried out as part of the maintenance cut and results in a rejuvenation:
- identify clearly hanging branches
- Follow old wood to the point at which young fruit wood strives upwards
- Apply the cutting tool to the branch point
- leave a few millimeters of the old shoot in order not to damage the young fruit wood
A pruning from June 24th ensures that the apple tree does not grow uncontrollably. Towards the end of June, the trees enter a short growth phase and then sprout again. The summer pruning curbs this shoot formation and promotes the development of the fruit. This pruning during the summer months has proven its worth, especially with older specimens, where the quality and size of the fruit are more important. When you carry out the maintenance measure depends on whether birds have settled in the crown to breed. If this is the case, you should only cut the tree after the breeding season for conservation reasons. Proceed as follows when cutting:
- Remove steep shoots and branches growing inwards
- Cut off disturbing and diseased branches as well as wild shoots at the base of the trunk
- spare horizontal fresh wood
- Select fruit buds at a distance of three centimeters
- Cut off damaged and excessive fruit
If you miss the maintenance cut, the crown tends to age. After a few years, an opaque structure has developed, which is bare from the inside. Fruit shoots overhang and no longer form apples because they lack strength. In this case, a rejuvenation pruning between November and February is advisable to bring the tree back into shape and revitalize it:
- Remove deadwood and diseased shoots radically
- Redetermine the skeleton-forming leaders and shorten them by half
- Cut back all remaining branches down to the branch ring
- apply derivation cut if needed
Trees that are severely out of shape can be rejuvenated in several stages over the next two to three years. In this way, the old tree can cope better with the radical pruning measures. You can control the new shoot better and bring it into the desired shape.