Apple Tree Trimming Guide: Increase Harvest, Pruning Apple Trees Guide

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 18, 2023

Man holding an apple and pruners looks at his tree after learning apple tree trimming, how to prune apple trees for more fruit, cutting apple branches, and the steps for cutting limbs of apple trees explained.

Apple tree trimming is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your apple trees, helping them bear more fruit and stay healthy.

Thankfully, apple tree trimming generously repays you by increasing the fruit production.11 Plus, you’ll also notice that the fruits become bigger, juicier, and sweeter with every trim.8

One thing to note is that apple trees are naturally highly vegetative. So, if you leave them untrimmed for long, they develop dense branches with a lot of foliage.

Such growth significantly reduces fruit production and exposes the trees to pest and disease invasion.

Whether you are a novice in apple tree growing or an established gardener unsure of the pruning process, this article has all the necessary information. It’s a comprehensive apple tree trimming guide that includes how to increase harvest, pruning apple trees guide, and why you must prune apple trees, and it details when you should contact a professional to help get your trees under control.

Apple Tree Trimming: How To Prune Apple Trees

The first thing you have to do when pruning fruit trees, especially espalier trees, is to learn how to identify the parts that would be removed from the tree and which cutting tool to use. For example, when pruning an apple tree, you would cut off all bad branches, suckers, low branches, competing leader branches, as well as unhealthy branches in general.6

The tools you need for the pruning exercise are:

  • Pruning shears
  • Loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Gardening gloves
  • Other safety gear, such as headgear and safety glasses
  • Sack to put the debris

Here are the steps for pruning your apple trees:

Graphic of guide to pruning Apple trees showing a diagram of the parts to cut when trimming and a breakdown of the steps in the tree pruning process.

Step 1: Inspect the tree’s growth characteristics to reveal the main upright central branch, where you can start pruning. This central branch pruning process prevents any part of the trees from lacking enough sunshine, hence promoting healthy development.

Step 2: Begin by removing all the dead, diseased, and other damaged branches you can easily identify. Diseased branches often have unusual colors different from others. They may also have some dark areas indicating possible infestation.9

Step 3: Now that you have distinguished the main branch, get rid of any additional branches that may be competing with it. Make sure your central branch can well support additional branches.

Step 4: All branches should be at least four feet off the ground. Therefore, removing any low-lying branches likely to lure wild animals such as deer is necessary.

Step 5: Inspect for branches that are growing near each other and remove them. The ideal apple plant has 2-6 main branches from its central vertical branch.

Step 6: If you see any suckers developing within the bottom of the tree, remove them so there is only one upright stem from the tree body.

Step 7: Cut off any branches that grow abnormally. Apple tree branches growing straight up or downwardly prevent proper growth of other branches and can snap off when heavily laden with fruits.

Step 8: Thin the branches further by removing the whorls, which are usually small branches protruding from the major branches. Additionally, this will remove extra leaves obstructing the sun and enable better ventilation in the tree.10

After conducting a pruning exercise, you should check the tree to confirm if you’ve gotten rid of all unwanted parts so it remains healthy enough for a better yield.

Pruning Young Apple Trees

Apple trees are delicate, especially when they are young. You can easily kill them by pruning them too early or over-pruning.

Hence, it is important to carry out a significant pruning process once the plants are mature enough after three or four years of planting.

To have productive young apple trees,13 make sure you get seedlings from the best vendors. Thus, you don’t need to know the process of growing the plant or how to grow an apple tree from seed to make it flourish.

Person's hands holding garden shears and pruning young apple trees.

(Image: Apple and Pear Australia Ltd14)

When purchasing pre-grown seedlings, pruning is done for you by the supplier at the time of transferring them. Such action ensures the seedling can concentrate wholly on growing a sturdy trunk and forming a sound root system, which is necessary for strengthening the mature grown-up trees.

The first pruning happens at planting. Cutting should be done when the apple tree is about 30 inches tall to allow the shoots to begin sprouting from the stem.

In the second year after growth, identify two or three developing branches that could be potential scaffold branches over the next several years. Remove any competitor branches close to them.

When To Prune Apple Trees (Best Time To Prune Apple Trees)

Apple trees are strong and can be exposed to pruning at any time of the year, and the tree wouldn’t be hurt. However, you have to consider how cold temperatures in winter and hot ones in the summer heat will affect the tree’s growth further after pruning.

That is why you prune your apple trees during late winter or early spring after the frost is over.12 The trees are able to recover while they’re dormant.

When spring comes, they experience healthy growth.

Pruning apple trees in winter is only recommended in areas that do not experience frosting conditions. At this time, the apple tree is in hibernation, ready for growth as soon as warm weather comes.

Pruning apple trees in fall only increases the number of new shoots. Such vegetative growth means you are constantly pruning since the new shoots cannot survive harsh seasons or bear fruits in those conditions.

Nevertheless, irrespective of the season, all the branches which are diseased and broken must be forthwith removed. By doing so, the tree is saved from further injury, if not a total infestation of the disease.

Reasons for Pruning Apple Trees

Pruning apple trees, especially the young ones, can be intimidating for gardeners. But, if you understand why you must do it and how to do it properly, it becomes a gratifying process.7

Here are some reasons why apple tree trimming is essential:

  1. You can control the tree’s height and regulate its overall growth structure to allow you to reach the plant easily when harvesting fruits.
  2. Pruning encourages the transition from vegetative to reproductive growth as there is proper development of new and stronger branches. These branches begin to bear fruits the following year, increasing the yield per tree significantly.
  3. Since pruning involves removing the dead, damaged, and diseased parts of the apple tree, the tree can maintain good health and promote vigorous growth.
  4. Pruned apple trees produce larger and sweeter fruits because more plant nutrients are channeled to the development of fruits instead of feeding new shoots.5
  5. Pruning apple trees allows better aeration within the plant and proper exposure to sunlight. In return, the trees remain clear of pests and diseases that are usually encouraged when overgrowth occurs.

Do You Need an Arborist or Tree Trimming Service for Apple Tree Pruning?

Although apple tree trimming is easy, you need to know how to do it correctly so you don’t over-prune it.

Over-pruned apple trees may die or simply stop producing fruits as they divert all their energy into developing stem wood instead of fruit production.1

Rows of perfectly pruned apple trees at an orchard during spring.

(Image: Apple and Pear Australia Ltd15)

Therefore, if you are new to pruning or just unsure how to trim your apple trees, you can seek help and guidance from an experienced arborist. Afterward, you can comfortably prune your apple trees and get the juiciest apples right from your backyard.

On the other hand, if your apple tree growing venture goes beyond the backyard into a productive orchard, a tree trimming service can save you the hassle of trimming and maintaining all the trees.

It’s also important to consider the tree size and the amount of work needed before you go for professional services.

For example, if your apple trees are old and have many overgrown branches, you may need help to restore their productivity without damaging them.4 Such delicate trees may need the touch of an arborist.

Of course, you want a qualified arborist handling your apple trees. So, ensure that you get all the information about their qualifications and experience before you let them start pruning.

Another critical factor to consider is the cost of the trimming service. A tree trimming cost calculator can help gauge how much you should pay for the apple tree trimming service.

Crab Apple Tree Trimming

Crab apple trees don’t require vigorous pruning, but you need to remove all the dead shoots and suckers that continuously grow at the base of their trunk. Bear in mind that they are mostly grown using the grafting technique, and one could find their suckers growing into another variety entirely.2

The crabapple tree is less vegetative than the common apple tree. Therefore, you should consider whether the tree requires trimming and which parts to remove before you start pruning.3

Man in winter gear pruning apple trees.

(Image: Apple and Pear Australia Ltd16)

You may thin out any crowded branches to make sure there is enough spacing between them so as not to be vulnerable to diseases.

Similarly, it is vital to cut off all dead and broken branches from the base to sustain the good health of the tree. Do not fail to prune off any branches that hang too low, disturbing movements under the tree.

The results of pruning an apple tree should be such that you are able to see through the tree without any blockage. This type of pruning is different from what you do with landscaping trees, which are usually considered shade trees in the yard and should have more foliage.

If you want better outcomes from pruning fruit trees in Texas, you can consult an arborist or anyone who deals in tree trimming services, including apple tree trimming.

Frequently Asked Questions About Apple Tree Trimming

Does Apple Tree Trimming Consider How Many Leaves Are on a Tree?

Yes, if an apple tree is overloaded with too many leaves, then it has too many branches that grow outwards and need pruning. Leaves growing above them block the sun from penetrating the inner branches, diminishing their output.

Are Apple Trees Considered Drought-Tolerant Trees?

Established apple trees have an excellent capacity to endure drought over short durations. However, young apple tree seedlings, newly planted, might require constant watering until roots grow firmly into the soil.

How Long Does It Take for a Tree To Grow After Pruning?

An apple tree grows well if pruned and presented with optimum growing conditions. As such, when you practice apple tree trimming at three years old, it can start yielding fruits during its fourth or fifth year.


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11Atucha, A. (2023). Pruning Apple Trees to Maximize Healthy Fruit Production. Wisconsin Horticulture. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <>

12Delisle, J. (2018, February 13). Why We Prune Fruiting Plants and When to Do It. University of New Hampshire Extension. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <>

13University of Maryland. (2023, February 20). Training and Pruning Apple and Pear Trees. University Of Maryland Extension. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <>

14Pruning and training young apple trees Photo by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

15Queensland apple orchard in flower Photo by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

16Winter pruning of apple tree in Mouats orchard Photo by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>