Apples and Washington go together like beans and Boston or corn and Iowa.
But taking care of your apple trees can be kind of tricky, right? They shoot up so high, you can’t reach the apples. And if you prune them shorter, they put off tons of unsightly shoots. Or they can even put off so many apples, the whole tree topples over.
What are the best ways to prune your apple trees and avoid all the pitfalls? Here are five key tips for keeping your apple trees healthy and productive.
- Keep your tree relatively short. Left to its own devices, an apple tree in the Puget Sound area can grow 16’ high or more, producing apples that only the birds and squirrels will enjoy. (Or dropping them, when ripe, all over your lawn.) Prune your tree annually to keep the height down to where you can reach its apple. We prune our own apple tree to about 8’ every fall. Using a 6’ ladder, I can safely reach all the apples easily. If climbing on a ladder isn’t for you, consider planting and training an espaliered apple tree.
- Develop a good, strong central stem in your apple tree with several strong scaffold limbs (see drawing). Snip back the tips of the scaffolds when the tree is young so they are always shorter than the leader. Look for scaffolds with strong wide-angled crotches; remove others. Remove undesirable shoots and buds by pinching them off.
- Thin older apple trees to remove weak, slender unfruitful wood; to remove limbs that rub against each other; to remove dead wood; and to open up air flow.
- Mulch your tree with 4” – 6” of arborists mulch to give the tree nutrition, to reduce weeds, and to maintain moisture. If there is grass around the tree, pull it out to the dripline, if possible. You don’t want the grass and tree competing for water, and you don’t want the lawn mower to be hitting your apple tree.
- If your tree isn’t producing apples after it blossoms, then it needs some help with pollination. There are two easy methods that work fairly well: 1) You can cut off a limb from another flowering apple tree (even a crabapple), and wave the limb around, touching the blossoms together; 2) you can shake the tree several times so it self-pollinates.
If your apple tree needs some TLC, call in a professional arborist, one that is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)to help you get your apple tree back into good shape. For those in the greater Seattle area, call the Blooma Tree Experts who boast 2 ISA Certified Arborists: (206) 735-4081.
This blog post includes information from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chemung County “Pruning Apple Trees” by Rudolph A. Poray