When you maintain and care for an apple tree regularly, the reward is a bumper crop of fine apples in the late summer and early autumn. Apple trees have pruning needs much like any other tree because they require annual shaping and training in order to help them stay strong and healthy. Prune apple trees in spring before the tree begins actively growing again and then the nicely shaped apple tree will awaken and prepare to bloom for the new growing season.
Remove any suckers you find growing around the apple tree on the soil. Trim these suckers off at soil level with the pruning shears.
Examine the apple tree carefully, looking for broken branches. Cut away any broken, weak or unhealthy branches you find by removing them where they connect with the next largest branch.
Look for branches that are crossing each other or branches that are growing straight up or straight down from larger branches. Cut these branches off where they intersect with the next largest branch. Also look for branch crotches with angles that are 45 degrees or less because branches growing at angles this small grow from a weak crotch, which can weaken the tree. Remove one branch from an acute-angle crotch at the point where the branch grows out from the crotch.
Check to make sure there are no branches competing with the central leader (the main center branch). This will often occur up near the top of the apple tree--you will see a branch jut off from the central leader at an upward angle so the central leader seems to split in two. If you find this, remove the competing leader (the newest offshoot) back to the point where it intersects with the central leader.
Stand back and look at the interior branches of the apple tree carefully to determine where you should thin branches to enable proper light and ventilation in the center of the tree. When you find new growth on the interior branches of the tree, cut back this new growth by as much as one-third to open up the tree and allow more light and air to penetrate into the center of the tree.
Shape the outside perimeter of the apple tree to keep the branches even and to control the newest growth. Trim away the outside perimeter by up to one-third of the length of the branches. This shaping will not only keep the apple tree attractively shaped, but it will also help the tree to redirect its energies into producing more flowers and thus more apples.