Pruning is a challenge for apple tree growers. A misconception is that pruning will reduce fruit yield and cause stunted growth. Often, pruning is a task that home-growers put off and then winter sets in. Eventually, neglected apple trees need a hard pruning to return to their active, productive growing state. Late June to early July is the ideal time to hard-prune apple trees to stimulate new growth, and restore vigor to the tree during the following growing season.
Spray the pruning shears and hand saw blades with a disinfectant spray. Wait until the blades are dry before you proceed. Sanitation of the equipment guards the apple tree from potential contamination.
Cut all offshoots at the base of the apple tree flush with the ground. Use the shears for small offshoots and a handsaw for the larger ones. Some of the offshoots may be several feet high if the tree has been severely neglected. There should be no offshoots and only one single trunk at ground level.
Cut the top 1/4 of the crown off of the apple tree. The tree will have a flat appearance across the top. New growth will emerge at a later date.
Examine the apple tree, starting at the base. Tie a colored cloth strip to each thin or weak limb growing from main branches. Locate overlapping branches and limbs. Tie a cloth strip to each limb.
Remove all branches and limbs previously marked with the colored cloth strips with a handsaw and pruning shears. Hold the gardening equipment at a 45 degree angle for clean cuts.