Hearty fruit trees such as apple trees should be pruned when the trees are dormant, usually in late fall or winter according to North Carolina State University. In areas with harsh winters, such as central to northern Ohio, trees should be pruned in late winter to minimize damage by cold weather, but in the temperate south apple trees can be pruned as soon as the tree goes dormant, usually by late October. Pruning should focus on maintaining a strong structure so that the tree can bear the load of fruit it will put forth in summer.
Sharpen your pruning tools before pruning your tree to reduce damage to the tree and speed the healing process. While pruning an apple tree you will use pruning shears, branch loppers and a pruning saw.
Prepare a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Soak a clean cloth with this solution and rub the blades of your shears with this solution before pruning an apple tree, after removing diseased wood, and in between pruning trees to avoid spreading diseases.
Cut newly planted apple trees so that their leader (central stem) is 36 inches above the soil. Remove the weaker leader for an apple tree with a double or forked leader.
Remove branches that are growing too closely together. Young trees should have evenly spaced branches, like the rungs on a ladder, throughout the tree to promote a strong scaffold.
Remove dead or diseased wood and broken branches.
Prune away any branches that rub against one another. Remove branches that grow toward the tree's trunk instead of away from the trunk and any branches that cross the center of the tree.
Prune out weak or spindly growth form the tree.
Remove any remaining dried apples that did not fall from the tree and were not removed during the growing season.