How to Prune Apple Trees in the Winter


Apples trees are cold-hearty with varieties that grow all across the country. Apple trees must be pruned when they are very young to produce a strong frame for bearing the weight of an apple crop. Winter is a good time to train apple trees. During this time the trees are dormant. Trees pruned when they are dormant avoid shock from pruning and heal faster from the process.

Step 1

Select pruning tools for your tree that include pruning shears, branch loppers and a pruning saw. Sharpen these tools with a whetstone to help minimize injury to the tree.

Step 2

Mix a solution that contains one part bleach and nine parts water. Soak a clean cloth with the solution, and wipe your pruning tools with the solution to sterilize them. Clean the blades between prunings to prevent the spread of disease.

Step 3

Remove any fork in the main trunk of a brand new tree so that the tree will develop a strong central leader. Shorten the main trunk so that it is only 36 inches tall. Cut the leader off just above a strong upright shoot, which will grow to be the tree's central leader. Cut the central leader of older trees back to 28 inches above the topmost primary branch.

Step 4

Prune away primary branches on a new tree so that the tree's branches grow in tiers, which are called scaffold branches. Leave 18 to 24 inches between the tiers of branches to allow light and air movement between branches. Space each branch evenly over the tree. Prune away any branches that are too close together.

Step 5

Prune away branches that grow at angles of less than 90 degrees. Narrower angles are weak angles that will easily break.

Step 6

Remove branches that rub one another, grow toward the tree or cross through the center of the tree's canopy.

Step 7

Remove weak, spindly growth.

Step 8

Remove tiny offshoot trees or branches that grow from the bottom of the trunk or below the grafting union. These tiny tree growths are called sucker trees and will steal nutrients from the parent tree and stunt the tree's growth.

Tips and Warnings

  • Wear leather gloves when sharpening pruning tools to avoid injury. Always point the blades of pruning tools away from yourself when sharpening and draw the whetstone away from you across the blade.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Branch loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Whetstone
  • Bleach


  • NC State University Extension: Growing Apple Trees in the Home Garden
  • University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Care of Mature Backyard Apple Trees
  • University of Minnesota Extension:Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Who Can Help

  • Ohio University Extension: Pruning Mature Apples and Pears
Keywords: pruning apple trees, training fruit trees, growing fruit trees

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."