How to Prune Large Apple Trees


Although apple trees are generally quite carefree, they benefit from yearly pruning to keep them healthy and ensure their largest potential fruit harvest. Large apple trees can present some challenges when it comes time to prune them, however. If they haven't received proper care over the years, the pruning job facing you can be a big one. Broken branches, disease and improper pruning methods in the past can challenge even the most avid gardener. If your tree is large, overgrown and has signs of disease, you might consider hiring a professional arborist for the job.

Pruning Large Apple Trees

Step 1

Prune apple trees during winter, after all leaves have fallen. Assess the pruning job before you begin to determine the number of dead or broken branches, to envision the shape you want for your tree and to plan for the tools you will need.

Step 2

Cut broken and dead branches first by cutting them cleanly on the branch side of the collar--a raised area where the branch attaches to the trunk.

Step 3

Trim off all branches that are 4 feet from the ground and lower.

Step 4

Prune branches in the center of the tree to allow more light to enter and to provide better air circulation, which will help to prevent some diseases.

Step 5

Cut suckers that grow from the tree's base all the way back to the trunk. Also cut shoots that point upward and downward from large branches you intend to keep. The goal is to create a globe-shaped tree with a strong trunk and leave only the best branches.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always exercise caution when you use sharp tools. Wearing eye protection and leather gloves can spare you needless injuries. When you do a large amount of pruning on older apple trees, the following season's fruit production can be small. To prevent this, you might want to do your severe corrective pruning over several winters, which will also reduce any shock you might cause your tree due to severe pruning all at once.

Things You'll Need

  • Eye protection
  • Leather gloves
  • Clippers or large loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Ladder (optional)
  • Chain saw (optional)


  • Weekend Gardener: How to Prune an Apple Tree
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
  • Tree Boss: Tree Trimming
Keywords: apple trees, pruning trimming, gardening fruit maintenance

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.