Pruning apple trees isn't the easiest of tasks in the world, but the reward of a beautiful tree and sweet, succulent fruit makes it more than worthwhile. In order for apple trees to produce at peak efficiency, proper pruning is required. With a little effort and by following a few easy steps, you can get rid of the overgrowth and excess branches and have your apple trees ship-shape in time for the next growing season.
Choose the proper time for pruning your apple trees. Generally it is best to prune apple trees before any new blossoms form and before the new growth for the year begins. Because of this, late winter or early spring is ideal. Just wait for a nice day--and aren't they all when you're in California?--and head out to the apple grove.
Begin by pruning back the dead branches at the outer edge of the drip line with a sturdy set of pruning shears. Systematically work your way in toward the trunk of the tree. Be sure to wear proper protective gear when pruning: eye protection and gloves at minimum.
Trim back the tree to the desired drip line by cutting any new growth at the "Y" intersections where the newer branches split off from the older ones. Start this process at the top of the apple tree and work your way down.
Remove any outer branches that overly shade the interior portion of the tree in order to make sure the tree gets as much sun exposure as possible, especially the trunk. Again, start on the outer edge of the canopy and then work your way in toward the trunk.
Make certain to leave a fair number of scaffold branches--the branches that are lowest and largest on the tree--as these provide a support base for the tree and encourage further growth. Remove these branches only if they are dead or damaged.