How to Prune Honeycrisp Apple Trees

Overview

The very popular Honeycrisp apple--famous for intense flavor and a crisp juicy bite--presents several challenges for growers. Bearing large crops at an early age, the tree may fruit so heavily that trunks break at the graft junction. Other common troubles include premature fruit drop and sunscald as well as a tendency to bear biennial harvests. Correct pruning and training can alleviate some of these problems.

Step 1

Dig a 2-foot deep hole 18 inches away from the tree. Set your wooden post in the hole, and pack the dirt around it until it's sturdy. Setting posts soon after planting avoids damaging new roots.

Step 2

Train the honeycrisp to a central leader with a scaffold branch structure. Trees planted in early winter can be headed back by clipping the top at 3 feet high just after the first buds open in spring. This forces early development of branches.

Step 3

Select one shoot out of the several that develop at the top of the tree. When the strongest shoot is 4 inches long, clip any competing shoots off at the branch collar (the swelling between limb and trunk).

Step 4

Choose four strong lateral branches from the shoots growing between 6 inches and 14 inches down from the top cut. Select branches about 90 degrees apart on the trunk and staggered about 3 inches apart vertically. Growth should be slightly upward; if the branch saddle or junction with the trunk is V-shaped, use a branch spreader to push the branch towards horizontal. Trim out competing branches and any vertical suckers.

Step 5

Cut the leader again in winter when the tree is dormant; head the leader off by clipping straight across at from 20 to 28 inches above the first top cut. Maintain the first years branch whorl by clipping out competing suckers and positioning branch spreaders if needed.

Step 6

Select a new leader after spring growth begins and cut back any competing vertical shoots. Choose four new lateral branches using the same spacing as before. Each year follow the same pattern of winter and spring pruning to create a tree with a strong structure and a pyramidal shape.

Step 7

Tie the trunk of the honeycrisp apple tree to the support post when the tree sets its first crop. Use several loose zip ties to hold the trunk upright. Typically a four year-old tree with a trunk diameter of 3 1/2 inches (several inches above the graft) should only be allowed about 60 apples. Thin fruit clusters by clipping fruiting spurs near the branch collar.

Tips and Warnings

  • Not thinning fruit contributes to early fruit drop and biennial bearing patterns. Heavy loads of fruit may be of poor quality or never mature at all.

Things You'll Need

  • Posthole digger
  • Wooden post (9 feet long, 4 inches diameter)
  • Zip ties (18 inches long by 3/8-inch wide)
  • Pruning shears
  • Limb loppers
  • Branch spreaders

References

  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Growing Apple Trees In The Home Garden
  • New York Quarterly Magazine: Honeycrisp Apple--Promising Profitmaker or Problem Child?
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture: Commercial Production of Honeycrisp Apples in Ontario

Who Can Help

  • Better World Report: The Honeycrisp Apple
  • University of Minnesota: Honeycrisp Apple
Keywords: prune honeycrisp apple, train honeycrisp, central leader

About this Author

James Young began writing as a military journalist in Alaska and combat correspondent in Vietnam. His lifetime fascination with technical and manual arts yields decades of experience in electronics, turnery, blacksmithing, outdoor sports, woodcarving, joinery and sailing. Young's articles have been published in Tai Chi Magazine, Sonar 4 Ezine, The Marked Tree, Stars & Stripes, the SkinWalker Files and Fine Woodworking.