The approach to trimming apple trees depends on the age and previous care of the tree. If the apple tree is young, between 2 and 3 years old, the basic idea is to shape the tree. The canopy needs to be open, supported by one main trunk, and the branches should reach outward horizontally to create a scaffold like appearance. Pruning during this phase of life should be kept to a minimum. Older trees that have been neglected may require more work and a plan. Determine what needs to be removed to clear out the canopy and remove only one-third of that amount each year for three years to avoid shocking the tree. Keeping this in mind, the mechanics of trimming the tree are the same for either age.
Using hand shears, yearling trees should be trimmed to resemble a single whip-like stick about 3 feet tall. Remove any branches that appear broken or dead.
Trim trees in the 2- to 3-year-old range with pruning shears so the tree has only one main trunk. Cut away any new growth sprouting from the base of the apple tree. Keep horizontal branches that grow outward from the trunk. Trim away any damaged, diseased or dead branches.
Trim the remaining horizontal branches of 2- to 3-year-old apple trees back to one-half of their original length with the hand shears. Prune any branches that grow at less than a 45-degree angle to the central leader or trunk. Trim branches sprouting from the trunk between the ground level and a height of 24 inches up the trunk to a length of 6 inches. Remove them completely the following year.
Prune from trees of all ages any branches that rub against others, cross over each other or grow inward toward the trunk. Trim dead, injured or diseased branches each subsequent year.
Trim branches smoothly, leaving no stub behind as disease can enter and weaken the tree. Make cuts smooth by sawing away any rough or jagged bits with the hand saw. Allow collars to remain intact because cutting too close to the main trunk can cause injury to the apple tree.
Maintain a tree trimming routine each year that removes only dead, damaged or diseased branches or those that cross over or rub other branches. Conduct minor pruning to maintain scaffold shape.
Position a ladder against taller trees and secure in place in order to reach higher branches. Brace the ladder with something sturdy at the base. Position the ladder between sturdy branches and secure or tie the top of ladder to upper branches for added stability.