Even if you don’t particularly enjoy the flavor of a freshly picked apple from your wild tree, you may have discovered that its fruit serves you well for making cider, jams and jellies. If not, surely you’ve noticed how much the wildlife residents in the area love your tree’s bounty of fruit, tender leaves and shoots. And you do have to admit that the tree in full bloom compels you to stop and admire its beauty. Although your wild apple tree probably popped up all on its own, it will need your help to remain healthy. A little bit of common sense pruning will go a long way toward rewarding you with maximum yields of fruit for many years to come. Remember the “rule of thirds” as you prune: Never remove more than a third of the tree’s branches in any single year.
Prune your wild apple tree when it’s dormant, late in the fall or in the dead of winter, before new buds begin forming. Remove very old, dead or damaged limbs. Prune those that appear to be healthy but haven’t been bearing fruit. Cut out any branches that cross over each other. Keep in mind that one of your main objectives is to thin material in an effort to allow more light to reach more of the tree. Use sharp pruning shears to make clean cuts as close to the main branch as possible.
Thin areas of the tree that tend to overpopulate themselves with mature fruit. These heavily unbalanced sections tend to damage and break over-burdened branches. Fruits that grow from them are sure to be undersized.
Remove crowded limbs anywhere you see them. Trim healthy branch clusters to shorten them and give them more room to grow. This will open up some space to allow much-needed sunlight into the tree’s interior.
Prune out any limbs that are growing straight up or down. They don’t receive enough sunlight to produce fruit. The lateral growth pattern of the tree’s main branches is what’s important for developing apples.
Clip away any suckers growing from the trunk or larger limbs. Suckers are those smooth, straight little shoots that usually never bloom or produce fruit. They consume some of the tree’s valuable resources, robbing them from more productive areas.
Cut uppermost branches close to the trunk to allow more light into the rest of the tree. These branches receive the most sun and the most vigorous growth. Since resources in this area are directed to produce wood and foliage, little if any fruit is likely to grow.
Remove excess fruits later in the year when they form on flower clusters. There should be only one apple per cluster, and there should be about five inches of space between each.