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How to Train Apple Trees

By Charmayne Smith ; Updated September 21, 2017

The deciduous apple tree is a relatively easy tree to grow and cultivate. Though the tree requires some general maintenance and attention, a healthy apple tree will adorn its owner with beautiful blooms and plentiful fruit. Young, newly planted, and sometimes mature trees require proper training. The training helps the tree develop upright posture and branch balancing which helps it carry its developing fruit efficiently.

Begin training your apple tree immediately. Young, new planted apple trees are quite easy to train and resilient to pruning. Start by developing the central leader. This is the main, upright trunk of the tree from which the branches will grow. This leader sets the pace for the tree’s growing direction.

Young trees that are less than a year old will not have an established leader. Inspect the developing branches and choose a leader for the tree. It should have a dominant, sturdy state and be the most central part of the tree. Trim away new shoots that challenge the dominance of the central leader.

Prune away any branches that rest too close to the ground. The tree’s lowest row of branches should rest no closer than 24 inches away from the soil. You may find it necessary to repeat this process more than once during the tree’s first 3 years.

Develop the tree’s scaffolding. Over the course of the tree’s early years, trim the apple tree’s branches to develop and train the scaffold branches. These branches are directly related to the amount and quality of fruit that is produced at maturity. The branches should be well-spaced and alternatively rotated around the central leader. The branches should have wide crotch angles at the trunk. Wide crotch angles help the tree’s structure to support the weight of the developing fruit.

Inspect the tree regularly and remove and dead or dying branches immediately. Diseased branches, stems, and fruit should also be removed immediately. Ensure that your shears or pruning tools are sterilized with wood alcohol between each cut. This will ensure that disease is not spread throughout the tree while pruning.

Prune the upper branches to allow light to shine through the tree’s lower branches. The upper branches should be headed off with a blunt cut. This cut will allow new shoots to branches off, directly behind the pruned cut. Make the cuts to meet the intended shape of the tree. Avoid extensive, simultaneous pruning, however, as this will stunt the tree’s growth and promote dieback.

Prune your tree in the early spring and late fall to early winter months. Avoid pruning during the tree’s growing period, from late spring through early fall. This could have adverse growing affects on the tree. Fertilize the tree immediately after pruning to promote vigorous growth and ensure fruit quality. Water your tree regularly, increasing water levels during the dry summer months.


Things You Will Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Water
  • Fertilizer

About the Author


Writing professionally since 2004, Charmayne Smith focuses on corporate materials such as training manuals, business plans, grant applications and technical manuals. Smith's articles have appeared in the "Houston Chronicle" and on various websites, drawing on her extensive experience in corporate management and property/casualty insurance.