How to Prune an Apple Tree: Step by Step Guide

Pruning an apple tree in the winter UK

Pruning Apple Trees in the UK

Pruning an apple tree helps to maintain the health and productivity of the tree. 

It involves removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches, as well as shaping the tree to encourage good growth and fruit production.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, learning the art of pruning can significantly impact the overall well-being of your apple tree. 

In this guide, we will explore the essential techniques and best practices for effectively pruning an apple tree. 

So, grab your pruning shears and let’s dive in.

At Evolution Tree Surgery, we’re on hand to help with all aspects of tree pruning, crown reduction, crown lifting, and crown thinning in Newbury, Berkshire and the surrounding areas.

If you’d like a free quote, get in touch with our team.

What Are The Benefits of Pruning Apple Trees?

  • Stimulates new growth and improves fruit production
  • Shapes the tree for better structure and aesthetics
  • Enhances air circulation and sunlight exposure, reducing disease risk
  • Removes dead or diseased wood, promoting overall tree health
  • Controls tree size for easier maintenance and harvesting
  • Encourages the development of strong and sturdy branches

When to Prune an Apple Tree

The best time to prune an apple tree is during the dormant season, which is typically between late autumn and early spring. 

Pruning during this time can help prevent the spread of disease and reduce stress on the tree. It is also easier to see the tree’s structure and identify which branches need to be removed.

It is important to note that pruning during the growing season can stimulate new growth, which may make the tree more susceptible to disease or pest infestations. 

Therefore, it is best to avoid pruning during this time unless it is necessary to remove a damaged or diseased branch.

What Tools Do You Need for Pruning Fruit Trees?

When it comes to pruning an apple tree, having the right tools is essential. 

  • Pruning shears: These are small, handheld clippers that are used to trim small branches and twigs.
  • Branch loppers: These are larger clippers that are used to cut thicker branches that are too large for pruning shears.
  • Pruning Saw: This is used to cut larger branches that are too thick for loppers.
  • Ladder: A stable ladder is crucial for reaching the top branches. If uncertain, seek assistance to ensure stability.

If you have a small tree, a pair of pruning shears may be sufficient. However, if you have a larger tree, you may need to invest in a pair of loppers or a hand saw.

Tree surgeon pruning and cutting trees back

How to Prune an Apple Tree

  1. Start by cleaning up the tree, and removing any diseased, damaged, or dead branches.
  2. Prune out any suckers growing from the base of the trunk, as well as water shoots sprouting from the main branches.
  3. Aim for an open goblet-shaped canopy to allow light and air to circulate, boosting fruit production and reducing disease.
  4. Thin out upward-growing interior branches, especially those that rub against each other or crisscross other branches.
  5. Remove leading branches that compete with each other or points where two or more branches grow from the same point.
  6. Continuously assess your work and the overall shape of the tree, ensuring even spacing of branches and the open goblet shape.
  7. Make heading back cuts to shorten and thicken the outside branches, particularly in young trees, to prevent them from becoming long and gangly.
  8. Cut away 20-30% of last year’s growth, making the cuts just above an outward-facing bud to stimulate growth in the desired direction.
  9. Avoid heading cuts once the initial shaping of the tree has been completed, as it can cause overcrowding
  10. In mature trees, if a heading cut is necessary to shorten a long and thin branch, cut old wood to minimise new growth

Common Pruning Mistakes to Avoid

When pruning your tree, mistakes can lead to poor growth, reduced fruit production, and even damage to the tree. 

Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid:


One of the most common mistakes people make when pruning apple trees is over-pruning. This can happen when too many branches are removed, or when too much of the tree is cut back. 

Over-pruning can lead to stunted growth and reduced fruit production. 

Remember only to remove what is necessary and avoid cutting back more than a third of the tree in any one year.

Pruning at The Wrong Time

Pruning at the wrong time of year can also be a mistake. Pruning too early can lead to frost damage while pruning too late can result in poor growth and reduced fruit production. 

It’s best to prune apple trees in late winter or early spring before the buds start to swell.

Not Using The Right Tools

Using the wrong tools for pruning can also be a mistake. Using dull or dirty tools can damage the tree and make it more susceptible to disease. 

Use sharp, clean tools that are appropriate for the size of the branches being pruned.

Removing Too Much Fruit

While it’s important to thin out some of the fruit to ensure good quality and size, removing too much fruit can be a mistake. Over-thinning the tree can lead to reduced fruit production in future years. 

Remember to strike a balance between thinning enough to promote good fruit growth, but not so much that the tree is stressed.

Pruning an apple tree for fruit production

Hiring a Professional Tree Surgeon for Tree Pruning

Pruning an apple tree in winter may seem like a daunting task, and sometimes hiring a professional is the easiest way. Professional tree surgeons have specialised equipment, experience and vast knowledge of tree pruning, ensuring the health and longevity of your tree. 

So, if you’re looking to give your apple tree the best care possible, consider reaching out to a qualified tree surgeon to handle your pruning needs.

At Evolution Tree Surgery, we offer tree pruning for residential and commercial customers in Newbury and the surrounding areas in Berkshire.

For a free tree pruning quote, call Evolution Tree Surgery in Newbury at 07917 195806 .

FAQs about How to Prune an Apple Tree

What month do you prune apple trees?

Apple trees are typically pruned during late winter to early spring while the tree is still dormant. This period, before the buds start to swell, allows for optimal healing of pruning wounds and minimises stress on the tree, promoting healthy growth and fruit production during the growing season.

Should you cut the top off an apple tree?

It is generally not advisable to cut the top off an apple tree as this can lead to excessive regrowth, weak branch structure, and an unbalanced canopy. Instead, focus on selective pruning to maintain the tree’s shape and promote healthy, balanced growth.

What angle do you prune apple trees?

When pruning apple trees, aim to make angled cuts at a slight angle, approximately 45 degrees, just above a bud or lateral branch. This angle helps shed water away from the cut, reducing the risk of water accumulation and potential disease or rot.

How do you prune water shoots on apple trees?

To prune water shoots on apple trees, identify and remove these vigorous, upright shoots that grow vertically from the main branches. Make clean cuts close to the point of origin, ensuring to maintain the tree’s desired shape and promote the growth of productive lateral branches.

How do you prune a mature apple tree UK?

When pruning a mature apple tree in the UK, focus on removing dead, damaged, or diseased wood, thinning out overcrowded branches, and shaping the tree to maintain an open goblet structure. Additionally, make selective cuts to encourage new growth and maintain overall tree health and productivity.

Can I prune an apple tree in June?

It is generally not recommended to prune apple trees in June, as this period coincides with the tree’s active growth and fruit development. Pruning during this time can disrupt the tree’s natural processes and may lead to excessive sap loss, increased susceptibility to disease, and reduced fruit production.

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Pruning an Apple Tree UK

If you require the services of a qualified tree surgeon then simply give us a call. Whether you’re looking for a FREE consultation, or have a particular query, our qualified tree surgeons can help you.

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