Apple Tree Pruning: A Guide to Perfect Timing

Expert insight into the best time to prune an apple tree; why you should prune an apple tree, and how to identify common diseases during apple tree pruning.

The apple tree is not native to the UK, yet it has become a very popular addition to the English garden. With more than 7,500 cultivated varieties worldwide, the apple tree really does provide fruit for every taste, whether it’s being eaten naturally, baked, cooked or used to make cider.

The apple tree, known by its botanical name of malus domestica and also referred to as ‘Discovery’, is a small to medium sized tree that produces beautiful flowers in the spring and fruit that can be either ornamental or edible in the autumn. Growing only to a maximum of 8 metres but often less, this tree enjoys full sun and regular pruning.

Why prune an apple tree?

There are two key reasons for pruning an apple tree. One is to give next year’s fruit harvest a boost, and the other is to enhance this year’s crop. An apple tree that has been neglected will stop producing fruit and is likely to become unmanageable and unattractive.

When you prune a tree, you allow more air and sunlight to reach the fruit. This results in better fruit sweetness and increased fruit size as well as improved colour and much more straightforward harvesting. It will also reduce the threat of pests and disease. The fact you are able to see more with less foliage to contend with will help you spot any issues early on helps with this, as does a light and airy environment, as opposed to a damp and dark one.

Removing new shoots from an apple tree will lead to a greater harvest in the year that follows. The tree will, as a result of the pruning, be encouraged to produce even more fruiting spurs.

Your aim when pruning an apple tree is to take out the old to stimulate the new, and to create an open centre to the tree for better air and light penetration. Basically you are thinning out the tree, focusing on areas where the growth has become more crowded.

Care with apple tree pruning

You’ll need to take care not to prune any more than 20 per cent of the canopy each year otherwise you’ll see upright branches called watershoots sprouting. These serve no purpose and will not produce fruit or flowers.

You should always avoid pruning off larger limbs due to the risk of decay. Anything that is over 10cm in diameter should generally be left alone. The method and timing of pruning does however vary depending on the rootstock and type of growth form, i.e. whether it’s a bush tree or being trained in a restrictive form such as an espalier, cordon or pyramid, so be sure to consult the appropriate instructions for your particular type and form of apple tree.

When is the best time to prune an apple tree?

Untrained apple trees should be pruned every year, between November and March before the first leaves start to appear.

Trained apple trees on the other hand tend to benefit from summer pruning. Never attempt to prune a weak looking apple tree though, because when you take away the foliage, you remove the tree’s food source. Leave well alone until the tree gains strength.

For healthy trained apple trees, pruning is best carried out in July and August, although very advanced trees can be pruned earlier in the summer.

What to look for when pruning an apple tree

Apple trees are susceptible to various diseases and pests. Look out for shrivelled fruit clinging onto the shoots (brown rot) and ensure these are pruned out. Also look out for dark, flaky, shrunken patches on branches (apple canker); again cut out the affected parts but do not remove major limbs. Brown, shrivelled blossoms and die back of flowered shoot tips are signs of blossom wilt. If you see lots of dead branches then the tree may be suffering from honey fungus and is likely to need professional attention from a qualified tree surgeon.

Tree Preservation Orders

Never go ahead with any tree work without first checking whether there is a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) in place. If this is the case then permission must be sought for the works which can take up to eight weeks to be provided. Additionally, if the tree is located in a conservation area, permission must be obtained before commencing works of any nature.

The importance of apple tree pruning expertise

Apple tree pruning is quite a complex undertaking. Pruning needs to be tailored for optimum fruit harvest and not all trees are suitable for certain training forms. Unless you are aware of the cropping habit of the tree, you should not proceed any further.

It is, unfortunately, fairly easy to thwart an apple tree’s growth and fruit producing capabilities through inappropriate pruning. In this guide we have merely scratched the surface when it comes to apple tree pruning.

Apple trees can live as long as 50 years, but only if they are well cared for. They also make beautiful addition to any garden or open space, and will produce delicious fruit providing they remain healthy. If this is what you really want to achieve, it is advisable to seek professional assistance from a qualified tree surgeon when it comes to the annual pruning of the tree.

If you have an apple tree on your land that needs pruning, why not contact Tree Works? As fully qualified and extensively experienced tree surgeons, we are able to offer specialist knowledge and skill in all aspects of apple tree pruning. For a free, no-obligation quotation, give us a call on 07781 416 354 or get in touch here.

When Should I Prune my Douglas Fir Tree?

When is the best time to prune a Douglas fir tree? Why is Douglas fir tree pruning so crucial? And what are the most prevalent Douglas fir tree diseases? Read on to find out…

The Douglas fir, or Pseudotsuga menziesii to give it its scientific name, in a non UK native evergreen tree from the Pinaceae family which was introduced to the UK in 1827 by Scottish botanist David Douglas. The tree has the ability to grow to 55 metres in height and can live for more than 1,000 years, thriving mostly in western regions of the UK where rainfall levels are higher.

Used in the manufacture of beams, furniture, veneers, decking, flooring and cladding, the timber of the Douglas fir is of exceptional commercial importance.

The Douglas fir produces large cones of up to 10cm in length and the tree itself tends to grow into a distinctive conical shape.

Why prune a Douglas fir tree?

Fir trees by nature need little or no pruning in maturity. The distinctive shape is generally maintained naturally and is very appealing without any intervention.

However, there may be a few instances where the pruning of evergreen trees such as the Douglas fir becomes necessary.

As with any tree, pruning out branches that have become diseased or damaged, and removing dead wood, is highly recommended. Disease has a tendency to spread quickly, so early removal of the affected branches is vital. Dead branches also offer attractive habitats for insects, in particularly the boring type, which could be potentially fatal for the tree.

Douglas fir tree pruning will also help to boost the bushiness of the tree, prompting it to look fuller and thicker. This is only providing the pruning is undertaken at the right time, and is not overly harsh, otherwise you could permanently impair its shape and appearance.

It is important to be aware that evergreen trees grow from a central leader. This means that pruning techniques such as crown reduction or any practice that removes the top part of the trunk must be avoided, otherwise the height will be reduced, but the width will continue to expand, which will result in a rather odd shaped tree.

Removing lower limbs is also a no-go, even if you are trying to create space underneath the tree.

If when the tree is young you find central leaders are competing, you can remove the weaker ones in order to leave the strongest to take the tree to maturity.

When pruning, try to remember the rule of thirds: be sure to only ever remove up to a third of the tree at any one time, otherwise you could cause unnecessary stress to the tree from which it will take a long time to recover.

When is the best time for Douglas fir tree pruning?

The best time to prune a Douglas fir tree is during their dormant phase, which is early spring, before any new growth commences, or during their semi-dormant phase in mid-summer. Early spring is preferable as the new growth will quickly fill the gaps.

The new growth that emanates from an evergreen tree is known as ‘candles’; this is down to the candle-like shape of the branch tips. If you are looking to keep the tree in a more compact format, then cutting the candles back halfway before the needles unfold is the best course of action. Candling usually occurs between late March and mid-May depending on the local climate. Be sure to avoid pruning once the new needles have opened fully, otherwise the tree may end up with a misshapen appearance, because it will not usually be able to replace its growing tips.

What to look for when pruning a Douglas fir tree

The Douglas fir is susceptible to a variety of fungal diseases. Douglas fir adelgids (Adelges cooleyi) can also be an issue in some cases. These are aphid-like insects that are partial to most types of conifers. They feed by tapping into the tree and extracting sap. Infestations can lead to branch dieback, growth deformation and sometimes even death of the tree. Look out for fluffy white wax on the foliage as well as sooty moulds and mottling. Galls may also form which can affect the growth of new shoots.

Thankfully, much of the damage caused by adelgids is often minor and is usually well tolerated by the tree.

Tree Preservation Orders

You must never go ahead with any tree work if there is a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) in place. Verify this before you proceed and if you do find there is an Order in place then you will need to apply to the local authority for permission to take action. This may take up to eight weeks to transpire. Also, if the tree is situated in a conservation area, you’ll need express permission before undertaking works of any kind.

The importance of Douglas Fir tree pruning expertise

The only way to guarantee the best possible care and professional attention with regard to your Douglas fir tree is to engage the expert assistance of a suitably qualified tree surgeon. They will know exactly how and when to prune your Douglas fir tree and will also be in the best position to identify and deal with any diseases or pest infestations, such as adelgids.

When selecting a tree surgeon, always make certain you request checkable references and certificates that document their qualifications so you can be sure they are relevant. In addition, ask to see insurance documents so you have total reassurance that you are covered for the work being carried out. Lastly, if you can, try to enlist a tree surgeon with Trading Standards and local authority approval for a guarantee of quality and value for money.

If you have a Douglas fir tree that needs pruning or trimming, why not contact Tree Works? As fully qualified and highly experienced Trading Standards and local authority approved tree surgeons, we are able to offer specialist expertise across all aspects of Douglas fir tree pruning. For a free, no-obligation quotation, get in touch with our friendly experts on 07781 416 354 or get in touch here.