Expert Tips on Pruning an Apple Tree in Australia

Apple trees are relatively easy to grow and will give you years of delicious fruit. But, don’t put off pruning your apple tree because it’s actually quite easy.

There’s nothing quite like biting into a crunchy, juicy apple that you’ve grown yourself.

If you prune your tree every year, it will reward you with more fruit and the fruit will be easier to pick if you don’t let the tree get too large.

Here’s everything you need to know about pruning your apple tree.

When to prune an apple tree in Australia

Apple trees are best pruned in winter when they’re dormant and have lost all their leaves.

Pruning Apple Trees | Fruit & Vegetables

Avoid pruning your tree in autumn because this may encourage the tree to produce new shoots that may not survive the colder weather in winter.

Therefore, you definitely want to wait until winter when the tree has dropped all its leaves.

This also makes it easier to see the overall branch structure so that you can shape the tree accordingly.

How to prune your apple tree

Here are the simple steps to pruning your apple tree. You want to aim for a goblet shape to allow plenty of airflow into the centre of the tree.

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Not only will this ward off fungal diseases but it will also let the sun in to ripen the fruit.

Step 1: Remove dead or diseased branches

The first thing you want to do is remove branches that appear either dead or diseased. Cut these right back to nice healthy wood.

Step 2: Remove branches that cross over others

Branches that cross over each other will often become damaged because they’ll rub together and damage the bark. This can create wounds and allow diseases to enter your tree.

So, if you spot two branches that look like they cross each other, remove one of them right back to its base. Not only does this keep your tree healthier, but it will also open up the centre. 

As a general rule of thumb, any branches that grow inward should be removed. Make sure that you trace each branch right back to its origin and make a nice clean cut at its base.

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Alternatively, you can cut crossing or inwardly growing branches back to an outwardly facing bud. 

One important consideration is to ensure that your cutting tools, such as secateurs and loppers, are sharp and clean.

When using a pruning saw, make a small cut on the underside of the branch first before cutting the branch from the top. This will limit the amount of bark that will strip off if the branch accidentally breaks.

How to prune a young apple tree

One of the best ways to get a nicely shaped tree is to start early. This will help to keep the tree more compact and will train it to grow into a good shape.

Young Apple Trees | Fruit & Vegetables

To do this, you want to remove around a quarter to a third of the new growth that grew in the previous season.

Ideally, it’s also a good idea to cut back the main stem in the same way as this will help to keep the tree at a manageable height.

How to prune an overgrown apple tree

If you’ve inherited a mature apple tree that looks like it hasn’t been pruned for quite some time, you can rejuvenate it by doing some major pruning.

However, you actually want to spread this major task out over 2 or 3 winters to keep your tree healthy.

If you cut too much all at the same time, the tree will put on a lot of new growth in spring. Most likely this growth will be nice and lush but will not bear any fruit.

So, you want to concentrate on cutting around a third to half of the old growth in each winter pruning session to make the tree more manageable.

While you’re doing this, step back often to ensure that your pruning is balanced and not just concentrated in one section of the tree.


Should you cut the top off an apple tree?

While your apple tree is still young, you can reduce the height of the main stem to keep the tree at a manageable height. Even older trees can have their height reduced but you want to do this in stages over 2 or 3 winters.

What happens if you don’t prune an apple tree?

If you don’t prune an apple tree, it will just continue to grow and you’ll have a mass of branches growing in all directions and crowding the centre of the tree. While your tree will still produce fruit, the production will start to decline year after year.

Do apples grow on new or old wood?

Apples will grow on spurs that grow on two to four-year-old wood. That’s why you don’t want to rejuvenate a neglected mature tree all at once in the same year. You need to leave some of the older wood as this will produce the fruit.

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Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.


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