Apple trees need care for bountiful fruit
The best time to prune your apple tree falls in late winter or early spring, but homeowners often call arborists as spring and summer seasons march into full bloom.
To make sure your tree is ripe for harvesting juicy fruit that would entice even Snow White to take a bite, follow this advice from highly rated experts.
Rely on nature
Plant apple trees where they’ll receive full sunlight, good soil nutrition, adequate moisture, and won’t compete with other plants, says Peter Gerstenberger, senior advisor for safety, compliance and standards at the Tree Care Industry Association, based in Londonderry, N.H.
Try to avoid “frost pockets,” or areas where frost is more likely to form, because buds freeze in the spring, which can result in stunted or no apple growth. Too much water near tree roots blocks oxygen and mineral absorption and can kill apple trees from the ground up.
Prune early and without leaves
“The best time to trim is in the dormant season with the leaves off, when the tree’s structure is most easily seen,” Gerstenberger says. “Proper pruning, especially early in the tree’s life, insures a good limb structure and reduces the chances of limb breakage and related problems down the road.”
Apple trees should be trimmed in such a way that they grow out and not up in order to allow greater sunlight and wind penetration, which allows the trees to dry quickly on dewy mornings and helps to prevent mold and fungus, tree trimmers say.
Signs a tree needs to be pruned include branches that cross or rub, dead or dying limbs, or excessive watersprouts that offshoot from the trunk. Good fruit typically doesn’t develop from these sprouts.
Maximize fruit production
Salivating at the thought of biting into your first honeycrisp? Improper pruning and planting can leave trees fruitless. For homeowners, arborists advise pruning the top more narrowly than the bottom to allow sunlight to reach lower branches. Remove oversized or excessively low branches, too.
“The result will typically appear quite harsh,” Gerstenberger says. “Also, pruning for fruit production is a more intensive process, requiring annual attention.” Don’t prune more than once a year.
Apple trees need cross-pollination
If your tree flowers but doesn’t produce gala or golden delicious, you need a companion tree, preferably another apple tree that produces a different variety of fruit. All varieties of apples require some cross-pollination.
If good cross-pollination exists, check for fungus, disease, or lack of water during the growing season, which can prohibit apple production.
Tools of the trade
Tackling tree trimming yourself? Experts advise using different types of tools for specific jobs.
Scissor action from hand and long-handled pruners allows you to trim up close or get to those out-of-reach branches.
A pruning saw, which features large teeth on a curved blade, allows you to properly chomp away branches. Avoid using a carpentry saw with a straight edge because the thinner teeth are more likely to get caught up in tree limbs than its carpentry cousin.
Pole saws allow for a longer reach on taller trees.
Keep safety in mind
In addition to using the right type of saw, it’s best to use a three-legged, orchard ladder to trim an apple tree, says Dane Buell, director of general tree care at highly rated SavATree, based in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
“This specialized equipment can be very dangerous to use if you are not familiar with proper set up,” he says.
Doing any type of job with a chainsaw or ladder poses potential danger to the do-it-yourselfer. Tree specialists recommend homeowners call a highly rated pro with experience trimming apple trees.