When to prune apple trees – the key time before apple harvest

Carol Klein explains the importance of judicious pruning

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If pruning your apple tree isn’t on your list of gardening jobs for this week, it’s time to add it to the list. Giving your apple tree a good pruning in the summer can make your fruit even more delicious. So, when should you prune apple trees?

If you’ve got an apple tree in your garden, you will soon be enjoying harvesting your apples to make pies, apple juice and cider.

Did you know summer pruning can help to manage the growth of your tree, meaning it diverts plenty of energy to growing fruit?

Pruning your tree in the summer encourages regular cropping and allows the sunlight to reach your fruits.

You should also prune your tree in the winter, after the harvest, when the tree is dormant.

Winter pruning keeps the tree healthy and stimulates root growth.

So, this weekend you should prune your apple tree if you haven’t already. Here’s how to do it.

How to prune an apple tree in summer

Pruning an apple tree in summer is very straightforward, and will create the conditions for an excellent crop of apples next summer.

While pruning your tree in the winter encourages vigorous growth – especially in a young tree – pruning your tree in the summer controls the growth and keeps your tree at the size you like it.

Before you prune, make sure your tree is a spur-bearer not a tip-bearer – pruning a tip-bearer will remove the fruits!

Cut vertical shoots down to a few centimetres above the spur that will become next year’s flower bud. Leave any darts or fruiting spurs alone.

When can I pick apples?

After pruning your tree this week, you will soon be enjoying the fruits of your labour.

To pick an apple, you should be able to just tug it and pull it off the tree. If it doesn’t come off when you give it a gentle tug, it’s not ripe yet.

A clue your fruit is ripe is a few windfalls dropping to the ground.

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When do you prune an apple tree in winter?

After enjoying your apples, baking them into crumbles and cakes, or even turning them into cider, the next key date in your diary should be planning your winter pruning.

Pruning an apple tree in the winter helps to stimulate growth and also allows you to assess the health of your tree and get rid of any broken or weak branches.

You can prune your apple tree any time from the end of November to early March.

Remove any dead or diseased branches, and any branches crossing over each other as this improves the air circulation through the tree.

Leave any young side shoots alone as these may bear fruit in the summer.

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