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Apple trees need to be pruned every year. One should prune the trees to keep the branches growing slightly above horizontal. All branches that grow straight up or down should be removed. One should know the difference between non-bearing sucker growth and fruit bud bearing branches, as these two growths are pruned very differently. Finally, apples need sunlight to ripen; trees should be open and airy for good fruit and to minimize disease.
One of the keys to successful pruning is using the proper tools. Inexpensive pruners will not cut properly and may damage the trees. Good quality tools can be purchased at www.benmeadows.com, www.gemplers.com or locally at R.D. Faulkner in Brewer and if you look carefully also at Lowes etc. We prefer bypass pruners as they cut close to the branch and make the neatest cut.
Here are some things to look for when pruning apple trees.
Suckers/watersprouts are last years growth and can be quite tall. They don't have fruit buds and are more red or maroon in color. When cutting suckers it is important to cut them down close to the branch and not leave a stub which will only grow more suckers. Branches will heal over naturally if cut properly (see photo #3). After the suckers are removed look for branches that are crossing each other growing back towards the trunk or are dead. Then look to keep the size of the tree to a point where you want to maintain the size. You can do this by cutting down the top and bringing in the lateral branches. Remove any branches that are near the ground or will be on the ground when the apples are present. Cutting branches to a bud that is on the bottom will encourage lateral growth. If rehabilitating old trees make the cutting a three or four year process. Don't remove too much the first year.
Here is a short video illustrating some of the techniques described above.
Below are two YouTube videos from the New England Apple Association. The first is on grafting apple trees and the second is on pruning. These videos are quite interesting and very well done.
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