How Not to Prune an Apple Tree

See those forks? That’s how NOT to prune your apple tree.

All these tweets and blogs saying stuff like “10 best ways to…”, “How to make the perfect….”, etc. etc. Well, if you’ve come here for clear instructions on how to do anything perfectly, I can tell you now: you are in the wrong place.

I am an expert at nothing. And while I may write about things and post pictures, I am in no way suggesting you do the same, lest you poison your family (see cutting boards), start a wild fire (see burning asparagus tops) or today, potentially kill your apple trees. (As I am sure I will hear from a botanist that I have completely botched the job…)

In my never-ending quest to improve upon my ugly apples, but also in my never-quite-making-it quest to prune my apple trees in a timely fashion, I have approached things in differing manners over the years.

Last year, I attempted to prune the blossoms. You see, I missed the window of pruning the branches. And, because there were thousands of branches per tree, I had literally thousands upon thousands of blossoms. I knew the apples would be pitiful if I let them all fruit, so I dragged the ladder out and tediously pinched off appoximately 50% of the blossoms in the hope the remaining blossoms would develop bigger and better quality apples.

Aside from being the biggest pain in the ass imaginable, who knows if it worked or not. My apples were ugly, but fine. They were not as large as they had been in previous years, but I am no apple expert, so, like I said: who knows.

I mean, I don’t even remember which kind of apple trees I planted! I remember the first one was a Honeycrisp. I’m guessing one is a Macintosh. The other three? No clue. I even called in a good friend and apple expert, who grew up on an apple orchard for his advise. He told me he could tell me. He tasted each one… paused… and said “hmmmm. could be….” and went on to list every variety grown in Minnesota. He did have some applicable advise though. Which was: “You need to prune.”


Frankly, living in Minnesota, that is easier said than done. Opinions differ widely as to when the right time to prune actually is. Most agree that for us, it is in early Spring. Which actually means: late Winter. Which usually results in: never.

Who wants to troop out in 3 feet snow and gale-force winds to prune apple trees in February? Seriously. Who does this?

Not me.

I pruned them yesterday. And, I probably killed them.

I hope I am kidding. But we’ll see. And you’ll get to be my witnesses.

Actually, I did it this late because the StarTribune ran an article about a week ago that said, “Now is the time to prune those apple trees!” Full of happy exclamation points and optimism. So if my trees die, I’ll know where to point my law suit.

And if YOU decide to go out and prune your own trees based on the fact that I just did mine, let me know and I’ll get you the StarTribunes contact information for your files.

I forgot to take a picture of the full Honeycrisp canopy, but it was dense. It was the tree I pruned the most heavily. It is also my favorite apple. I’m crossing my fingers, is all I got to say.

Here are the before and afters:

This is the Honeycrisp. You can’t tell, but I sawed off a 4″ branch that grew to the middle and created a second smaller fork in the tree. All branches that crossed or grew toward a major branch were trimmed. All branches growing straight up were trimmed.

This is the Macintosh (I think). Note how dense the first picture is. I opted not to saw off the smaller side of the fork. The pruning books say to never take off more than one quarter of the tree. I’ll see how it does this year and if the pruning I did is deemed a success, I will toy with the idea of removing the fork next year. I decided the Honeycrisp fork will have to stay, as it comprises at least half of the tree.

This is one of the mystery apples. It is also the only healthy tree I have not to exhibit a major fork. It does, however, exhibit the effect of the prevailing wind.

So there you have it. How not to prune your apple trees. I hope it has been informative.

Next up: How not to plant Shallots. (aren’t you excited?!)

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  1. says

    You are hysterical. I needed this post today. :)
    Sometimes I feel like everything I try in the kitchen winds up being a “how not to” experience as well. Ah, life. It’s always interesting.

  2. says

    Glad to hear I am not the only one. But seriously. How many of these people who write about stuff actually DO know what they are talking about? I least I know what I don’t know. If THAT makes any sense! :)

  3. says

    Well I hadn’t read the Star Trib or your post yet, but I had decided to start pruning apple trees today. Maybe garden telepathy. Your pruning looks great, now give yourself some credit!

  4. Nat Alea from OK says

    Keep taking pictues, I’d love to see the process. Are these the same trees that you make all your jellies and jams??? I AM excited to hear about your shallots! I’ll take any advice I can. I have bought a lonely strawberry plant and it’s doing quite nice but the weather man says we are supposed to have SNOW this weekend :o( When is spring getting here!?!

  5. adrienne says

    I love your glorious, many-branched trees!
    I have the opposite problem–

    At least, that’s what I found out when I discovered 1.5 foot, de-barked, de-branched, sharpened spears where my 2 lovely Honeycrisp trees had been last fall….

  6. says

    I notice you are using the exact theme as I. Exactly how did you manage to modify the size of the font? Mine happen to be a whole lot smaller than on your web site. It’s extremely difficult to read on a notebook.

  7. says

    WordPress has changed versions since I set mine up so it isn’t exactly the same — if I could even remember how it did it then! I know it’s in Atahualpa Theme Options, in the first box of the Body, Text, Links tab made my font a fixed size:
    font-family: tahoma, arial, sans-serif;
    font-size: 0.83em;

    And added space between the lines of the body text to line-height: 18px;

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