Apple trees like any other fruit bearing trees will be very difficult to maintain when they become very tall and overgrown. As a result, their fruits will be very difficult to reach and fruit quality may decrease. You can rejuvenate them with proper pruning.
The most important goal of pruning is to reduce the size of the tree, making it more attractive and to open up the tree to allow good air circulation thus maximizing fruit production. An important thing to remember is that pruning an overgrown apple cannot be done overnight but should be done in stages. Pruning stimulates growth therefore over-pruning will stimulate too much growth which can lower fruit production not only for the current fruit season but may be extended to the next. That's why it is important to spread out extensive pruning over a period of two to three years.
- Begin pruning by removing suckers from below the ground and chopping off water sprouts. Suckers are extra stems that grow direct from the root, allowing them to grow will pose possible problems such as conflicting with other lower branches and providing a perfect hiding place for rodents. Water sprouts on the other hand, are vigorous shoots that usually occur along branches. These growths are considered undesirable.
- Chop off dead or diseased branches. These branches can easily be spotted through their color, their often brittle and damaged.
- Look for branches that cross or rub each other and remove them. Select branches that have wide crotch angles. Cuts should be made just outside the branch collar, which is where the healing begins.
- Thin out each main scaffold by removing crowded branches. In choosing which branch to chop off, look for the following: branches growing inward to the tree's center, ranches that grows straight down or vertically, branches that are in duplicate, branches that compete with main leader or the central trunk.
Tip: In cutting off larger limbs, there is always a danger of the limbs splitting before it is completely cut because of its weight. To avoid this, use the three-step method of pruning in removing limbs over 2 inches in diameter.
- First Cut - Make a cut from the bottom up and part way through the branch, 18-20 inches from the tree trunk.
- Second Cut - cut 2-4 inches from the top of the branch down on the other side of the first cut.
- Third Cut -Now for the final step, cut the remaining stub just outside of the branch bark ridge parallel to the trunk of the tree.
The final result of pruning your apple tree should look like a pyramid with well-spaced horizontal branches. Just remember not to over prune. Do not remove more than 1/3 of the tree branches at one time. Doing so will shock your apple tree which will make it less productive.
As an outcome of your pruning, the final look may not be as desirable but you'll soon enjoy the "fruits" of your hard work soon. Have fun in pruning those overgrown apple trees and always be safe.