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Pruning apple trees is important for optimal tree health for the following reasons:

  • Maintains tree health.

  • Improves fruit quality and production.

  • Establishes basic structure of the tree.

  • Increases sunlight penetration and air circulation, which promotes greater flowering.

  • Improves fruit quality and discourages disease.

  • Controls the height of the trees to more easily harvest the fruit.

What To Prune

  • Dead and diseased wood.

  • Crossing or rubbing branches.

  • Up to one-third of water sprouts.

When To Prune

  • In Western Washington, with its mild winters, prune apple trees in Spring until the buds burst open.

  • Use limited pruning to remove dead wood (June through September), to reduce water sprouts and to let in light. This allows enough time for wound closure before Winter.

Pruning Tools

  • Effective pruning requires good quality, sharp tools. Clean the blades of the tools with isopropyl alcohol between cutting diseased and healthy branches, as well as between each healthy tree in order to reduce the spread of disease.

  • Use hand pruners to cut “finger-sized” (1/2 inch in diameter) branches.

  • Use loppers to cut branches up to 1 inch in diameter.

  • Hand saws are preferable on larger branches since they make cleaner cuts.


How To Prune

There are two (2) types of pruning:


  • Removes an undesirable branch at its point of origin from the parent stem.

  • Increases sunlight to the tree’s interior and promotes greater flowering and better quality fruit.

  • Reduces the number of new shoots and directs growth to other parts of the main (parent) branch.


  • Removes part of a shoot or branch. It increases the likelihood of growth of new shoots at the point of the cut.

  • Stiffens the branch and makes it stronger to support future growth on a limb.

How To Make Pruning Cuts

  • Make 45 degree angled cuts to prevent water from collecting on newly cut surfaces and to quicken the healing process.

  • Target Pruning removes branches by cutting just to the outside of the branch collar, not flush with the trunk. A clean collar cut helps the tree quickly grow over the wound, preventing disease and insect damage. When removing diseased wood, make an angled cut in healthy wood below the diseased wood. Sterilize pruning tools with isopropyl alcohol or mild bleach after each cut into diseased wood to prevent transfer of disease to other branches.

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