Am over-pruning, need advice

I’ve been pruning backyard apple trees for many decades but have never figured this out:

There’s almost nothing left to bear fruit on a scaffold apple limb if I were to prune off what the books say has to go: vertical growth, downward growth, one side of all forks. That leaves only sideways growth which doesn’t seem to occur much.

I am trying to create fruit spurs by pruning upright growth back to four buds…


I don’t grow Apple trees,but after seeing this video,one of the things I came away with,is that pruning and form is an individual choice.
I remember the movie the guy made,"Back to Eden"and showing a few shots of his Apple trees and how unusual they looked.
So I found this one on pruning them.Not everyone will probably agree 100% with his approach,but some may pick up a few helpful tips. Brady


That’s a great video thanks! Almost all of his cuts are thinning cuts with a few heading cuts on tiny diameter tips. He tends to cut off one side of small forks. Will favor saw over loppers, good tip. If i cut off all vertical shoots I’d not have much left, my main puzzle every year.

Not that I know much about pruning but I understnd what you meant.

I have strategically selected several straight up shoots and bent them so they become lateral branches/side shoots.

If you google Solaxe or Tall spindle system, they involve a lot of shoot/branch bending. Although I do not subscribe strictly to any pruning system, I do not keep any of my fruit trees pure central lead. A few look like modified central lead. Some are open center. Some look similar to this guy’s trees :smile:

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This is what I do. I leave several lateral branches to grow for the developing tree skeleton. They should be evenly spaced and facing the right directions and at the right angle. All the other shoots I top prune several times during the summer at 3-5 inches length and they develop into fruiting shoots. This worked for apples and apricots.

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Many varieties send only upright shoots that defy development of good secondary branching. I’ve never really devoted enough time to Antmary’s often discussed method here, and reserve it for espaliers.

It can’t be anywhere near as quick at developing a well branched trees as the method I’ve contrived over the years. You won’t find this in any pruning manual but maybe as word gets around it will become standard practice for training free standing, non-spurry vegetative varieties.

For varieties like this the problem is fairly easily overcome by leaving excessive scaffolds, all less than half or preferably a third of the diameter of the trunk at point of attachment.

Decide which are your permanent 3 or 4 scaffolds in each tier (tiers should be at least 3-4 feet apart on the trunk). Use tape to pull upright shoots to a horizontal position by attaching to your temporary branches. Upper tiers can be pulled down below horizontal in excessively vegetative and slow to bear varieties. Temporary branches are removed when a good branch structure has been achieved.


Yes, you bend upright first leaf branches down to the angle (60 degrees) and somewhat the direction you want them to go via several techniques. That then stimulates them to bear spurs both sooner and in greater number. Tip bearers can be stimulated to produce more tips with heading cuts.

You can always do the Fukuoka/Holzer method = do nothing. Seems to work well for my neighbor.

IMHO, the single biggest issue with fruit trees and pruning is the ideal pruning methods of landscapers being adopted for pruning fruit trees. If the objective is to produce fruit, great form may sacrifice fruit. One of the biggest mistakes I see (and made when first starting) was removing what are essentially fruiting spurs or laterals because they look so short, dinky or different. And because most pruning lectures given to homeowners teaches removing those short mishappen branches/shoots. But with fruit trees in youth it is not about pruning but about shaping and creating future fruiting wood. In maturity it is about pruning to protect fruit and occasionally renew the fruiting wood.

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I over prune sometimes as well but the goal every time I make a cut is fruit and not making the tree send up water sprouts. That means sometimes leaving some problems for next year. Pears need a little neglect at times because they won’t do what I want and in the end if you let them do some of what they want you will get more fruit. I’m not saying don’t prune i’m saying some problems are next years issues. Get rid of crossed branches, branches growing in, branches growing straight down (some down is ok as long as you can get them headed back up or lateral). I trim tips to invigorate the tree and make my tip cuts strategic so the bud is headed up and out even if that means leaving 8 buds or only two its got to be going the right direction. If you let the little branch problems go that’s tomorrows big branch problems. I’m not an expert pruner but I get a lot of fruit using the leave alone as much as I can approach. Here is a pear I top worked a couple of years ago. I cut off a dozen fruit buds this year on weak wood and am still trying to shape it and get rid of those water sprouts. See the branch with the tag on it? Note the branch I let grow up on that where a graft failed I will use to graft on a new scion this year. That’s a duchesse d’angouleme pear so I don’t want to let it fruit (fruits are huge) until those clefts are a year stronger. You can likely see where I top worked it. I’m not all the way done pruning it but it’s getting close. Disregard the branches at the bottom I use them sometimes like wood chips to retain moisture.

This apple demonstrates how I get fruit but still prune a little to invigorate. I keep those fruit buds and branches headed up or out but don’t allow them straight up growth. Next year those branches growing up will get lopped again at the next joint heading the bud out again.
Sometimes I do things for less obvious reasons. This pear weights the branches down with fruit and will shape itself this year then I will prune what I need to next year. Some of those branches are a bit close together I think but drop them a foot like they will be at the end of the year and we will see what we have. This is it’s first year fruiting. You can see the general shape is correct
You can see by those photos I lost a lot of wars but will still get fruit on all those trees and that’s what it’s about. My methods are different from some other peoples and I still have a lot to learn.


I should have mentioned that how you prune a tree depends a lot on how it grows and whether is is already producing satisfactory harvests. Like that comment about pruning “downward growth”. When a tree is fully fruiting the downward growth tends to be your older spurs so they are removed in the cycling of old to newer spurs- it is not something you worry about in a tree that is not in full production.

Pruning to upward growth stimulates vigor, pruning to downward growth encourages fruiting. You have to adapt to the needs of each individual tree.

It is much better to under prune a young tree than over prune it because overpruning is sending a message that there is some serious herbivore competition going on- all units focus on growth!

With most varieties of free standing apples, your best results often come from only pruning oversized branches off right to the trunk and leaving the rest of the tree alone until it bears its first good crop.


Somehow left out the crotch angles. This is how I like mine as it adds strength to the tree and gets it bearing faster

Those narrow crotch angles are a problem because they grow straight up and are weak structure. All the things people say not to do can’t be avoided at times. As Alan mentioned every tree is different and the main thing is to get as much fruit as possible. We all have pruning problems because some trees are just stubborn and others just don’t ever send out a nice branch regardless of what we do. See those smaller branches those are my years to come branches I wish I would have got the first year. You can see where I took off the branch in the picture that tried to grow straight up. Contrary to other videos posted I leave my collar on my branches to heal over. You can see this apple is a far cry from perfect it’s a work in progress.

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It is not just angles but also relative diameter of branches in ration to the trunk. It represents the amount of vascular structure that shuttles water, nitrogen etc. from roots. Think of a branch as a tree on a tree. The smaller diameter branches function as dwarfs (trees with restrictive root systems) while the branches in the photo function like a tree on seedling roots. If you don’t do heading cuts they eventually become productive- but it takes more room and time.


I have the opposite problem. I’m pretty much afraid to prune. I told my wife I’m going to go outside today and finally prune my second leaf trees. I had good intentions and I sat there looking at them thinking, “I’m gonna screw them up”. I’ve had some pruning advice on a couple of my trees that I’m going to move forward with but most of the others I still look at them and see some fruiting spurs on wood I should trim and I stop myself.

I’ll do it tomorrow and follow all the rules I’ve learned here and in books but I’ll probably second guess every cut I make.


Join the club. I have committed to building a strong framework this year and will probably pinch off any blossoms. Babies having baibies. Not in my backyard. Smile.

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I would not think twice about removing Fruit spurs on two years old apple or pear trees. This is when you should focus on how you would like to shape you trees, central lead, modified central lead, open center, tall spindle, etc.

My problem was I let my trees grew out of hand for a few years before I realized I should prune. By then, it is more difficult to manage them to the pruning style I want. At this point, I focus on pruning to let sunlight in and allow better air circulation and bending branches to encourage fruit bud forming.


Really, only if you are reluctant to go big with the pruning, I think. Once the tree begins bearing fruit you can find the tree within the tree you want in most cases. As long as you don’t let it grow too tall and let upper scaffolds starve out lower ones.

With free standing trees you shouldn’t usually have to remove spurs to get young trees to grow if they are growing in good conditions in the ground. Goldrush and Ark Black are the only 2 exceptions to this I grow and no pear fall in the category. Besides Harrow Sweet they usually don’t start producing fruit before there 5th year here.

I think most new or relatively new growers are reluctant to “go big with the pruning”. That is our problem :)grinning:

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I have a Myers Royal Limbertwig (misnomer, twigs not at all limber on this variety). On precocious G 30, 8 ft tall, robust, some fruit spurs formed already. 2016 will be third leaf. There are currently ten vigorous lateral branches coming off leader at good angles between 24 and 36 inches high.

Question: If I wait to thin out these laterals until year four or five, won’t that shock the tree even more when the laterals are even larger than they are now?

(I incorrectly originally posted this on another thread, more relevant here.)

Haha. After psyching myself up to make big cuts today it ends up raining all morning. I don’t think it’s good practice to prune after significant rain is it?

They may blush a bit but they will hardly be shocked.

It’s not about the wood it’s about the leaves. It in not hard for a healthy tree to to adjust to large wood being removed and sealing off the wounds is not that big an investment in energy for a tree. A spring where tent caterpillars go unchecked will be far more “shocking” but this seldom will kill a healthy tree either.

The tree may not be shocked, but experienced arborists are often startled by how much wood I will remove from a neglected apple tree. As long as I leave enough vegetative buds in a tree to pull adequate sap through the wood to keep it from getting hot enough to kill the cells of exposed bark the tree will never show unwanted symptoms from aggressive pruning.

As long as a leafed out tree isn’t showing a lot of huge holes in its shadow this will not happen.


Here is a GREAT video on how to prune peaches by selective branch pruning to make her fruit every year

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