Apple and Pear that won't settle down - prune water sprouts or wait


I have a an old mature apple that I’ve reduced the height on and have a number of grafts. It developed a lot of water sprouts this year. Similarly, I have a mature pear in the exact same shape.

Am I best off:

  1. Pruning off most of the water sprouts now… leaving a few
  2. Waiting to prune until late winter (concerned that may make the water sprout issue worse next year and prevent any fruit)
  3. Waiting until after fruit sets next year and fireblight conditions have passed (bigger wounds)

I’m in colorado, and we probably have another month(?) before the leaves drop. Unfortunately, could not get to pruning off the sprouts earlier. Both trees have some history of fireblight, and are looking better this year.

Other ideas on calming down these trees?




Think this topic will help you and is a place to start Reduced fruit set = heavy growth! . It’s long been my belief heavy pruning leads to more pruning. The best way in my opinion to combat your problem is with heavy fruiting. This will help as well A lesson in pruning pears . My comments are mostly geared towards the pear and not the apple. Here is another thread that i think will really help to visualize what i do Pear trees that produce bushels of fruit and avoid disease . This is not to say anyone elses way is wrong it is what works for me.


Older apple trees tend to produce water sprouts. I always try to prune them off early in the season. No matter when you do it more will return. The advantage of early and continuous pruning is to allow sunlight into the foliage to benefit fruit production. It also, as you point out, reduces the wound size. Only save the ones where yo need to fill a void in structure, or you wish to cut for scions when dormant this winter.
Hope this helps
Kent, wa


Typically pruning during the growing season will help reduce tree vigor. Removing large amounts of vegetation on a mature tree during dormancy often has the negative affect of resulting in a big flush of vegetative growth. I know of a mature older orchard that prunes so heavily every winter that the trees explode with vegetative growth every Spring, then they repeat the cycle. I guess it gives the groundskeeper something to do in the Winter! LOL



Maybe they sell fruit smoking wood as their main business and not fruit. It’s an old story many orchards literally do that every year they are not alone.

I’ve built a career in the last 30 years around heavy pruning of old apple trees while making them much more productive with a crop much closer to the ground. These are usually very vigorous trees growing on seedling rootstock, with a spread of about 50 feet on average.

All pruning is not equal and not all trees even within a species or of the same variety are either. However, if you are seeking to get good light distribution throughout a tree growing on a vigorous rootstock that is on good soil and in good health in a region with a reasonably long growing season, you will have to do a lot of pruning. A tree isn’t trying to maximize its fruit production so much as eliminate competition by shading the ground from the sun. Left to its own devices much of the canopy of a tree will be an energy sink because about 30% light exposure is required for a leaf to acquire as much energy as it consumes.

Where I get a huge return of vigorous growth is on scaffold wood fully or almost fully exposed to sun, and such wood is created whenever a tree is open enough for a reasonable distribution of light. If I can I actually like to remove these new shoots in mid-spring and again in mid-summer, but am usually constrained to only do it once in mid to late summer because of cost to customers and constraints on my time. That is, once in addition to whatever I remove during dormant pruning. However, if I happen to be manually thinning fruit it doesn’t take much more time to run my hands over big wood to dislodge new shoots.

I usually stop pruning about mid-sept and don’t start again until winter so I cannot really speak to your question. I would be reluctant to prune at this time but I do know that some commercial apple growers in the Hudson Valley prune their trees immediately after harvest in Nov. I know nothing about the results of pruning in early fall. I assume older pomes could be pruned then but it is a time when trees are investing a lot of energy into hardening off for winter and walling off pruning wounds takes energy.

Incidentally, thinning branches is much less vegetatively stimulating than cutting them back and removing vigorous annual shoots is the equivalent of thinning, unless you cut them to a stub instead of removing them entirely.



Yes your region is very different you have a plethora of ground nutrients and water. Your weather is perfect for apple trees in every way possible you really do need to prune a lot. Apple trees and pears are very long lived in your area so your invigorating with pruning. It’s easy for me to forget differences in climate. Here in Kansas like Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, most of Texas etc. We are on more marginal growing areas in my opinion. We should prune as needed which is not the same as your needs.

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Pears often don’t require much pruning here as well.

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This is the way i will do it… im sure there are alot of other ways but i like this way for myself.

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Hi All,

Sorry about the delay in getting back… work kind of went off the rails, and it took a while to go through the recommended threads and videos, which I really appreciate. Thanks so much for your comments.

@krismoriah - thank you for the interesting video. When I planted a bunch of whips this year, I posted up about going horizontal, as the ‘literature’ has so much information, ranging from horizontal to 30-50 to 45 to 45-60 above horizontal. There really doesn’t seem to be much consensus. I ended up more like 30-40 on most, wanting to be less vertical, but in response to my thread I pretty much only received traditional feedback. I like the idea for sure. I am also curious what types of wood are strong enough to support that, as well. Apple, yes I can see. I would think Peach would not. I definitely have some more horizontal limbs on my old pear, and they seem to have held over time, though I think of pear as weaker than apple, and requiring a number of years to get to the point of being strong (have lost a lot of small limbs on pears).

@clarkinks - thanks for the links… it’s amazing how much you know about pears, and always impressed with and thankful for your responses. I wish I had more space with sun to grow larger trees than I am aiming for, as I totally understand your concept of minimizing pruning and higher reliable output from the larger trees, especially in our region. With your 20-30’ trees, how do you manage the top 2/3 of the tree? Since you have a farm, I wasn’t sure if you had a cherry picker or similar, or work with ladders and poles.

@alan - always thankful for your valuable insights… for example I just now learned from you about how much energy is required to sustain the leaves. Yes, what you mentioned about the growth on main scaffolds highly exposed to the sun is the biggest culprit here. I wish there was a way to have this weeping approach without so much sun on the trunk (for health and sprouting issues), but it seems there isn’t a good solution, and understood that this is just a maintenance.

My gut agrees that I missed my window (temps now cooler, and FB is an issue here), and so reluctantly I will have to wait to prune. Perhaps I will pull out maybe 1/4 of the shoots (the bigger ones), during winter, and wait until we get above fireblight temps to hit the other ones in late spring. This tree, similar to what you’ve mentioned, it probably 40’ across at this point, and now more like 15’ or less tall. On the pear, probably similar approach, as I am more concerned about it with fireblight.

I’ll have to be more disciplined in managing these during the summer, going forward.


Have a 25 foot ladder and a 30 foot docapole. Have not needed a cherry picker but saw a used one for $2000 a couple years ago in the form of an old bucket truck.


Actually had just added this attachment to my pole setup

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25’ ladder like one that folds in-half? 25’ tripod would be pretty crazy.

I have always wondered about these pole, and damage to the fruit. I’m sure this is common knowledge here, but my only tall trees have been reachable by ladder. Does the fruit get damage, either with the tug required to pull the fruit off, or as it falls into the basket?

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Typically no damage but if you let the fruit get to ripe to a point of melting its easy to stick a finger of the picking basket into the fruit.