Apple Pruning- Leave Two Laterals at Same Height?

Looking through Michael Phillips book “Apple Grower” I see mature apple trees (photos) that clearly have two large main scaffold branches that come off the leader at the same height. In other words, zero vertical distance between the two lateral limbs, that head in opposite directions. This must work out all right for him even though I read many other places to avoid this. Is the reasoning that this can cause those two limbs to outcompete the leader? Ideas? This would make life a lot easier here if I could do the same thing, since my laterals tend to be bunched closely on the leader.

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I noticed the same thing at a local orchard of gala apples. Looked like they were doing well to me. In my small orchard I have mostly been leaving some space between limbs but I think it might not be such a big deal either way. Bill

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This was covered on another thread recently. The danger of scaffolds emanating from the same point on the trunk is highly exaggerated unless their diameter is excessive (certainly more than half the diameter of the trunk at the branches point of attachment) which can starve out the leader. But this can happen even if the spacing is “up to code”.

Long ago I read the danger was ice getting trapped and injuring the trunk but any commercial orchard I’ve been to has scaffolds coming from the same level on trunks. There is no adequate reason to wait an extra year to place them by the book when the trees naturally send branches out in whorls.


Thanks Alan, your answer here really helped me understand this better. I still had some holes in my understanding after the other thread you mentioned. Seeing photos of well pruned trees in books or online also helps me.

I wonder if the challenge of pruning holds back more people from growing tree fruit?

I tried to find a pruning video of Tom Burford. He holds pruning demonstrations but apparently they’re not recorded. I sent Albemarle a request they tape Tom’s next one.

Alan- do you videotape any of your pruning sessions?

Nah, it’s not until after you get started that you realize how much you have to learn!

Probably a lot of people give up on peaches after they allow them to grow too high, but for anyone willing to do a bit of research there are plenty of videos on you-tube that will at least get you through most of the basics of training trees to any particular shape.

The trees wind up teaching you the rest over time. Once you see how they bear, realizations begin to set in.

Michael Phillips says in his book if he lives to 80 he might figure out pruning. I think it comes as a shock to some people that just leaving a tree to its own devices can cause such a slew of problems.

Depends on the level meant by figuring out. It is not so hard to train a tree into a productive shape. Every variety of apple has its own specific growing habit, so you can fine tune forever.