Cutting back large apple scaffolds - any techniques for a healthy cut?

I have some major scaffolds I’m looking to trim back or reduce height or where there is a crow’s foot. These are 4-7" I diameter and often don’t have a limb coming off them that is at least 1/3 of the diameter.

In some places where it’s truly scaffold, there isn’t really a bark collar.

In addition to traditional limb pruning technique, what can be done to increase chances of the cut actually healing, versus bark dying back when there isn’t a bark collar?

Better to cut out when dormant or in summer?


Removing the center, largest limb here:

Or this limb:

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I would imagine a virtual bark collar. Look closely at where the typical bark collar would be and cut there. In your first picture you would be cutting right through the middle, or barely above, that little pruned off branch. Ideally you would want to follow the contours the tree has laid out but that’s not likely to happen perfectly, but the tree will forgive you.

I think you can prune it at any time.


Thanks, Mark. The first one might be a little more practical to find that collar. However, the last two where they are true scaffolds, I am not sure if there is anything that can be done or if just a recipe for long term rot.

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Hi Ross,
Cutting them now and immediately bark grafting around the circle will give you some ability to control future rot into the tree trunk. Do not make the mistake of a level horizontal cut as that does not allow rainwater to drain off and encourages seepage into the cracks that will appear once the cut dries out!
You want any cuts to be well slanted for drainage. Once you graft 3 ea for a 3-4” diameter and 4-5ea around any larger cuts as in the top pic, you then need to paint the entire cut surface once it dries a bit with either pruning sealer of a white latex paint. Repeat the surface painting each year until the bark has healed over the cuts to prevent rot.

If using a chainsaw, For these cuts always do several practice cuts a foot or so above the ultimate cut to help control damage when the top falls! Also this helps you prevent a huge hinge damage in your Final Cut!
Lesssons I learned in topping my mature trees.
PS: I had to top my Tompkins King twice because in my first cut I did not graft the circle trusting the tree would self heal, After 2 years I began to see the rot going deep into my trunk. So when I did my second topping, as the chainsaw dug into the trunk about midway, water gushed out telling me clearly not to repeat my error!
First pic: Once I had reached a cut back to solid live interior wood, I cut it at a 15% slope to assure drainage, barkgrafted this 6” diameter cut with 8 scions. All of my scions took and the top bark is almost entirely healed.

On my Cortland I had to do several large cut to eliminate very high scaffolds that I should have topped many years ago!
Second and third pic: I wanted to introduce some cross pollinators and new varieties so I barkgrafted Four scions on one 4” diameter cut, notice this one is healing much better than the other two cuts.

Good luck
Kent wa


Hi Dennis, my apologies, as I did not see your excellent response earlier! Thanks so much for the information; given how many waterspouts I have, I’m not clear if I really want to do additional grafts from this point, but perhaps you are saying that is how I can get the large wood to initiate the healing response (more so than if I didn’t graft). I will definitely keep some slope on the cuts, and am planning on hand sawing or possibly using a sawzall with a pruning blade… I have had really good luck getting clean cuts with those. It sounds like maybe I should do the pruning in the early spring next year (though that is when we also get our wet season) and decide if I want to graft.


You can easily prune the majority of new grafts off after healing of the cut has occurred. Keeping one or two you can train to grow horizontally would give you better cross pollination. It’s still not too late to do this but beyond the mid August time your cut will not have much healing time and will be unduly exposed to winter open to diseases. It would be better to give these collar cuts the entire growing season to heal, I would probably advise waiting until mid March to do them so the healing process has the full energy of spring growth!
Kent, wa