First pruning on apples (and cherries)

Hi All -

I’m back with more pruning questions!

For some background, I’m a very new fruit tree planter in Northern California zone 9b (and right on the coast). I have deer and therefore am trying to get this right the first time.

I’m going to be following central leader strategies for my two apples, Honeycrisp and Fuji on M111 rootstocks. I planted both bare root trees last weekend and am thinking I should begin to shape as appropriate before they start growing this upcoming spring. I do have fencing up so I am not worried about the immediate deer threat, but eventually down the road I want to take the fencing down and just have trunk guards on the tree. I’ve seen some great photos of orchards that have about 5-6’ of free space under each tree…enough to walk under and tall enough so deer can’t reach the branches (or if they can, it’s only the tips). That’s what I’m going for!

Here are my questions:

  1. Do I need to make sure there is no growth under about 5’ and start choosing scaffold branches at that 5’ mark to make sure my tree will be out of deer zone? I’m a little worried about taking off ALL the branches and just having a whip…unless that’s normal.
  2. Now that it is planted, should I head the tree to encourage growth?
  3. At what point do I fertilize/amend?

Thank you in advance!


1 Like

Cat, check out @alan’s comments on the system you are aiming for. You’re on the right track for sure, but I’ll leave the details to somebody who knows more. I’d search “@alan +deer” or some such for starters. I named Alan because he’s specifically addressed the deer issue. I think that initially he lets the lower structure develop, and then once it’s established he begins to raise the tree by removing the lower branches until you have the clearance you need. But check with others. There’s just more smarts here than I can keep track of and more coming in every day.



Just checking back in to let you know pointing me to Alan was extremely helpful! I found the article section, which in turn led me to his apple pruning publication. Just what I was looking for!

Thanks again for all your help!


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There’s a wealth of information on this site offered up freely and gladly by some of the best practitioners of their various crafts, and it’s all available under the search function if we only knew what to look for! Some of the threads go on for a long time, though, and it can get to be hard to keep track of it all.

I’ve contemplated trying to organize some of it for my own use, maybe printing out threads or even specific posts, or summarizing somehow the most relevant information from a given thread, and then collating - a stack for pruning, a stack for grafting, another for insect problems, one for diseases - and then adding a list of links to the Reference section here, but I’ve been so preoccupied with other things the inspiration hasn’t really been there. Mebbe next year?