Learning pruning

I am almost finished with fall planting and the mind begins to turn to the upcoming dormant pruning season, which will begin with mature apple trees as soon as I’m out of planting work.

I usually review some literature before I begin the task just to freshen up. There is so much free info on the internet that folks often don’t feel the need to buy information anymore, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Jim Cummins, the retired long time Cornell rootstock developer and co-establisher of Cummins Nursery, once told me that the best minds tend to leave academia and join the private sector because money draws talent (dear academics, please note the qualifier, “tend”- Jim was a career academic and obviously very talented and productive).

Probably the most renowned fruit tree pruning guru in the private sector is Bas van den Ende. If you want to read any of his pruning books you have to pay for the privilege and order them through the Tree Fruit web site (an Australian company).

His “Pruning Apple and Pear Trees- Turning Wood into Profit” is the only one I’ve purchased and I’m reviewing it now (as in, reading it again). It is a short, clearly written and illustrated book that I consider invaluable and well worth the $30 for a download.

Reading it won’t make you a master pruner, of course, but mix it with a few years of actual experience and you will probably get there.


Thanks Alan for den Ende mention. I found this interesting pruning article by den Ende:


Unfortunately last year I bent the branches of one tree all below horizontal to avoid ladder work on that tree. Oh well, it’s my “audition” tree of twenty some apple varieties I have not tasted, not really a production tree.

Thank you Alan!

Hambone, Van Ende warns about bending branches below horizontal and yet there is a successful training method called solaxe which is all about training branches below horizontal. Experts do tend to talk in absolutes, I think. Too much nuance and folks become confused.

I think confusion is necessary before coming to a complete understanding. Otherwise you are only memorizing “recipes”. Van Ende is called on to supply reliable pruning recipes.

The above will lead you to one of several youtube videos about the solaxe system.


This one shows how to convert an established tree to it. It also demonstrates how you create a hinge to help bend a stiff, thick branch.


There is an backyard orchard I pass going to work with branches bent down. Looks sort of like a mushroom. Here’s a pic from last winter. They prune back most all of the 1 yr shoots. I assume the trees produce, but can’t really see from the road.

There sure is a lot to learn about pruning. Hambone, that article you posted gives you a lot to consider. Below is a picture of a 3 year old Holstein tree on G-16. Im thinking I made 2 pruning errors with the large branch curling up. I pulled it down way below horizontal and did so while it was a young/small branch during the growing season. As a result the branch started growing almost straight up beyond the point I pulled it down with long rubber bands and it also sent off some worthless vertical shoots. I will probably remove the branch completely this winter. Going forward my thought is to let most branches put on at least a year of growth and then pull the down during the winter to a point a little above horizontal


Thanks for the info on Bas van den Ende. I purchased his PDF book called “Apple Central Leader - high density orchard” Very interesting. I need to read it several more times. He explained several things I had nover seen discussed elsewhere…

I’m still confused when one expert says not to bend branches below horizontal and another who suggest its necessary to bend branches below horizontal. Its going to take a while to get to the full understanding point you mentioned and I may never get to that point! I’m lucky because all of my apples are on the same rootstock, with similar spacing.

It isn’t so much an expert saying you have to bend down branches as much as suggesting it is an efficient manner of training at least some varieties.

Obviously it is not a method Bas van den Ende is considering and what he suggests about pulling branches below horizontal encouraging water sprouts is certainly true. But it also encourages early fruiting and once trees are fruiting all vegetative growth is reduced.

Experts often have differing opinions of the best methods, but whatever you run with will likely work well enough.

Fuji is excessively vegetative and slow to come into production so it would seem to be ideally suited for the solaxe method, especially when grafted to a free standing type root stock. I have pruned Fuji to a weep and it worked well here.

On big old apples on seeding root stocks I usually use a weeping form to keep fruit lower to the ground. Summer pruning adequately reduces vigor if they send up too many water sprouts. They often do that no matter what your pruning scheme.


Very interesting those two videos. I like the idea of that central light column, might permit placing more laterals in a given vertical distance along the leader than the traditional U.S. two to three feet vertical separation between sets of scaffold branches…