Modified central leader examples?

Does anyone have pictures they could share of their trees pruned as modified central leader? Preferably after at least a few years in the ground? I think its the route im going with, but am not sure if you can create a second whirl of scaffold branches 2ft higher from the first? Or should there be more space than that or scaffolds limited to 4 or 5 total, no second row? Google is just showing lots of sketches… Thanks in advance


Have you seen tutorials from Skillcult youtube channel?
I think his explanations and approach are about as good as you can find online for the modified central leader form.


This is a 25 year old Tompkins King on standard rootstock, that illustrates what I prefer as a tree I have trained that started off as a central leader. It shows several teaching points:

  1. All fruit is within easy to reach limbs.
  2. Same when it comes to easy to spray all fruit.
  3. All fruit gets full sun and even airflow to prevent disease and promote fruit devolpment.
  4. Note the number of vertical water shoots, I need to either prune most off each spring, a lot of work, or this them and bend and tie them down to produce fruit. If allowed to just grow verticals I lose control, fruit too high to pick and the lower limbs are too shaded.
    In retrospect, had I known what I know now, I would have topped it very early on rather than waiting so many years: I eventually topped this tree about 12 years ago and forced its growth more lateral. Of course where I topped the tree began to rot as the scar about 6” diameter was too large for bark to heal over, so two years ago, I removed a full 24” of the top to remove all rot and get back to durable green growth, and I bark grafted around the perimeter of the new top with other varieties to promote cross pollination and to help the bark completely heal the rather large 11” diameter cut. This time I cut the top at an angle to assure the top would not collect water to encourage rot.
    Hope this gives you enough insight as to some do’s and dont’s
    Feel free to ask any questions! Don’t wait too long to top your tree and make it spread unless you like climbing ladders!
    Kent, wa



After starting a handful of open center apples, I’m taking a crack at a few MCLs. This is year 2 for this M26 tree. We’ll see if these scaffolds obey my training. I have another tree that didn’t give me as many branches to work with as I’d like yet.


I approve! :smiley:

Will you remove those twigs on the main trunk? Or are you leaving them for some reason, fruits?

Hi Dennis!

My apple trees are so tall that the geese fly below them!

Well not quite that tall but I seriously need to shorten them.

I’ve always paid more attention to keeping trees thinned out rather then keeping them short. I’ve always liked the old saying “thin so that you can throw a cat thru them”.

Yes sir, those ladders are dangerous.

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Well, better late than never, cat or no cat, I would rather stand on the ground to for all apple related tasks. BTW you cannot kill an apple tree by cutting it down now to a reasonable height, say around 5’ for the trunk, then simple graft on new scions around the top. For a 6”-10” diameter top you need about 5-6 scions to start over and grow them at a good manageable height- that is unless you have deer! If the later, just keep throwing those cats!
Good luck! BTW I was born near Somerville on a cotton farm so I know west Tn pretty well!
Kent, wa

The curious thing that I noticed about your tree is that not only you made the 11" diameter cut to shorten but that it appears that you made something like 3"-4" diameter cuts on the scaffolds (maybe at the time of the original topping).

On my Gravenstein and Stayman trees (both vigorous growers, now 12-year-old trees), several years ago I topped the central leaders at about 12’. Well, what has happened since is that most of the scaffolds (mostly 2 levels) have grown out and up way taller than the central leader cut. So now the top of the trees looks like an upside-down umbrella without the handle. Of course, I have for the most part never shortened the scaffolds other than sometimes (when the trees were much younger) making small cuts for the purpose of stiffening them to keep fruit off the ground.

So now I guess I need to top the scaffolds and cut out other growth.

Yes, I was born in Somerville at what was then Armstrong clinic. Hugh Parks mother helped to deliver me. It was in January and there was too much snow and ice on the roads to drive my mother to Memphis.

I’m sure Jack Armstrong delivered most of the kids in Fayette county back then, an old Army veteran and one heck of a surgeon, my Dad would always say “Dennis go out there and get Dr Jack some potatoes to take with him” when the Doc would come see us at home. We always laughed at Dr Rush who would always ask us “What’s wrong with you?” And I would usually say “Well Doctor that’s why I came to see you to find out?”

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Some attempts at MCL by me… Lapins cherry above.

CHE tree

A pair of eu plums in 2 in 1 planting.

This last one is my 20+ yo early mc. I actually started it off open center in the early years and it did not fruit… a friend and experience apple grower talked me into changing it to CL …central leader… that is why the main trunk makes that shift to the right… and the initial limbs are higher up… not long after making the change to CL… it started fruiting like crazy.

Could have just been the right time… not sure… but it did start producing and continued to fruit well after that.


@DennisD 1) what is the area the tree occupies? 2) how many pieces or lbs of fruit do you harvest per season from the tree?

About 20’ diameter, probably about 60-70 very large apples

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@DennisD did you get a lot more apples back when it had another level of scaffolds?

No I get more now because I can actually pick them, when tree was higher, the fruit was insect ridden and unfit to eat. Too high to reach with sprayer and too high to pick w/o a ladder



Above is a Red Gravenstein apple tree that I finished pruning today. Topped central leader at 9’ with 8’ ladder in picture. It was planted in 2010 and has 3 levels of scaffolds with spacing of about 2 '. The lowest level of scaffolds is about waist high. I prefer 3 scaffolds at the lowest levels in order to have space to permit access to the topmost of the central leader with a ladder.


Above is a Stayman apple tree before pruning. It was planted in 2010. This tree was significantly infected with fireblight in its second season. Its central leader was cut out and regrown.

Be mindful of the technique of forcing branching in young apple trees by the notching of buds in order to have scaffolds where desired.


Are you saying by be mindful of notching that you suspect it caused fireblight infection?


This is what i was picturing in my head that I wanted my trees to look like. I just couldn’t find examples. 2 ft looks like the right amount of space between scaffolds so thats what I will shoot for, along with limiting the number of them on the first rung. Looks just low enough that picking and spraying shouldn’t be too difficult. Thanks for sharing these.

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FB’s believed to get in via wounds, flowers, and new growth. I was thinking about that in planning how I want to train my trees. I’ve seen Skillcult and a university promoting the idea, and it looks like it works, but was wondering if temporarily covering/sealing the wounds with something would be a good idea if fire blight’s a problem in your area.

Judging from these pictures it appears that my attempts have been mCL. That is to say lower-case ‘m’ for modified. They are all taller and last season when I topped them the pretty much ignored the hint and sent the top bud growing straight up.