No central leader? pruning correction questions

I have several mm111 rootstock apples that haven’t ever been pruned (planted winter 2018). Missing those first two years has made the task of getting a good central leader shape a little tricky. Two of them don’t really have a central leader at all, probably because I didn’t head them back the first spring. I’m not sure what to do to fix it.

The first has a branch where the central leader should be but the 3 scaffold limbs are huge in comparison. The second doesn’t really have a leader at all and has a Y of scaffold limbs instead.

Any suggestions? Do I head the scaffold limbs aggressively? On the second tree can I pick a limb to become the new leader or force a bud to break in the right place?

The photos aren’t the best so let me know if there’s a particular angle that would help.

I suppose you could accept it and study up on “Open Center” trees? :slight_smile:


Couple of really nice prospects for open center trees. Just because people recommend a central leader for an apple, doesnt mean they have to be grown that way!


You don’t HAVE to prune your trees to a central leader. You could continue to prune them to an open center / vase form. There’s nothing wrong with that form. That might be easier and better for the trees at this point.

I have a few varieties, hewes virginia crab comes to mind, that seem to desperately want to be an open vase. My three Hewes have extremely wide crotch angles and refuse to form a central leader. On Other varieties, like Harrison, all of the branches want to shoot skyward no matter how much I try to train them. Others behave well with very little training. The majority will conform to training.

I tried re-heading several trees the spring after their first growing season (12 months after planting) based on some extension literature I read. I don’t like re-heading. It set back all of those trees several years relative to their cohort.

The only thing I might worry about in your case is that one of your trees has all the branches originating from the same point on the trunk. I have read (but don’t know from personal experience - others might chime in) that can cause weak crotches.


Agree, you say rootstock is M111, meaning: “. M-111 Apple Rootstock is one of the most vigorous and well-adapted of apple rootstocks , M-111 is a semi-standard tree reaching 80% of standard tree’s height, or 15-25 ft. tall but can easily be kept at a manageable height with summer pruning. Tolerates, wet, dry, or poor soils and induces bearing at a young age.”

Unless you like picking apples at those heights, or trying to get up there to spray them, consider the ability to keep them below heights of about 10’ a blessing. Start tip pruning early, an open center gets sunlight into the canopy and help avoid sheltering pests! So just make sure you spread them as far as you can and keep the branches headed more outward than upward!
Kent, wa


Induce bearing at a young age? I’ve got a tree I grew from seed which I planted at 4 feet tall in a row next to a Fuji on a M111 that was about 5 feet tall, this was six springs ago.
I think both are going to bloom for the first time this year…definitely the seedling is.

(The only tree I ever saw fruit it’s third year on M111 rootstock was a Niedzwetzkyana…but it was a 2-year old tree from Trees of Antiquity…and had a trunk caliper of my thumb.)

I agree with others, if it were me at this point I’d roll with what the tree wants to do, which is to grow open center. The only knock on open center I have read about in some climates is that of sun scalled on the exposed branch structure. If you get really hot intense sun you may want to utilize some paint to prevent those issues.

Regardless of what you decide to do, make sure to report back so everyone can learn👍, I wish you luck!


My 2 cents. A couple of those you can easily pull the top most slender horizontal branch up ward enough to become the central leader. Wait for the sap to start flowing and go easy. Nothing wrong with open center if you have adequate space between trees. The one that looks like all the scaffold branches originate from the same point (if that truly is the case) at the top of the “trunk” is going to be a issue with splitting in the future. I would shoot for at least a hand width between scaffolds you intend to leave.


I think I’d do what BlueBerry advised. They look like ‘naturals’ for Open Center to me.


I have a McIntosh that I planted in 2003… and initally pruned open center… and around year 6 no fruit. I showed a pic of it to a online friend that grows apples up in a NE State big time. He makes a good living off them. He said right off that I needed to change it to central leader to get it to produce… I did… it did.

I had to make some pretty drastic changes… or so they seemed at first… but it did start producing… and has pretty regular since then.

I started 3 new apple trees last spring and doing central leader on them.

Good Luck with yours !


TN - Do you think that might have something to do with an apple’s natural tendency to want to grow UP and not OUT? Just wondered.

I am not sure about that PomG…

I had actually just mis-read a Good Book that I have that gives some nice details on pruning…

It was Peach trees that they recommended open center… not apple trees… my mistake.

It could have just been timing ? not sure… but just a few years after changing my Mac over to central leader… I got this…

I was impressed for sure.



There’s an orchard I picked apples in … piece rates … in 1982 that still has quite a few of the same trees…on probably M111 but maybe M106…that have trunks easily bigger than a gallon jug…and all the apples can be picked from the ground.

(Because…the central leader trunk was removed and 4 or 5 side arms are all there is…and they get pruned of most of their water sprouts annually.)

So, I know a apple tree does not require the central leader to produce.

However, these trees now produce maybe three bushels of top grade apples…whereas they used to produce 10 bushels or more, but half of them not coloring as they received no sunlight.


Wow. Beautiful.

I do plan to keep them pruned to about 10 ft so I can reach everything with my A frame ladder.

@TurkeyCreekTrees is right that the one with the strong 3 scaffolds and baby center sprout the scaffolds all join at the same height. Sounds like I need to remove two of those anyway and force some buds to make limbs higher and lower, so I might as well switch it to central leader. Is it better to bend a strong scaffold limb to take over as leader or keep that baby leader/sprout that’s already in the center?

I think I’m going to do the same with the one that has the two limbs at the top - bend one to become the leader and keep the other as a scaffold.

The big lesson here is to head back on year one and remove the next two buds to avoid this problem.

Good info here:


Thanks for the video! It helped me find this other video by the same guy. He points out the exact problem I have with tree 1 and to a lesser degree on tree 2: a vase of scaffolds all growing from the cut off point which will eventually cause weak breakable limbs.

It gives me some hope that taking off most of the limbs and restarting with notching where I want new limbs should correct the issues in about 2-3 years.

I wasn’t on the property last growing season, but hopefully with a good fertilizer and spray schedule this year I can turn things around.

I’ll report back in the summer with how it’s going.

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I have most of my apples as central leader but on one the leader got damaged a year or two after planting (not sure how). After pruning it out I decided it was a prime candidate for vase pruning in the future. Today that LindaMac strain of McIntosh is one of my favorites as it is 12’ wide and 5’ tall. Bears 2.5 bushels every year. Rootstock unknown but some true dwarf as I have to keep it staked for support.

Ran across an old standard McIntosh a few years ago in soomebody’s yard. Classic example of what vase pruning can do for height control. Photo attached. Leader was removed 3.5’ from ground level.


If it was me I would do a Perpendicular V. Two uprights close to 180 degrees apart. To get a central leader I would probably cut a branch for scion and graft vertical to the main trunk.

I love Skillcult videos. I looked at these, in particular, last night - and think I may try that with the standard pear I bought this week. Again . . . I got it from Lowes. I was looking for a fireblight resistant variety and they happened to have a Moonglow.

I just can’t understand why they offer so few dwarf and semi-dwarf trees - when they KNOW that their market is predominantly homeowners with one or two backyard trees . . . ??? Because a sucker (no pun intended) is born every minute???

With all the Covid Interest in fruit trees - it’s almost impossible to locate trees. Everyone is SOLD OUT. I’ve been trying for about a month. I’ve searched the ‘usuals’ - Cummins. Trees of Antiquity. Etc etc. (Any suggestions?)

I have some lovely pear scions of decent size, that I received from forum members. And I have found some disease resistant rootstock - and will try my very novice hand at ‘bench grafting’. My workshop efforts at this, with apples, a few years ago - were a complete bust! But I am a little bit more informed now - and maybe I can pull it off this time. ? I will have to practice my whip and tongue, tho . . . and that is still very intimidating. :fearful: No Pain - No Gain.

As an aside - In many of Skillcult’s productions he expresses that he needs $$$ to continue what he is doing in the video realm. I wonder if anyone has ever started a ‘Go Fund Me’ for someone like this - and for their project. I don’t know that much about ‘Go Fund Me’, but it appears that it would be like a publicly funded grant. I think someone like him would draw a backing following - because what he has to teach is very worthwhile.

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