Pruning strategy for apple tree regrowth

So I am revisiting my approach to saving trees which had died back over the winter.

In past years, I would let all growth stay, in the theory that the more leaves the better the chance a tree would survive/thrive. That has not always been all that successful, but then again this is on trees which weren’t doing all that well to start with.

Right now, I have a Gold Rush apple which had mostly died back over the winter but is starting to regrow from above the graft. This tree was pretty vigorous but has some mechanical encounters and this last winter which caused a large die back. I was thinking of changing my typical approach and pinching off all the leaders except the one selected to be the new main leader.

I am curious if others have experimented with various pruning techniques for this situation and what they found has worked best.

IMO you are basically starting over building a tree, other than now you have an established root system. Maintain a single central leader during a growing season (if not for the life of the tree) and allow minor side branches to grow if not deemed suitable for future scaffolds to provide more leaf area.

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I would think that the more important question is why are you having trees die back over the winter. Apples, pears, cherries, euro plums should all be completely hardy in zone 5a, I think. What is dying back, and why?

Winter dieback was widespread in my part of zone 5A/B last year so that wasnt uncommon. If it is happening yearly though you might want to look into the reasons. Possibly fertilizing too late into the summer or fall.

Thanks. The reasons for the die back are varied, but primarily due to our rather severe temp swings and strong winter winds. I think I have my fertilization timed OK to prevent late summer/fall growth. And there is the occasional rodent damage and other physical damage.

This particular tree had its deer cage blow into it two winters ago. That broke several branches, scrapped off some bark. It regrew last year from several new shoots. This spring only one of those shoots seemed to still be growing and it had died back to within 6" of the ground. I presume due to winter kill as no other problems seem present. I am trying pinching back to a single leader this year; and we’ll see how it does.

I am in fairly rough spot for most fruit trees. Short growing season; late and early frosts, warm spring weather followed by freezes, and strong drying winter winds. I try to take this all into account, and generally only plant the hardier variety of trees with early harvest dates. Even so I am seeing some interesting trends.

Not all cold hardy apple and pear trees do well here. Some are great, however quite of few that “should” do well here don’t, primarily due to winter/spring die-off and desiccation because of our strong and persistant winter winds. I plan on trying some anti-desiccant spray this coming winter, but beyond that, it has mostly been a bit of learning which varieties work and which not. I still don’t have a complete list, but I am starting to know some varieties which appear to do well here.

An ongoing “research project.” But perhaps, if the variable weather patterns we’ve seen the last few years continue, information of this sort will be useful for others in less severe locations.


People elsewhere look at your zone and draw conclusions without understanding the climate/weather on the front range of Rockies. The primary issue is constant wild temperature swings fall thru spring. The frequent dry winds don’t help but I’m not sure how much damage that adds. Please post back if you get good results from the anti-desiccant.

We have the constant large temperature swings in west TX. As a result things like figs sustain more winter injury here than places back East that are 1-2 zones colder.