Rescuing a gangly young apple tree

This is my first post, so first let me say hi.

Here’s my question.
I got a “good deal” on a healthy but poorly pruned potted braeburn on some kind of semi dwarf rootstock.
It was over in the discount section of my local nursery, and I paid $10. It’s not injured, and it has no sign of disease, but it’s tall and gangly. I thought it would be a fun project to try rescuing it.

It’s about 3/4 inch thick at it’s thickest, probably 3-4 years old, about 8 ft tall, and has almost no branching. Its basically a gigantic whip, with two competing leaders near the top. There is a cluster of three competing branch stubs about waist high (I’ll have to remove two of them), and one promising branch a bit higher. so it has two possible scaffold branches.

So how should I prune this, and when?
should I dormant prune this to a whip?
should I leave any of the branches?


Welcome aboard mouse dude! If you have deer pressure I would prune it at about 5’, leave any limbs around that height. If you have no deer I would prune around those small limbs a few feet up. That will make a lower branching tree for easy harvest. I would not prune it this year as you want the tree to have all the energy gathering power it needs to adapt; wait until the spring. I would plant it in the ground now, the earlier you get it in the ground the more time it has to adapt before next spring.

Not much deer pressure. The yard is fenced and I put fence rings around the trees. no sign of damage on my other trees. I also have a dog who seems to keep the deer away. They could probably get at the trees if they really wanted to, but there are easier pickings in my neighbors yard.

I had the same thought about not pruning this year. It’s stressed enough already. I’ll prune in late winter when it’s fully dormant.

The problem with the lower limbs is they are all on the same side, within a few inches of each other. In fact, all the branches, including the upper branch, are pretty much facing the same direction (straight towards the camera in the picture). It would be a very lopsided tree.

Welcome to our little corner of the universe.

If it has been in the pot a long time the roots may have circled and then you would have to “unwind” and even cut some before planting in the ground. Doing that may be too much of a shock at this time of the year. I would not plant now. I would just make sure it is well watered and do that in the late fall right around Thanksgiving in 6B.

My plan would be to create a new central leader from one of the lowest branches. To do this… THIS FALL, I would…

  1. Head the tree about 12-15 inches ABOVE the lowest branches.
  2. Then select one of the lowest branches to be the new leader. Then TIE the selected branch right up to the 12-15 inch stub of the original trunk. (Leave the 2 remaining lowest branches till the spring). I think you can tie it upright NOW without heading and begin its training and you can head it later in the year.
  3. In the spring as soon as the selected upright started leafing out I would cut off the remaining the lowest branches and leave the selected one to keep growing upright becoming the new leader. New branchlets should start coming out of the new leader over the summer and you can prune and shape as necessary.
  4. Remove any growth coming out of the original stub of the trunk AND once the new leader establishes itself you can cut off the stub altogether and… Voila!!!.


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