Tall spindle pruning

Hello all, I did my pruning in late March on my tall spindle apples that r going into their second leaf but after doing some research on the subject it seems like I should have trimmed the laterals off. Can I prune now? Thanks.

If you pruned now, you may stimulate new growth, my suggestion would be to wait until around late June to prune or until next winter

I kinda figured that. I will wait I suppose.

I’m still learning even though it’s an easy pruning job. Two winters I pruned off the laterals and it seems I cut where there would be some spur growth. So I’m still a little confused about that.

I believe that when you prune laterals it would be clean off to wear it starts on the branch.

How far along are your trees now? Also depends on whether those laterals are shading other laterals. Upright or hanging are an immediate removal candidate in my book. Side laterals if they not shading anything else arent a big concern. Remember no branch is permanent in the tall spindle system so it will eventually be removed in its entirety at some point anyhow.

Tall spindle trees should require very little pruning unless the laterals are large in comparison to the leader (perhaps 50% or more), or are pointing straight up. Worst case you probably would not want to remove more than 2 of them. Cut at an angle and leave a stub to induce a new lateral to grow from the stub.

Training is a lot more important than pruning. Laterals should be tied down to a near horizontal position and the first few buds at the very top of leader should be rubbed off to reduce competition with the leader.

A few apples will help to pull the laterals down, but 10-15 apples is probably enough on a vigorous second year tree. Less apples if its not.

A comprehensive set of video on tall spindle apple production conducted by T Robinson of Cornell were recorded at the NC apple school a few years ago. Its the most useful information I have seen. Wish I had seen it before I planted my orchard!



I am not referring to the initial branching or feathers, I am talking about lateral branching off of the feathers which if I viewed correctly should be pruned off completely. I believe it’s called columnerizing the tree?

Don’t you love that Ivy League word - “columnerizing”?

I’m not sure how critical it is for second year trees. If your trees are in bloom, the pruning wound may create an entry point for fire blight bacteria, so I would sit tight this year. When you do perform the columnerizing you need to be careful to leave the fruiting spur rather than cutting it too close or you you loose the potential for an apple at that location. I got a little too aggressive columnerizing some of my branches this year which eliminated fruit I should have had.

I just learned the word today, i feel just a little bit smarter when I say it.

So I should wait till next march then?

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Yes I was a little too aggressive last year. Luckily I’m just a back yard gardener and fifty apples on one tall spindle is plenty for me. Some apple trees don’t seem bothered by my aggressive pruning, my Jonagold seems too push out so many Spurs along one branch no matter what.

I would wait until next year. Cornell also uses the term “simplify.” I prefer it.

Tall spindle looks easy but is more difficult and expensive than I expected.

After two major frost this year, 50 apples per tree would make me very happy!


In February I pruned most laterals on my Tall Spindle trees that were not overly large or pointing straight up back to 3 or 4 leaf buds per the suggestion of applenut and have been pleasantly surprised to find a high % of the laterals that were cut that way have flowered this spring and are now producing fruit.

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Can you describe the pruning process in more detail?

Rick, how many tall spindle trees do you have?

Yes that’s what I did wrong last year. I just snipped most of the laterals off. This winter I did like that too.

about 600. Hope to plant another 75 next spring to complete the project.

Rick, you mentioned tall spindle being more difficult than you expected. Which part do you find the most difficult?

That is quite a bit of trees to prune.

The most difficult part has been getting the trees into production quickly. The establishment cost are huge, even for a small orchard like mine. Without the early production, the economics don’t work as expected. Early yields require near perfect feathered trees which are hard to buy, lots of knowledge, good weather and some luck. Also, the dwarf trees are a lot more susceptible to fireblight than the semi dwarf trees.

The pruning, spraying and picking are a lot easier. I’m confident the orchard will hit the financial targets, but its going to take about twice as long as expected and I’m not getting any younger!

Rick, I pruned back to a spur if it was close to the main branch, if that was not available, I just counted 3 or 4 leaf buds or nodes from the main branch which usually ended up being a couple of inches long and pruned back to that bud. Here is a picture I just took from a branch that was pruned that way in February that might help explain what I am trying to say.