Young apple pruning question

Last spring I bench grafted apple tree on G41 root stock. In summer it grew into pretty long whip, so I pruned it in order for branches to develop. Somebody told me I have to cut about 18 inches above the height where I want the branches to develop. So I marked knee high spot, added 18 inches and cut. The tree developed just two branches, but not 18 inches bellow the cut, but from the buds right bellow the cut. Now I have 2 branches 18 inches higher than I want it. I was thinking to cut them off and start over, but when I look at the buds bellow the branches - they are very flat and dormant. But there are buds on root stock itself(that I left probably too high) that look very ready to grow. I am afraid that if I cut bellow existing branches now, the root stock will take over and the tree will not develop new branches. Is that possible? It is rare scion form USDA, I really want to keep it.

I think you should be more patient and leave it as a central leader (cutting off the least dominant of the two) and see if it doesn’t cooperated on its own once it is more established. Cut it when it exceeds the height you want and if branches don’t form where you want them in a couple years of growing, you can always resort to notching. We obsessive amateurs tend to be excessively impatient to see a tree acquire the shape we want. For apples and pears you can always coax branches where you want them later with notching and cut away shading branches that interfere with their establishment.

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Actually, it does have central leader, I was not clear explaining, sorry. There were three buds that developed - one strait up that made central leader and two more - opposite to each other about 2 inches apart in height. So in general it is in a good shape, just too high…

Than try notching instead, unless you want to wait as long for maturity as on 111. The more you prune the slower the establishment.


Thanks, I will try notching. The proper time will be in March for zone 5B?

I always do it when I’m pruning during dormancy, even in mid-winter, just because it’s convenient and I’m doing it at many sites. Here’s a reference.

They are recommending doing it about when J. plums start growing, but I suspect the results are the same if you do it sooner.


My experience with cutting back the top results in side limbs mostly popping out near the top 6-12". If the tree is more established they pop out farther down as well as the high area.


I find most 1 year wood will get most of its growth within 2-6" of a stub cut- at least if you don’t wait until around bloom no matter the age of the tree. Vegetative shoots behave like whips planted into the tree. I’ve not observed results closely enough as I don’t train trees by cutting the young trunks where I want to begin a new tier and building from there, but the literature says growth reaction is better distributed if you hold off until bloom time.

On established trees I often remove all annual wood on some shoots with flower buds beneath when I want to reduce the vigor of that shoot because of its position in the tree. Stub cutting into 2 year wood creates a less vegetative reaction than 1 year, especially if there are flower buds directly under the cut. Of course, the equation changes on varieties that form flower buds on 1-year wood. Creating fruit is dwarfing. Some varieties vary from year to year whether they form flower buds on 1 years shoots. It sucks when you use graft wood with flower buds on it- you never get the same growth, even when you promptly remove the flowers.


I think if you have 2 branches on a young tree ,that are not where you want them, they should be cut off.
As to the rootstock sending out shoots,rub these off as soon as they push out.
Don’t let it do that.
Lateral branches can be encouraged "where you want them “by making a horizontal cut, 1/3 of the way around the stem ,just above a bud ( node).
To balance growth of the scaffold branches during the growing season,
Another small cut above a branch will encourage it to grow more.
An overly vigorous branch can be slowed down by a cut below that branch , and pinching the buds at the tip
Growth that occurs where you don’t want it should be removed as soon as possible ,other wise the plant is putting resources into growing wood that later will be cut off.
Hence the term ; " nip it in the bud”


You might be right, given the tree has only two branches, but commercial growers usually take a different approach in pruning apple trees because removing excessive wood slows down the establishment of bearing trees. Unwanted wood may sap energy from wanted, but in young trees this is only usually a problem with branches more than a third the diameter of the trunk, which should be removed ASAP (in precocious varieties, 1/2 might be the better fraction). The idea is to get the tree established and cropping before choosing permanent scaffolds, because the more you leave the faster the tree grows and matures.

The easiest and quickest way to establish most varieties of apple trees is to leave all but oversized and rubbing branches until the tree begins to bear a substantial crop. In guides I have a post that explains this in greater detail.


“The easiest and quickest way to establish most varieties of apple trees is to leave all but oversized and rubbing branches until the tree begins to bear a substantial crop.”

I would disagree whith this. On the premise that these branches where nipped in the bud last year., and not allowed to grow in the first place. They would not be there, and hence ,would not have to be removed.
All the energy of the tree could ( and should )be directed into permanent ,and useful growth.
By nipping in the bud, and directing the growth by training ,notching ,etc. “during the growing season”
The over all growth will be about the same, it’s a matter of if this energy is directed into permenent parts of the tree or simply thrown away .
Most comercial growers prune only during the dormant season .
As back yard growers we may have more time to visit each tree during the growing season to direct that growth where it is most useful

I agree that young trees should have as little “wood " removed as posible.
I also think we don’t grow fruit trees “for wood” and that all the energy of young trees is best directed into establishing a useful permanent framework , by nipping in the bud” befor we grow wood "

The research is that the more wood removed the slower the tree grows- the whole tree, including the roots. Removing extra wood does not compensate by making desired wood bigger sooner in a way that increases productivity, it tends to slow it, in apples. This is well established.

I also steer wood during the growing season with thumb and finger, but this removes very little invested energy. I still think that only allowing permanent scaffolds to grow in a very young tree would reduce the canopy to the point of stunting growth- if it is reducing the harvest of energy more than the investment in the wood. Young wood always generously shares its energy harvest with the wood and roots down the tree. However this is a complicated equation, and open to debate. There is never an absolute formula for all trees in all situations on all rootstocks.

Peaches are different because they are so precocious, their wood is always sexually mature so scaffolds are often chosen early without slowing or decreasing early harvest.

As I said, in a tree with only two branches, I’m not sure what would be the fastest route to a productive tree on a dwarfing rootstock. It’s not something I’ve experienced or seen studies of.


I bought a tree at a box store. It’s kinda in a strange shape. Where and when do I prune it?

Of course I do not know the rootstock. Standard?
50-50 chance it is Honeycrisp.


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I’d cut all those long branches back by 2/3. Too tall and skinny for my liking.


That’s about the only leaves in it. It’ll branch back out?

I would think that you would wait for it to go dormant, then prune it back.

Pruning earlier would have been better. But it will leaf back out. I mean if it won’t leaf back out now then it won’t next spring if pruned back to the same point. In fact it’s less likely next spring. But either way will work.

I would leave the tree alone for now and let it grow roots into the soil and worry about shape later, probably much later. If all the growth remains on the tips of branches, you can always dormant prune them back and they will go gangbusters next season. If you cut them back now you will set them back about a season in establishment time, would be my guess.


A season, my gosh it isn’t even May yet. Athens TX has a very long growing season. That tree could be 10-12ft tall by fall.

Much later? I guess we have different perspectives. I like small modern trees. You’re used to working around deer.

I guess the question is what Katy wants.

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I plant 200 apple whips a year in soil and move another 200 that I’ve sized up, my game is getting them to selling size as quickly as possible, deer or no deer.

What you recommend may be the best approach- frankly I’ve never had a single apple tree grow like that one in the photo with all the “blind” wood and I have no experience growing apple trees in Texas heat and what looks like terrible soil- pure sand, although I have done the sand.

But apple growing season ends as soon as temps get into the 90’s, I believe. I also believe in letting small trees grow- particularly after they are in full leaf. You won’t get another shot at vigorous root growth this year, IMO, especially in Texas. The roots were already cut to nothing and abused in a small container as the tree awaited purchase.