Winter is the season for pruning trees.
Of course, apple trees don't need to be pruned to live a long life and produce apples. There are thousands of wild apple trees all over this country that bear fruit without pruning. But pruning, if done properly and at the right time, can definitely help produce healthier apples every Fall Season.
OK, so here are some of the reasons I prune my apple trees.
1. To remove dead and diseased branches and branches that are rubbing up against other branches. This is minor surgery that prevents more serious health problems for the tree as it ages.
2, To get more sunlight and air into the center of the tree. I train most of my trees in an “Open Vase” system. The tree is shaped sort of like a bowl. Sometimes, apple trees grow so many branches that the sunlight can't penetrate into the middle of the tree. By opening up the middle of the tree into a bowl shape, sunlight and air can get to more of the apples. Sunlight and airflow in the middle of the tree dries it out more quickly after a rain and reduces disease causing organisms.
3. To keep the tree at a manageable height for picking. Many of my older trees are on a “Standard Root Stock”. This means that they can grow very tall (taller than a two story building!) This makes them difficult to harvest. So, I cut back the top limbs to keep the apples within reach of my ladders and picking poles.
4, To get fruit from my trees every year. Most apple trees bear fruit biannually (they produce apples only every other year). By pruning the trees and “thinning” the apples, it encourages them to produce apples every year.
Pruning several hundred apple trees is a lot of work during the coldest part of the year. But it helps provide organic apples for this friendly neighborhood vinegar maker, and it seems to be good for the trees too.