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Pruning an apple tree for size

Pruned apple tree

When I was waiting for warmer weather before pruning this winter, one of our readers suggested marking which limbs I wanted to cut to save time later. The suggestion made me realize how far I've come in my perennial-pruning education. Just five or six years ago, I would have done precisely that, but now my eye chooses the next cut in the time it takes for me to reach the wood with my pruning shears --- no more agonizing over choice of direction or lost wood.

Apple tree two years agoThat said, I did spend a minute or two agonizing before cutting the entire top out of this apple tree. But when it last fruited, two years ago, the tree was shorter and we still would have had to pull out a ladder to get to the top fruits. The height meant I didn't thin blooms at the top of the tree, and the resulting apples hit the ground before they were harvested. Quality was much lower for the tree-top fruits than for the apples I was able to baby lower on the tree.

So I lopped off quite a bit of wood this year, leaving a weakly upward-pointing scaffold that I hope will prevent the tree from sending up scads of watersprouts to replace the central leader I removed. Barring late freezes (which means tree fruit is a 50/50 chance around here if everything else is going well), we should get another good harvest from this Virginia Beauty. At the moment, I agree with
our extension agent in thinking that this variety is the tastiest heirloom apple around. But I haven't tasted the other 35 varieties we have in the ground yet!

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