Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

How do I train and prune a young apple tree?

Begin training a young apple tree the day you plant it, so it develops a central leader, strong branches, and good form for heavy fruit production. Proper training while the tree is young, along with regular pruning later, produces a strong, spreading, open-centered crown that lets enough light into the tree.

Begin by removing all side branches below three feet along the trunk. Remove damaged branches or branches that form a very narrow crotch angle. Choose a central branch for the leader, and 3 or 4 laterals for the scaffold branches, making sure these side branches grow out from the leader at wide angles and at different heights. A 900 angle is best. A narrow angle produces a branch that develops a tight, weak crotch that breaks easily in a storm or under the wright of fruit. Avoid selecting a branch directly over another because it will shade the lower branch. Prune unwanted branches back to the trunk being careful not to leave stubs as they heal slowly and invite disease.

The following spring, select 2 or 3 additional lateral branches above those already chosen and prune back the tips of the central leader and laterals lightly to encourage side branching. For the next few years, until the tree bears fruit, prune sparingly because heavy pruning delays fruit production. If a double leader develops at the top of the tree, remove one of them.

Annual pruning is best done in late February or early March before growth begins. Prune out any water sprouts, suckers, and dead branches as they occur. Water sprouts are fast-growing shoots which grow straight upward from the trunk or scaffold limbs.

Suckers are swift-growing shoots which appear around the tree's base. Water sprouts spoil the look of a tree and are unproductive. Suckers rob the tree of nutrients and should always be removed promptly. Remove any crossing branches as they can rub against each other and cause a wound which can admit disease. Remove any branches with weak, narrow crotches, and branches that grow toward the center of the tree. Finally, remove any drooping branches as these have few flowers or fruit. Remember to clean up all debris from around the base of the tree for good sanitation.

Apple trees usually begin to bear in their 3rd to 5th year. After the tree has begun to bear, you will begin to prune again, but for a different purpose: to keep the tree producing steadily.

Apple trees produce fruit on spurs--short stubby offshoots of the lateral branches, and these bear for many years. When the spurs begin bearing, they thicken, and crease-like rings encircle them, marking the yearly growth. After a number of years, a spur may stop bearing, but they can be rejuvenated by removing half of it, cutting through it at one of its thickened rings. A new shoot will form at the cut and become a new spur. The new spur will produce flower buds that will yield fruit the following year.