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 prune an overgrown apple tree?

Apple trees are difficult to maintain when they become tall and overgrown. They also become so dense with leaves and branches that fruit quality decreases and insect and disease problems can increase. The goal of pruning then should be to reduce the overall size of the tree and open up the tree to allow more light and air to penetrate.

Begin by removing all suckers at the base of the tree. Next remove all but six to ten of the better branches for scaffold branches. Select branches that are well spaced and have wide crotch angles. Branches with narrow crotch angles are more subject to breakage. Now each main scaffold branch should be thinned. Remove crowded branches and allow more space between smaller branches. It would not be unusual to remove half of the smaller branches. Reduce the length of the longest branches by cutting them back to a side branch. When the job is completed you should be able to easily throw a ball through the tree. Since apples produce fruit on short fruiting spurs which bear year after year be careful not to remove these on the branches which remain. They can be recognized as short thick stubby spurs that become branched with age. On older trees these spurs may need to be thinned also.

Severe pruning, as described, will stimulate the tree to produce many young vigorous shoots from the trunks called water sprouts. These should be removed regularly. Some gardeners prefer to spread the rejuvenation process over a two to three years period. This is less shocking to the tree and will reduce the number of water sprouts which develop and have to be removed. Pruning in mid-summer, after the spring flush of growth is completed, as opposed to late winter or early spring, will also help reduce the proliferation of water sprouts encouraged by severe pruning.

When making cuts, prune branches flush with the branch bark collar. This is the natural swelling that occurs where one branch joins another. Removing the collar makes larger wounds and inhibits the tree's ability to heal. Look at the area where the two branches join. Find the collar and prune flush up to this collar. Do not cut into the collar. Do not paint pruning wounds with tree wound dressing paint. Pruning wounds heal better when left open. When you finish pruning, remove the branches from beneath the tree. Piles of branches attract rabbits and mice.