How to Prune Apple Trees

On a quiet April day, Casey Dahl of Folk Tree Farm on Washington Island shared his pruning knowledge with a couple of neighbors in their old apple orchard. The trees had not been pruned in years and they wanted to learn more about how to care for them. Gathering Ground also attended this pruning workshop to film it so the knowledge could be shared with a larger group. (Social distancing was practiced during filming.)

While Gathering Ground was hoping to host an in-person workshop this spring, like every other organization on the planet, we had to look for an alternative method. During a time of self-isolation, pruning old apple trees is a great activity, and the Island is home to many old orchards.

In this series of short videos, Casey offers techniques on how to prune long-unattended apple trees. The online workshop is broken up into a series of one-to-four minute videos which are arranged by topic, so both brand new and seasoned pruners can easily access the information they need as they start pruning this year.

Casey Dahl is a tree enthusiast, especially fond of chestnut and apple trees. He has been working with trees for more than 15 years in a variety of settings, including planting his own chestnut and hazelnut orchard in Southern Wisconsin. We are grateful to Casey for sharing his expertise with us.

Q: When should I prune?

Q: What tools should I have?

Casey offers expert advice on the best and safest tools to use while pruning apple trees.

Q: Where should I start?

Start with pruning back any competition around the apple tree. Casey explains why and why you should keep some low branches in place.

Q: I’m ready to start the actual pruning. Now what?

Casey explains why we prune apple trees and how to thin leaders.

In this video, Casey offers tips on choosing which leader, tips for healing big cuts, what to do with broken branches, crowded areas, pruning limbs and why we should make the big cuts first.

In this video, Casey offers more great info on how apple tree wounds heal and offers more tips.

In this video Casey explains the three D’s of apple pruning: Damage, Disease, Dead wood.

In this video, Casey offers tips on pruning criss-crossing branches.

Q: The leader of the apple tree is really tall? Can I just cut it back?

Q: I have some really long branches. How do I prune them back?

Q: My tree has a ton of upright shoots. Do I cut them all off?

Probably not. In this video, Casey explains why.

Gathering Ground would love to know if you were inspired to start pruning your apple trees this year or if you have other questions for Casey about old apple tree pruning. Send questions (with photos, if useful) to email us. Share your before-and-after photos with us too! Find us on Facebook or Instagram!

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