How to Keep an Apple Tree Healthy


Like many, there’s little that saddens me in the world of gardening more than not having a healthy tree. I take particular pride in improving the of many apple trees I have owned.

Some major courses of action in achieving apple tree health include:

  • Pruning
  • Preventing worms from taking hold of the fruit by using codling moth traps
  • Preventing fire blight
  • Removing suckers from the base of the tree

Prune in late winter or early spring for tree health

I always found that late winter and very early spring were usually the best times to prune apple trees in general. This time of year can be the best time to prune your apple tree because you get to see what branches are  dead or healthy. Your tree is about to to use a lot of energy for spring growth, so cutting away the branches that aren’t healthy or desirable all the energy will flow into the healthier branches. This means that overall you will have a better tree.

The above also explains why  pruning during autumn is such a bad idea. In autumn, instead of the tree using energy,   the tree will actually withhold  releasing energy. This means the tree will find it difficult to heal it’s wounds from cutting and trimming that may take place.

Pros and cons of pruning after spring arrives 

A benefit of pruning in spring is that you now can more clearly see which branches are healthiest and most productive.

Moving onto the cons, when you prune in spring the tree has already used up a good bit of its energy on growing its branches. This means you’re not getting the the highest productive efficiency from your tree regarding healthy and fruitful branch growth.  This underlines the importance of pruning a little bit earlier. For the vast majority of apple tree growers they want their trees to be as healthy and productive as possible. Avoiding pruning later in spring may just help you achieve this result.

Some of the benefits of pruning during the summer

One of the big benefits of pruning in summer is that can target new shoots that have grown on the tree. By removing these shoots you can ensure that the other older branches that are healthy receive more sunlight. The extraction of these newbies also improves the circulation of air around other  branches of the tree. This circulation of air may aid in the prevention of unwanted disease and pests making their presence felt on the tree.

During summer, the tree also doesn’t have as much energy  as spring. Therefore, by removing unneeded branches the tree’s energy is focused on the more established and productive branches. The energy can hence be more effectively used.

Pruning in summer can be a good idea for  older trees that have bloomed for many, many years. You may choose to prune your tree during the sweet spot of late winter/early spring and then again in the summer.

What exactly to prune off your apple tree

If you have planted a new apple tree whip or you have just transplanted a very young tree, then don’t be afraid to cut off up to a third of it. This will focus the energy of the tree on fewer branches and on the roots. This process overall gives you a better chance of having a tree that will go on to be stronger and healthier in the coming years. 

The process of pruning  an apple tree is to give you the best chance for it to be as healthy and productive as possible. Therefore, for young and slightly older trees you should prune away any unwanted branch that comes in contact with or blocks the sunlight of a branch that you would like to see remain. Additionally, you should remove branches that are growing inwards  towards the tree as these branches might undermine optimal air flow around your apple tree. Don’t be afraid to take too much off. With the more branches you remove, not only do you increase the chances of other branches receiving more sunlight, but you also improve air circulation.

Additionally, it is often recommended that apple trees incorporate a central leader training system when the tree is being shaped in the initial years. This is a thin and tall strategy for your apple tree, where a central leader trunk is present. The apple tree usually has natural leader branches, a growth pattern that produces long, upright branches. You should hence consider keeping the side branches in check if you want optimal healthy fruit growth. This system promotes this strategy and results in a cone or pyramid shaped tree.

Remove the suckers

Suckers are plants that sprout up from the rootstock at the base of your tree. Unfortunately, they more than likely won’t produce any apples or fruit. Always be on the look out for suckers and never be shy in removing them. If they aren’t removed they could stunt the performance of your apple tree, by absorbing much needed nutrients and energy.

Prevent worms from taking hold

The codling moth is a type of moth that uses fruit trees to reproduce. Their larvae use fruit to feed on. Hence, they pose a major rick for all apple tree enthusiasts.

Remove all rotting fruit from under the tree and any apples from the tree with worm holes in them. These apples can be deposed of. Always keep your orchard or ground under your trees as neat as you can. Not only does this lower the chances of more codling moths borrowing into the ground to spawn more generations, it also makes your area more pleasant to work in.

Codling moth traps incorporate pheromones that attract male codling moths. They are usually hung from branches around the apple tree. By capturing many males, this can lead to a reduction of codling moths being reproduced. These traps also work as an indicator for when codling moths have arrived to the area.

After codling moths have begun to be trapped you can move on to using sprays. It should be noted that many people are hesitant in using sprays, especially if you wish to grow organic apples. Luckily, there are numerous organic sprays out there that you can use in your battle against codling moths.

Sprays should be use on trees that have no bees. If there are no flowers on your apple trees yet and you see no bees then you should be good to go.

Stave off fire blight

Transmitted by insects, fire blight can cause serious damage to apple trees. You can see from the above picture it’s usually appearance. In addition to patches of leaves turning brown, there is often an oozing watery substance on the branches where the infection occurs. It can kill not only branches, but also the main trunk of the tree. This means that the disease can be potentially lethal for your apple tree.

Watch out for it in warm and wet springs. This type of weather is a good breathing ground for the bacteria. Also, be reluctant in using too much fertilizer on young trees. The rapid growth of these trees can stimulate the growth of fire flight.

Pruning can be a risky endeavor in trying to remove the plight, as the hand saw or shears can pick up the disease when they are used to cut off the infected branches. So, you will need to use disinfectant on your tools between use. You will also need to cut about 12 inches below the infected area.

Sprays can be implemented in removing the plight. Liquid copper can be used on many infections that harm fruit trees including fire blight.

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