Archived Story

It’s apple tree pruning time [UPDATED]

Published 6:12am Monday, March 4, 2013 Updated 8:15am Monday, March 4, 2013

February and early March are the best time to prune apple trees. They have already set buds for this year but have not started any sap moving.

This means, that when it does warm up and the tree begins to wake up, it will be able to heal the pruning wounds quite easily.

If the tree is already growing, it will take more time and energy for it to heal.

There are only a few rules to remember when pruning any tree.

First, never remove more than a fourth of the tree, or shrub in one growing year.

Second, remove dead or broken branches at any time.

Third, remove any branches that grow straight up, including that hula skirt of them around the base.

Fourth, remove any branches that cross each other.

Really look at your tree now. It should not be crowded with any small branches. You may have to thin out the interior of the tree.

Step back from the tree and decide which branch is the best one to keep. It should add to the proper shape of the tree.

In other words, don’t save a branch that is sticking out of the tree at a bad angle or one that will eventually cross another branch.

Even though it may be that this has been a very stressful winter for your tree, and it may have some root damage from the lack of snow cover, it still needs pruning.

If the roots have been reduced, it definitely doesn’t need a huge load of leaves to feed in the summer.

Do remember to thin the apples the first week in July to reduce the load even more and to insure that you will have apples every year, and nice large apples.

If you need to prune an oak tree, you can do that now, too. Wait to do maples and birches until they are fully leafed out. They lose a lot of sap if pruned too soon in the spring. The maple syrup people depend on that fact.

If you are looking for a drought tolerant shade tree, try the Northern Acclaim honey locust.

It is a fast grower, provides dappled shade you can plant under. It adapts to many types of soil, is a nice bright yellow in the fall, and best of all, you don’t have to clean up under it.

The leaves are pinnately compound and break up when the tree defoliates in the fall.

Another tree that does well in poor soil is the Prairie Reflection laurel willow. It, too, grows fast as do most willows and it too has a yellow fall color. Both should be available from your local nursery.

SAVE THE DATE – Garden Day is fast approaching. It will be on April 6 at the Kennedy Secondary School in Fergus Falls again. We appreciate your comments. We read them all and attempt to follow your suggestions.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.

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