Pruning young apple tree

   / Pruning young apple tree #1  

Hendey T&G

Bronze Member
Jun 3, 2022
2007 Branson 4720
We planted 2 Cortland and 1 Golden Delicious apple trees last year. The Cortlands surprised us and are blooming this year. The Golden Delicious isn't but has many small suckers all along the main trunks. I know I need to take them off but my questions are is it too late to do it now or should I wait until fall? Can I take all off at once or will that stress the tree too much? I will leave a few where I want new branches to be. The GD is on the right.

All the greenery around the trees is wild blue berries that grew on their own after the land was cleared.

Apple tree.jpg

blue berries.jpg
   / Pruning young apple tree #2  
I don't think it really matters. But you have not protected these trees from deer. And they will kill the tree.
   / Pruning young apple tree #4  
Also wrap something from the base about 2' up wards so the rodents won't chew the bark.
   / Pruning young apple tree
  • Thread Starter
Thanks for the replies. We did have some deer nibbling on the branch tips last year so that's when I put the string around the trees with garden netting over the trees themselves. I did take the netting off for the spring growth. So far no more damage.
   / Pruning young apple tree #7  
My neighbor - third generation apple grower, and operator of my orchard along with his own - would tell you you want only one primary trunk and to top it in order to force branching out.

I'll add that branches continue to grow at the elevation where they were originally, and you don't want branches so low you can't rototill etc under them or later, harvest. So remove lower buds.

Over several years I've been removing lower branches that my small tractor won't go under, ever since the year (2009?) when the neighbor who tills, sprays, harvests for me, told me I was on my own to mow and till. Because the market for Martinelli sparkling cider had stalled with the general economy decline that year and they wouldn't buy the crop. I still feel imaginary gouges in my head as I go by some of the trees that didn't have adequate clearance then.

He finally found a buyer and resumed discing and spraying before harvest time. But I still prune anything I couldn't duck my head under - just in case that ever happens again.


Near the house is too tight for his pro tractors so I maintain that portion. Note the sufficient overhead clearance.

   / Pruning young apple tree #8  
Another thing about the lower branches; when they start getting heavy with fruit they will drag on the ground.

Keep the grass mowed around them and take the mouse guards off in summer, otherwise they make great habitat for insects and can hold in moisture, resulting in disease.
What I would do instead is get some 1/4 inch mesh hardware cloth and wrap the tree with that, keeping it about an inch off the trunk all of the way around. These you can leave on year round. Make sure that you get it all of the way to the ground, or the little buggers will girdle the tree underneath it.

I'm not sure where in Maine you live, but if you take a ride past Highmoor Farms on Monmouth (UMaine's research farm) they have some nicely pruned trees with the central leader form.

I am envious. I've got trees which have been in the ground for 5 years or longer. Only one of them is starting to blossom this year, for the first time.
Many of them are standard trees though, which take longer to develop. I probably also could have done a better job prepping the holes before planting.
   / Pruning young apple tree
  • Thread Starter
Thanks the great information.
I don't like those low branches either. I didn't want to cut them the first year because I was afraid I would shock the new tree too much. It should be Ok this fall correct? Can I cut more than one main branch or is that too radical for a young tree?
Jstpssng, I'm in Norway, not too far from Monmouth.

We planted 1 Cortland at our old house and after 3 or 4 years it started to bloom. After another 2 or 3 years, one year it flowered out nicely then just completely died.
A friend of mine who is a avid food gardener, was over one day and I asked him about it. He walked over to it, grabbed the tree and asked, "Can I pull on it?" I said, "Sure, it's dead." He pulls it and it snaps off about 3 or 4" above the ground. Inside were these white grub/larvae looking bugs that had completely chewed the trunk. I'm really hoping to avoid those this time.
   / Pruning young apple tree #10  
Paint the main trunk with white latex paint, or with the formula listed below. It will make it easier to see if the trees are attacked by the borer.
It also will help the tree survive early spring hot/cold cycles, as the paint will reflect sunlight and the tree won't start growing quite as early.

This is rather long, but I copied it from Fedco's web site. Pests and Diseases Guide - Fedco Trees

They have a lot of helpful hints for gardening.

In many parts of central and northern New England the roundheaded appletree borer, Saperda candida, is the number one enemy of young apple, crabapple and quince trees. If you are growing young apple trees in these locations, you must protect your trees from this pest. Farther south and north the borer may not be a pest. If you don’t know if they are a problem in your area, check with any grower near you: they’ll know. Otherwise, err on the side of caution. The borer does not endanger other fruit trees or ornamentals.

Borer beetles lay eggs under the bark near the base of the tree. The developing larvae tunnel through the wood, eventually weakening the tree until it falls over. The trouble sign is small deposits of orange sawdust, called frass, at the base of the tree. Check lower trunks for frass and tunneling in late May, and again in September. Left unchecked, borers usually mean death for young trees.

Here are five strategies for controlling borers:

Paint the trunks: Painting is likely the best deterrent. I’ve tried a number of recipes and this is my favorite. It’s easy and requires no hard-to-find ingredients. Mix white interior latex paint with joint compound. (The stuff you smear on sheet rock joints and nail holes—you can buy a small tub at any hardware store. Some exterior paint formulations contain ingredients that can harm the underlying phloem.) The consistency should be thick but still quite easy to paint, not glob on. Repaint as needed. This mix will help deter borers and also make detection of infestations easier. Look for the frass!

We are experimenting with a borer-protection formula using more benign ingredients. It doesn’t last or adhere as well as the paint-joint compound mixture, but it appears to work fairly well.

  • 2 qt quick lime
  • 4 gal milk
  • 1 gal boiled linseed oil
Mix well. Thicken as needed with clay or Surround. Apply with a paint brush. Reapply as needed.

Cut It Out Once you’ve identified a hole or soft spot in the trunk, insert a wire and dig around until you locate and kill the larva. Cut away soft spongy pockets with a knife. Even serious carving is less harmful to the tree than leaving the larvae alive inside.

Blasted Borers: When you discover a soft spot or hole in the tree, get yourself a can of compressed air (for cleaning computers). Put the long skinny tube nozzle up to the hole and give it a blast. Should do the trick.

The Polyculture Deterrent: Borer beetles thrive in shady moist warm environments. Keep grass back at least 6" from the tree base. Trials in our “functional” orchard suggest that a mixed polyculture environment may disguise the apple trees and fool the borers. We plant woody and herbaceous perennials around the trees, keeping them back 12" or so. Borers are lazy opportunists. If there are a lot of apple trees within easy reach, they will attack. Otherwise, you may never see them. The polyculture orchard may present too much work for them.

Neem Oil: News Flash: Neem Naturally Neutralizes the Northeast’s Nasty Nefarious Nemesis!

In many parts of central and northern New England, the roundheaded apple tree borer (Saperda candida) is the #1 enemy of young apple, crabapple and quince trees. The larvae tunnel throughout the wood of the trunk—usually just below or just above the soil or mulch line—weakening the trunk to the point of breakage. Left unchecked, borers usually mean death for young apple trees. We’re grateful that Michael Phillips has identified an effective, organic, nontoxic and easy defense for plantings large and small: pure neem oil, sprayed as a trunk and soil drench at 1–2% concentration. For optimal results, spray this “neem drench” 4 times a year: early spring, late June, late July and fall.

To prepare a 4-gallon batch of the 1–2% neem oil drench: Combine 5-10 fl oz warmed neem oil with 2-4 teaspoons biodegradable dish soap. Stir vigorously to emulsify—it should become milky. Add warm water until you reach the 4-gal mark, then stir again.

Optional: Stir 2# of Surround® WP into the mixture. This will give your trunks a whitish hue, making it easier to spot the rust-colored frass that indicates presence of borer larvae.

Apply the spray generously, making sure to completely drench the trunk up to the the first branch (but not the branch itself), as well as the soil at the base of the trunk. Be especially generous when spraying around the base of the trunk: spray enough so that it pools and then slowly soaks in (borer larvae often dwell in the tree just below the soil surface).

CAUTION: Do not apply this 1–2% neem spray to leaves—it could damage them. Be sure to clean sprayer tank and flush line after use.

Please note that although this neem drench is a powerful tool in the battle against borers, we still recommend getting on your hands and knees to inspect your young apple trees for frass and tunnels at least once a year. If you notice evidence of borer activity, locate the hole or soft spot in the trunk and dig out the larva with a wire. Cut away soft spongy pockets with a sharp knife. Even serious carving is less harmful to the tree than leaving any larvae alive inside.

Michael Phillips now recommends that when you’re on borer duty, bring along a butter knife and a container of solidified neem oil (thick as butter at 60°). If you find borer damage and cut away the affected tissue with a sharp knife, slather on the neem oil to fill the cavity. According to Phillips, “bark tissues and pores in the wood will carry azadirachtins to the borer (if indeed missed), and arrest its further development…the fats in the neem will hasten callusing of the wound.” If the site of this surgery is near the soil line, cover it up with soil, and “know you’ve done everything possible to deter this curse.”

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