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I'm not sure how this tree got here. I don't think it was planted so may be it's a result of an Apple core being thrown in the bushes but it's here, and the fruit is edible.

The trouble is that it's now too tall to harvest the apples, and to spray it to treat the Apple scab. The height is the same as the one storey house it's beside.

What sort of pruning is still possible to bring the branches to reachable height?

Will apple

I'm thinking of making these cuts while it is still winter.

tree now in winter

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If it is born from a seed, it should be more resistant from disease. In any case you can check if there are sign of graft on lower trunk. There are many apples in the tree (and large) so you were lucky (or it is a grafted plant).

About pruning: the main problem I see: there is many other plants near the apple. Ideally it should have not taller plant for few meters in every direction. For this reason, I find difficult to prune as you want. I would start a normal pruning, but on the higher part of the plant. Remove the central shots, to force the plant to growth laterally. On apple tree there are two kind of pruning: normal, and one to "rejuvenate", that mean that you can short the apple tree (maybe within few years). You still have some branches on lower plant. With some trimming on the upper part, the lower branches could growth better (and create new branches).

But for me, there is too many plant nearby. You should consider to have less plants.

  • The trees behind it are the neighbours, so I can't do anything about them. But the tree on the right is dead and will be removed. Can't see a graft union. Please explain what you mean by a "normal pruning". – Graham Chiu Dec 23 '17 at 21:38
  • @GrahamChiuL On apples there are normal pruning (yearly pruning). Really my books distinguish in 4 kinds, depending on the final form and especially on variety (vigor, long/short distance between buds, the density of fruit buds). From time to time, there is a stronger pruning, to make the branches shorter. – Giacomo Catenazzi Dec 24 '17 at 14:50
  • If you cannot prune the trees behind, maybe the higher form is still the better one. But we doesn't know the direction of sun. If the tree has much sun on south, it is not a big problem. (but from the photo, it seems that also on the right there are other trees. I'm used to see apple trees on lawn. – Giacomo Catenazzi Dec 24 '17 at 14:54
  • Some of the trees around have been removed for building work to progress. – Graham Chiu Jul 30 '18 at 6:11
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First things first, why would you want to cut the three main branches of this tree? What you need to do is to remove any dead or diseased limbs and remove any branches facing outward.

Also, keep in mind that any cut on a tree is like a wound, you should definitely NOT cut the tree at those lines! They are too far from the trunk! Trees do have the ability to heal themselves, given a chance, of course. The angle of the cut is important as well, as you don't want to create a place for water to rest (and cause disease).

Lastly, be sure to use clean tools that are appropriate for the size of the branches.

  • I want to remove the main branches because they produce a lot of fruit which is completely inaccessible except to the Tuis and other birds. Yes, I would cut close to the nearest collar. But there's only limited accuracy with a finger drawing cuts on a phone! – Graham Chiu Aug 1 '18 at 0:42
  • @GrahamChiu, why refuse apples to Tuis and birds? You may also collect the apple on the bottom after a little shake to the tree. – J. Chomel Aug 3 '18 at 7:25
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Have you ever heard of Pollarding?

Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times and is practised today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height.

As far as I know there is no reason to believe that this tree would act any differently. Simply wait until the winter season and then make your cuts. If you want the new growth to adopt a signature look then your going to need a lot of wire and a bit of effort. Draw the new growth in the direction you want it to grow with wire and rope.

Trees are super resilient once they grow a solid root stock. There is no reason to believe you couldn't cut his tree on its main shoot and graft a whole new apple tree to it if you wished.

  • I've read that one should not remove more than 25% of the canopy in one year. – Graham Chiu Jul 31 '18 at 4:44
  • @Graham Chiu I am not a professional arborer; however, I do have experience with cutting tree's low. In my own personal experience I have seen trees literally being cut at ground level grow back into fine healthy trees in just a few short years. – Rob Jul 31 '18 at 17:39
  • I've read that if you heavily prune fruit trees then what happens is that they grow lots of water sprouts which you then have to keep cutting, and they don't produce fruit. – Graham Chiu Aug 1 '18 at 0:40
  • @Graham Chiu Like I said, I am no professional I only have my experience to go on, and logic. Logic tells me that the only way a tree can grow is if it has leaves and branches to absorb sunlight etc. However, I also know that tree's with healthy roots are capable of storing a lot of energy and in my experience its enough energy to regrow. That being said I am not suggesting anything. If you have emotional ties to the tree s/t you couldn't suffer it dieing on you than I think your best option would be a traditional pruning and a ladder for collecting fruit. – Rob Aug 1 '18 at 19:26
  • You misuderstand me. I'm not afraid of this tree dying from aggressive pruning. I just want to make sure it doesn't spend all its growth on regenerating unwanted branches. – Graham Chiu Aug 1 '18 at 19:59
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This extract on how to renovate fruit trees is from Cavendish Encyclopedia of Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce, my go-to book for all pruning questions.

"In the first year, remove dead, diseased and damaged wood. Remove, or shorten to a replacement shoot or branch, crowded and crossing branches. In the second year, improve fruiting potential: shorten overlong and unproductive growth to a replacement shoot and thin regrowth from the sites of previous cuts. On apples and pears, reduce congested spur systems."

While it's not specifically for reducing the size of the tree, one benefit of this method is that you may get replacement shoots after the first year that will show you where to make your second year cuts.

The time of year is late winter or early spring.

Like you, I've been told not to remove more than 25% in a given year, but this implies it can be done in two years.

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