Three years ago i moved into a new house. In the garden was a lovely apple tree. The first year we harvested 10 buckets of fruit. I'm not talking small buckets, there was lots of fruit.

I could tell the tree hadn't been pruned in years so I set about pruning the tree. I have done so every year since cutting off the new spindly shoots that make it look like a tree hedgehog.

The problem is I haven't gotten more than 10 apples off the tree in the last two years. They were apples the size of my hand and tasted great.

My question is how much pruning is too much pruning? I have no idea what type of apple it is. They are pale yellow in color, ready in early September and don't keep well. It's definitely not a cooking apple as they shrink a lot when I make apple pie from them. They were great for apple sauce the first year.

-----------Edit to add info on how I read you should prune the tree-----

My apple tree had a lot of long thin branches coming off the main trunk / branches. I read that in the first year you should cut those back to 4 spurs. (Spurs are the little nubs where next year’s growth will come off of.) The following year a bunch of new long thin branches will appear out of the 4 spurs you left behind. Those you cut down to 3 spurs. The following year you cut the new spurs down to 2. This should give you a fruiting cluster.

Here is a lovely artwork example of what I mean.

enter image description here

  1. First year is red, it has 4 green spurs coming off of it.
  2. Second year the green spurs sprout giving you the light blue ones. Cut them back to 3.
  3. Third year the light blue spurs sprout giving you the purple ones. Cut them back to 2.
  4. Fourth year keep purple ones to 1 spur forever.

This should give you 24 spurs for fruit.

2 Answers 2


Many apples fruit from multi-year-old "spurs" - specialized branches that mostly grow the clusters of flower buds. It sounds to me like you may have accidentally pruned a lot of your fruiting spurs off with the water sprouts and other extra branches.

  • 1
    How do i know which ones i can remove and which ones i cant. It looks all spikie now but im wondering if i should leave it alone and not prune it at all this year.
    – LindaL
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 10:40
  • 1
    I would definitely suggest not pruning it this year - at least not until you can find someone close by who can come out and show you which are the fruiting branches and which are branches that you might want to remove. It can take a couple or three years for fruiting spurs to grow back enough that they can fruit again, so not pruning it until you can tell what went wrong is probably a good precaution to take. You might be able to get your bearings from a book or from an online web site, but having someone who is good with fruit trees show you the ropes is quicker.
    – TeresaMcgH
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 22:21
  • Also, I just reread your original post. Do you mean that after you pruned it the tree sent out a spray of suckers on the ends of the branches and that's making it look like a hedgehog? You didn't pollard the tree, did you? You can't pollard fruit trees. If you did, man, that's going to take years to grow back and you're probably going to need some professional help as well to get it to grow back right. Here's an article on what "pollarding" means. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollarding
    – TeresaMcgH
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 22:25
  • Eeek no i didnt do that to a fruit tree. Im going to reedit my post to show you what i have done.
    – LindaL
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 7:53
  • btw i appreciate your help. But your right what im trying to do is create those multi-year-old spurs. The tree didnt have them. But it fruited fine the first year with out them. even if the apples where small and didnt taste as good as the few i got off the last two years.
    – LindaL
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 8:09

Keep in mind that for a fruitful apple tree, you must have mature branches bathed with good sunlight.

To prune a tree is to find a balance between the nutriment that come from the roots in the ground and the pressure that's allowed to get out from the buds in spring. You can think of it as a sprinkler, the buds being the holes that let water get out: the more buds you let, the more places the water get out, but it gets out slowly. If you let only a few holes, then water will get out with lot of pressure: this way you're tree will grow strong branches quickly; but for branches to grow fruits, pressure must be low.

So to make it look good and bear fruits, you have to select the branches you'll let grow, and remove the others. The branches to be removed are the ones that

  • look armed, broken, look ill or bearing parasites.
  • blocking sunlight from "entering" the tree
  • annoy you or your neighbors :)

In any case, don't remove more than 70% of the total "branching system" of your tree.

My way to do it is to carefully look at the tree all along the winter, and decide its shape. Then when time comes, remove the branches I've selected. Usually I don't remove more than 3 "big" branches. If I don't remove all the one I wanted this year, I'll remove it the next.

Very important is

  • the way you cut: use sharp, clean tools, and cut close enough to the remaining wood, otherwise you'll get issues like here
  • the time of the year you do it: right before the beginning of spring

For the remaining branches: You really need to let the branches of your apple tree grow. Most of the branches you'll keep, you don't have to cut at all. Let them be, until you decide to remove it for the most part, to let surrounding branches grow more.

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