Pruning old apple trees might seem like you’re wasting your time and effort, but it can make them bear new fruits. Check to see if the old apple tree in your yard can be saved, then prune it. The tree might not bear fruits for the next two years, but the effort to save it will be rewarded after.

Part A

Organizing Your Work Area

1. Make Sure the Tree is Healthy

If you prune an old apple tree, you’re helping it have new growths and bear fruits. By pruning the tree when it is dead, brittle, or has diseases, it won’t help the tree. Look for these signs to know if your tree should still be saved:

  • Grey colored or crumpled branches: If you find this, it means the branches are dead or diseased. If a very large portion of the tree appears like this, then the tree is not worth saving
  • Spoilt or crumbling bark: This is a sign that nutrients are not flowing through the trunks of the tree
  • Fresh growth at the tip of the branch: This means the tree is still well, and it is worth saving. If this is absent, then it cannot be saved.

2. Plan to Prune in Late Winter or Early Spring

The best time to prune your apple tree is after the tree has been inactive for the winter, right before it starts growing again in the spring. If you prune the tree too early in the winter, it might be destroyed by the cold.

3. Obtain the Right Cutting Tools, Gloves, and a Ladder

A new saw with sharp cutting teeth, gloves, and a pair of clippers would be needed for this task. You’ll need a sturdy ladder if the tree is too tall for you to reach the upper branches.

  • Get a pole pruner if you have a lot of trees to prune.

4. Sharpen and Clean Your Tools When Necessary

Dull tools will give the tree rough wounds that may not heal, and the dirt from the tool may infect the wound. So make sure your tools are sharp and clean.

  • To clean dirty tools, make a solution containing 90% water and 10% bleach, and use it to clean the tool.

5. Lean the Ladder against the Tree, then Test the Weight

The ladder may look balanced and strong from the bottom, but it might be weak and shaky from the top. Try to test it first before climbing all the way up, or it may break. This is very vital.

  • An effective way to test the ladder and see if it is strong is to step on the bottom rung of the ladder and lean against it. If you hear a creaking sound, it is not sturdy. Please don’t use it.

Part B

Pruning the Tree

1. Visualize What You Need to Cut and How Much

Don’t go pruning without having an idea of what it is. Try to imagine what should be used to cut first. Normally, the central branch should be growing upward, and some side branches coming off of that.

2. Prune the Dead or Diseased Branches as Close as Possible to the Collar

The joint between the branch and the truck is called the collar. Make sure you cut straight up to this joint; do not remove the branch flush to the trunk. To make sure the bark is not torn when you’re cutting it, hold it down.

  • Remove the branch by cutting it halfway from the top and cutting it halfway from below if the branch is very thick.

3. Remove 1 or 2 of the Larger Limbs if Necessary

The branch at the center of the tree growing upwards is your leader branch, and the other branches are competing for nutrients with it. Cut off 2 of these branches or 3 of the other branches if necessary.

  • If any branch is thicker than 8 inches, don’t cut it
  • Be careful while trying to cut the third branch. If it’s not in the way, and it is healthy, it is advisable to leave it.

4. Cut Back Any Excess Branches that Block Light

When these branches are overgrown, they will begin to block light when the leaves start to grow. Crowded branches that are closely packed together should also be thinned. Any branch that is seen too close to the ground or is less than 24 inches to the ground should be removed as well.

5. Cut off All Water Shoots from the Top

Water shoots are slim branches that don’t bear fruits or foliage. They should not be kept because they take energy from the tree supposed to be spent on bearing fruits. Start from the top of the branches, then slowly go down when cutting the water shoots.

6. Do Not Eliminate More than One-third of the Canopy

Removing too much of the canopy will get the tree stressed. Remove the canopy in the winter if you want to remove too much of it.

  • Prune your tree evenly over 2 to 3 years if you need to

7. Look for Signs of Pests and Diseases and Treat Them Accordingly

Cankers, scabs, and mildew mostly attack trees. Rosy apple aphid and woolly aphids, too, can be a problem. It is best to monitor your tree and treat these things if they’re found.

Part C

Providing Proper Aftercare

1. Get a 6-24-24 Fertilizer

The size of your tree will tell you the quantity of the fertilizer you need. The label on the back of the fertilizer explains how the fertilizer should be used.

  • You can use organic fertilizer if it contains blood meal, compost chicken manure, soybean meal, etc.

2. Apply Fertilizer in a Ring 12 Inches Away from the Trunk

Don’t apply the fertilizer too close to the trunk. You can apply it 12 inches away from the trunk, and the fertilizer should be applied 12 inches around the trunk.

3. Rake the Fertilizer Towards the Drip Line

Start raking the fertilizer 12 inches from the trunk away from the drip line. Ensure you rake all the fertilizer around the trunk away.

  • The area around which water from the tip of the branches falls is called the drip line.

4. Cover the Raked Area around the Tree with 1 Inch of Compost

The compost should be applied 12 inches away from the trunk and stop at the drip line. Compost that is 2.5 cm deep will give your tree plenty of nutrients.

5. Trim Away the Water Shoots Growing from the Trunk the First Year After Pruning

If you can’t find any water shoots, look for them under the main branches, and then remove anyone you find by cutting. It is nicer to trim only half of the water shoots remaining all the way down to the bottom and leave the other half.

8. Perform a Follow up Pruning for the Next 2 Years

Cut any branch you didn’t cut in the previous year if you are pruning over two years. Cut the toughest shoots growing at the top of the tree, where you made big cuts the year before.


You have an old apple tree in your yard, and you don’t know whether it is still useful or not. This review also talks about how to take care of your old apple tree, how to prune it, how to resist pests and diseases.

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