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Advice on pruning these neglected apple trees

 
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Hello, first time poster long time lurker.

I inherited an urban garden a few years ago. These two apple trees seem to have been badly neglected. They used to put on little apples, then drop them. Some of the leaves seemed to wither. Two winters ago I pruned them both heavily. There seemed to be no good branches to keep, as they all go straight up, but I was hesitant to crop more than 1/3rd. Next spring it put on bigger fruit, and I was hopeful, but they ended up dropping them all again.

I've perused some of the advice here on pruning apple trees, but I'm having a hard time applying it to my situation. I don't know much about fruit trees. I'm thinking I should cut the height back on the bigger tree and select a few branches to train, cropping all the other tall competing branches.

I'd appreciate a little bit of guidance. Thank you.
IMG_20230404_093725.jpg
Tree 1
Tree 1
IMG_20230404_093712.jpg
Tree 2
Tree 2
 
pollinator
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Location: WNC 7b
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Hey Matt and welcome to posting on permies!

Both of the trees look fairly young in the photos. it seems they both may benefit with height reduction. mostly to make harvesting simpler and their canopy looks sparse, perhaps that is just the season right now.

when pruning back, choose to stop at a bud that is growing the direction you'd prefer a future branch. good call on not taking more than a third of the tree. maybe even consider pulling off any young immature fruit to allow the trees to recover.

Second tree photo...are those lower branches growing from the grafting site?
if so, those lower branches could be removed. They may produce fruit from the rootstock. Rootstock as you may already know, is selected for it's hardiness and nematode resistance, not fruit flavor.
congrats on the apple trees.
 
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Hi Matt, Welcome to Permies.

I have limited experience with pruning trees, so take this with a grain of salt. I think you did the right thing to limit it to no more than 1/3rd. Here are a few things to try (please note there are many different strategies for pruning). One of those strategies is below. Start at the top and see how far you get before you have take off 1/3rd.

Prune off any dead/diseased branches, and see how it looks (this can be done at any time and I don't think counts as part of the 1/3rd rule)

(The rest should be done early spring when the trees are still hibernating).
Prune off any branches pointing back towards the trunk/center, and see how it looks
Prune off any branches pointing straight up, and see how it looks
Prune off any branches pointing straight down, and see how it looks

That is really as far as I would go for normal pruning, even if it was not 1/3rd.
 
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