How to thin the fruit so you don't end up with a whole bunch of little stunted apples.
Below each of these blossoms is an apple. But the roots and the branches can't supply enough food to support that much fruit. Without thinning, the tree will just bear a huge bunch of small, dry and stunted apples. This section explains how you can thin these blossoms so you will end up with high-quality large, flavorful and juicy apples.

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning

Pruning can happen year-round. The commercial growers prune in the winter, but there's no reason why the backyard fruit grower has to adopt only that method.

Summer pruning is an integral function of keeping the trees small. Two or even three times a year, side limbs should be cut back severely to promote new growth. By pruning when there is fruit on the tree it is easy to see what to prune and what not to remove.

Summer Backyard Orchard Culture

Cut back new growth by half in the spring and late summer. The easiest way to manage a fast-growing variety is to prune more often, perhaps even three times each year.

Keep the center of the trees open to allow the sunlight to come in. Prune the foliage into the shape of a vase.

Remove broken limbs. Diseased branches should be removed immediately when noticed, and as low as possible to eliminate the disease entirely. Disinfect the tool used to remove this limb to prevent spreading disease.

By the third year, decide how high you'll allow your tree to be. If there are vigorous shoots that want to dominate, cut them back or remove them. Keep cutting back all new growth by half at least in the spring and again in the fall.

Prune fruit-bearing branches so a bird can fly through the tree. When branches cross or are too close together in the same direction, remove one of them. While pruning, thin the fruit. Be ruthless, you'll have all the fruit you'll need, and of a much higher quality, if you limit the number on a branch. The roots and branches are capable of only a certain load. You can have either a good number of large and juicy apples, or hundreds of little stunted dry ones.

Experiment. Fruit on the same branch can be limited to six inches apart, but with some varieties you may need to double the distance.

But Everything That I Prune Dies!

Um, no. We all have a natural fear of pruning, but don't let that bother you. It's practicably impossible to kill a tree by pruning it wrong, and if it doesn't turn out right you can always do it over the next year. You could even take a chainsaw to your tree and, as long as you cut above the graft union, start all over again with the shoots that will sprout out of the trunk.

Growing a tree is a lot like raising a kid. The first year or two you have to do everything for them, keeping them warm, wet and well-fed. In its third year the "teenager" tree starts striking out on its own, so get out the pruning shears. Lop off the stuff that's headed in the wrong direction and encourage the branches that go where you would like them to. Kids should be so easy...

Reading pruning books or researching it on the Internet will instruct you in many ways of doing it, but remember, no two people will prune a tree in the same way and there are always multiple solutions.

NEXT: How to keep pests and diseases away from your fruit trees.