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Pruning my espalier apple trees.

Good evening,
I’m new to the pruning of trees etc and the whole business seems quite complicated so I’m after some advice.

This pic is from the RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening and shows where my apple trees were in summer 2019. Now they have 2 established tiers which gave some fruit this summer. On one of the trees the fruit was small, on the other it was of a decent size. 
I would like to produce a third tier. Should I do this this year or wait? If I don’t prune for a new tier this year, do I prune the top of the leader or not?
Also, is the practice to prune back the laterals of the tiers by a third every year? They seem to have grown fine but I do want them to grow longer.
Lastly, I didn’t cut back any of the sub laterals over 9” to 3 or 4 leaves in the summer. Should I do that now? And then next summer, cut back to one leaf?
thank you for any advice you can give.


  • Hi Joe, I’m doing the same but a year ahead. Will be cutting to start the fourth and final tier.

    This photo in August just after summer pruning. I won’t winter prune until Valentine’s Day. The bottom tier has reached desired size so I won’t touch that. Second tier will have this seasons main branch growth just pruned a bit to a downward facing bud. Apart from the side on the left, which has suffered from aphids this year, gone all stunted and misshapen so I’ll cut all of that bit off back to healthy stem - downward facing bud again.

    Third tier I’ll also reduce by a third because it didn’t grow very strongly. I noticed the tree did a lot of stopping and starting this year. So it looks like there’s multiple seasons growth but it’s actually only one year! Started growing, then stopped, and regrew from new buds. Probably due to stress from the aphids which really were awful this year.

    My understanding of winter pruning missed fruiting spur grown is like you’ve said - cut them as you would have in summer, but they’ll regrow strongly in spring and then in summer need reducing all the way back to 1 bud.

    you can reduce arms by a third of new growth for as long as you want to keep them growing strongly.
    East Yorkshire
  • Oh and fruit will be small. I'm surprised you have any if it's such a young tree. Did you start with a pretrained espalier or a maiden?

    Mine hasn't even flowered yet, although I think it will for the first time next year.

    You're best to remove developing fruits so that all the trees energy goes into growth rather than fruit, until it's reached the desired size.
    East Yorkshire
  • They always say summer prune for growth and winter for fruit.
    I have a five year old tree, and managed to set a tier each year, so go ahead with your plans @joe.shimmin
    Mine now has four tiers and I was advised to take all un- needed growth out each winter. This year as it has reached full size all the top growth and side shoots are going back to two/three buds, and the ends of the tiers will have about a third cut off to bring its summer growth back in line.
    Hope this helps.😁
  • Brilliant, thanks for all of the detail, that’s really useful! I bought mine preformed so this will be my first formative prune. Wish me luck!!!
  • @purplerallim - I think you've got that the wrong way round!

    It's summer pruning to restrict growth and encourage fruiting - winter pruning to encourage strong growth
    East Yorkshire
  • No I was told the other way.🤔 If you cut in summer , you only end up with new growth again before winter, using up the trees strength. I was told winter pruning forces the buds to develope fruit in spring, from the energy re- absorbed after leaf fall. Have I been told wrong?
  • FireFire Posts: 18,963
    My apple esp. is in its fifth year or so. By Feb this year, it was covered in buds and by May they had all gone - eaten off. So no flowers or fruit at all for me. Do you know what critter might be doing that? I'll be a bit heart broken if it happens again this year. There is little as upifting, in my books, as apple blossom. I'm really hoping my new crabs blossom for the first time bext year. I might just weep if I get nothing at all. Yes, it was a terrible year for aphids - plants so clotted you can't see the tips. (And, yes, I have many sparrow nests nearby).
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,388
    edited December 2020
    No I was told the other way.🤔 If you cut in summer , you only end up with new growth again before winter, using up the trees strength. I was told winter pruning forces the buds to develope fruit in spring, from the energy re- absorbed after leaf fall. Have I been told wrong?
    I think it is advised that you prune apple trees, as in bush or standard trees, in winter to get the best out of them.

    But if you are growing a tree in a restricted form like an espalier then winter pruning encourages it to fight back with more leafy growth - which you don't want. Summer (later summer mind, you prune when it's gone woody in late August to reduce chances of any further growth) - summer pruning encourages the development of fruiting buds while discouraging leafy growth.

    So you only winter prune espaliers during the formative years when you're training the tiers or if they need renovation.

    That said, as I advised above you can still prune to encourage fruiting buds in winter if it was missed in summer.

    East Yorkshire
  • So looking at the article,  I have been cutting back at the right time, because it was still being trained. Now is the time to change to Autumn pruning as it is established.  I must admit to some pruning in Autumn as it does get too big for its space, but not the heavy cut back I've done in February. It always saddens me to have to cut back so much growth on an apple tree.
  • So when I see about winter pruning of trees, February is the time to do it, right?
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