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Was Apple Tree. Now Apple bush.


I'm sorry that my first forum post is a question but you might be able to save my life. OK not my life but my pride.

In a flush of enthusiasm, armed only with a website and a saw, I pruned our apple trees last year.  One went really well, one OKish but one was a disaster. It was the first one I did and I've managed to turn a nice tree into a sort of bush!

Can anyone please advise me on how to turn it back into a tree and save me from my wife's open derision? I've attached a picture for your entertainment. I mean this was once a tree, cultivated to grow along the wall, probably by generations of keen gardeners until I got involved.



  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 16,688

    This isn't meant to sound sarcastic, so please don't read it that way. What did you have in mind when you first began to work on the tree? Did you envisage a plant that would  reach to the top of the wall or rise above it? I only ask because a few branches still remain way up high while the bulk of the plant is below parapet level (where I am sure your head has been since you did the deed). What shape would you like it to be and how high off the ground?

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 5,896

    Hi, IB!  We love questions on this forum.  image  Can't always answer them but if you get enough replies you may find you have a concensus...

    Firstly, I don't think the problems with your tree are all down to your pruning technique (unless you've lived there for 20 years!).  Those branches going vertically up above the wall have been doing that for years.  Some of it appears to be dead (eg the furthest left branch).  Is that right?

    How high is the wall?  If it's under about 6-7ft, it's never been high enough for a fan-trained tree.  It also appears to have no wires attached to it.  To train a tree you first need to attach wires to the wall, horizontally about 18ins apart, so there's something to tie the branches to.

    It's possible you might be able to tie in some of the new growth sideways, to a wire framework, and then gradually over a number of years reduce the old branches so the tree is growing up the wall again.  If you cut back too much in one go you could shock the tree so it dies - or at least make it produce masses of shoots all over the place, not fruit-producing wood.

    Has it ever produced fruit for you?  If so, did you like it?  One possibility would be to cut your losses, remove the tree and start again...

    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • Those are excellent answers, I really appreciate the time.

    There was once a wire framework along the wall but it was long gone when we moved in although there are still vestiges of it (the occasional pin in the wall).

    The tree is one of 4, one dead, one thriving on neglect which produces a bountiful crop of wasp attracting cooking apples every year which we give away. One which is not thriving but which produces lovely eating apples. 


    What I was trying to achieve, I thought trees should be pruned, it was getting out of hand and was overshadowing too much of the vegetable plot over which it grows and had a lot of dead wood. I'd just bought a new saw and my wife was out (there is way too much truth in that last sentence).


    I've done what Liriodendron has said, I've shocked it and now it is just producing a mass of shoots.

  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 16,688

    So would I be right in thinking that you want the tree to remain below parapet level and to be an attempt at an espalier style? Google espalier if you aren't sure.

    Trees are funny things. The more you cut them back, the more they grow in response (unless you cut them back so much that they die). Your tree is going to take several years of patient pruning to restore its balance. This winter, cut out any dead wood that you can see and paint it with pruning sealant. Cut back the long branches that are waving around above the top of the wall to a point just below that. Note that any major cuts will result next year in manic growth of those long, thin, whippy shoots that you can see in the picture. They are called water shoots and are completely useless for fruit production.  this winter, cut those water shoots back by half. Next year the half that is left of each will grow again, but less vigorously and will, with a bit of luck, also start to make the fruit buds that you want.

    That is about as much as I can say just now.

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114
    Man and chain-saw, saw or choppers - bad combination!
  • OK this is apple tree number 2 (tasty apples but I pruned it)

    Would I be right in thinking (based on what I read in this thread) that I should cut those big whippy branches that are growing vertically in half?  





  • Welshonion -

    Yep pretty much an accurate description of my behaviour this time last year.

    At least I'm trying to learn from my mistakes!


  • granmagranma Posts: 1,848

    Don't worry, I'm sure you willimage

  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 5,896

    Hi, Mr Blank (I trust I may call you that?  image )

    Re tree no.2 - I guess this is being pruned as a "bush" tree, rather than wall trained.  Best do this in winter when the tree is dormant - less of a shock to it & easier to see what you're doing.  Use sharp secateurs and extending loppers mostly - pruning saw will encourage you to cut off too much, probably  image

    Rules of pruning:

    1)  Cut out all dead wood.

    2)  Cut out any branches which cross (they rub against each other and encourage disease.

    3)  Ideally you're aiming for a goblet shape, ie open in the centre, so cut out some of the central shoots - this increases air circulation and reduces disease.

    4)  Now decide if you want to restrict the height of your tree.  If so, reduce the leaders (the main shoot on each branch) by up to two thirds.  Cut back the side shoots by about a half.  Keep standing back & looking at the tree to make sure it's a balanced shape.

    5)  DON'T use pruning sealant - sorry Pansyface - it's now believed it does more harm than good, by sealing in bacteria and fungal spores.

    6)  If in doubt about cutting it off, DON'T!  You can always prune it harder another year, but you can never stick it on again...  image


    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114
    If the tree in the latter picture is old rather than young it may be on dwarfing rootstock so it should be permanently staked.
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