Help needed on pruning large apple 'bush'

rosebacopa2(4MN)February 24, 2009

I need help in determining how to start my pruning process.. We recently discovered (after 16 years) that this large bush was an apple tree. Two apples appeared last year. We have never seen it bloom. Now it is in more sun which will help in future apple production, although probably not too many apples..

Anyway, I would Love some help in determining where to start in its pruning.

Take a look at the photos on



Here is a link that might be useful: apple bush

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Hi Rosebacopa2,

I'll take a shot at this, but it's just a guess.

It almost looks like an apple was planted and sprouted several shoots and they've all grown up together.

If that's true then you have a number of separate and distinct trees all crowing into a small space. That's bad enough, but what's worse is that they're seedlings, and will take forever to produce any significant crop, and just as worse is that the crops that they do produce could be anything from terrible to terrific. And, each of the trunks could well be different from each of the others -depends on what the bees were up to that day.

But if you want to prune it you have to decide what you want from it. As a fruit producer it might not be worth your while, but if you wanted to shape it nicely and hope for a good display of blooms you could do that. For fruit you would want to thin and train, but for a flowering shrub you could hedge it on the outside and thin it on inside and end up with an attractive canopy.

But the truth of the matter is that it's likely not very well suited to either. If you would like a nice apple for fruit I'd start over- yank out what you have, and put in what you really want. If you want a flowering apple get a nice crab; or, you could consider flowering quince, a nice forsythia, or whatever attracts you.

I don't know if that does you any good, and maybe I've missed the point. Others will probably have good suggestions. But myself I probably wouldn't -based on my very limited experience- invest much in that particular situation except as a learning experience.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 4:49PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Agree,'s hard to grow anything betweens the two evergreens, by the looks, the evergreens look nice, so I would
get rid of the apple tree and plant one somewhere else.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 8:29PM
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Thanks Mark and Konrad,

We do plan on keeping the "bush"/tree as it is also somewhat of a screen from the neighbors.. the apples were very good tasting and we want to keep the tree.
For the first year of pruning how many of the trunks should I take out and what other branches\? ANy of the top off?/
Thanks for any help. I know it isn't the best situation but we want to try for some more apples.
How far away does another apple tree need to be to pollinate? We really have noticed ANY flowers on it the 16 years we have lived here.. just recently discoved it WAS an apple.
Again, thanks!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 8:47PM
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I think your apple bush was originally a grafted apple tree, perhaps a semi-dwarf, planted by the human hand. The rootstock of a grafted apple tree, while still an apple, is quite a different animal than the scion above. Rootstock growth may not blossom and bear at all, or may bear sporadically, and the fruit produced, if any, is not something you would want to take home. This may account for the fact that your bush has blossomed sparsely, although lack of light can also limit fruiting bud formation.

Some rootstocks never seem to sucker at all, while others sucker freely, and the suckers must be removed annually or you end up with what you have -- a bush. I am not certain of this from your photos, but I seem to detect a somewhat more senior trunk of the tree among all the others. Do you get that feeling? If this is indeed the case, your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to identify that original trunk and cut off all the surrounding rootstock suckers at ground level. If you can recall the particular trunk that produced the likable apples, that is the grafted tree and the one you want to preserve. If you can't remember where the apples were produced last season, tie a yellow ribbon around it when it fruits this year. Keep in mind the fact that a rootstock prone to suckering will continue this habit, and you will have to repeat the sucker removal at least annually if you want a healthy, producing tree.

Don't worry about pollination at this point. You have much bigger fish to fry if you want to turn that bush into a producing apple tree. The poor little original tree has spent years being choked out by all those suckers, but it could recover if it gets a chance.

Removal of all the suckers may make the tree less effective as a privacy screen, but much more useful as an apple producer. To be perfectly honest, I would about as soon look at the neighbors as that sad looking bush, and my choice would be to start over with a new tree, but if you want to save this tree and turn it into an apple producer, that is how to do it.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 11:32PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Good advice already given. I would highlight a comment. Mainly, focus on keeping the trunk that produced apples last year, and if you aren't sure, watch closely for any blooms or apples this year, and mark that trunk, then start pruning the others out later this year. This tree probably won't ever get very tall and doesn't appear to threaten anything if it should fall over, so you might even want to keep 2 trunks going different directions. Just think of it as your scaffolds starting out at ground level, and if part of the original graft exists, you might get more than one type of apple from it eventually.

You appear to have a lot of patience, must be somewhat like mine. About 15-20 years ago I found a tiny tree in our plum orchard which my folks had planted to plums and apples probably 20 years before. The apples didn't do well--plums grew too fast and it was then shaded by the wind break behind it, also, so they moved all the apple trees that survived a few years later. I wasn't sure if what I found was a plum or apple and it was only about 3 feet tall, looked more like a new bare root tree than one that was 20 years old. Anyway, I decided to move it to a better spot and see what happened. It just kind of hung around, grew little, but had a nice reddish bark and reddish leaves in the summer and didn't cause trouble, so I just left it. Fast forward a couple decades and one spring I noticed 2 or 3 pretty pink apple blossoms on it. One set fruit and I ended up with a nice, very red, 1 1/4 inch semi-tart and very flavorful apple on a tree that was about 8 feet tall (I admit I was starting to think of removing it because it hadn't done anything in all those years). Move forwards a couple more years and it has several branches that bloom very nicely in the spring and has a nice little bunch of pretty, tasty, red apples in September.

The point of this is that your tree has survived for ages and makes a nice screen. It may be that conditions are now favorable for it to produce at least some fruit, and you may have a grafted tree and some root suckers, or just a root stock with a number of sprouts. Since you like the apples, make sure to keep that trunk, then start pruning the rest out or at least thinning them down substantially. In the process, you can encourage some new branching here and there so that it will retain its role as a screen and you'll probably continue to get some apples most every year to enjoy. Beats starting completely new in my book as long as you like the apples.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 1:52AM
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