Pruning the apple tree

Apple tree leafless canopy in winter

Those of you who follow me on Facebook and other social media will know that we have been very busy in the garden over the past week or two. I’m sure you are dying to know what we have done in the veg patch, but I am going to make you wait another week. First, I want to tell you about our apple tree.

We have been working up the courage to tackle the apple tree for some time now. It is very beautiful and gave us more cooking apples than we could eat last year, but it has clearly been some time since it has been pruned properly. Huge branches overhang next door and loom large over our veg patch as well. Being novices at this gardening lark, we are fairly reliant on what we read and watch to tell us when to do things and, according to the guru Monty Don, late winter is a good time to prune apple trees. So we girded our loins, took the saw and the ladder up the garden, and set to.

Man sawing branches off a tree in winter
D working hard up the tree

According to the Gardener’s World magazine, you can be quite ruthless with apple trees. Monty Don’s advice is to open up the branches sufficiently for a pigeon to be able to fly through with ease. I’m not sure that was really what we were aiming at – we would settle for it not taking all the light from our neighbours’ vegetable plot. Up the ladder D went and started to saw. It felt pretty brutal to me, watching from below while steadying the ladder and receiving the shorn branches, some of which were fairly big, but I knew it had to be done. The little boy next door, who at four is extremely bright and totally fearless, helped us from his side of the fence, lifting offcuts larger than himself over to our side. Trying to keep their dog from bouncing around just where the branch was about to fall was a bit more of a challenge though. Sensibly, the cats kept out of the way while we worked, although they took it in turns to supervise from the new woodshed roof, making the most of the winter sun and ensuring that we did a good job.

Grey and white cat walking up roof of an outdoor log store
“Make sure you leave enough tree for me to climb”

Slowly, the tree started to take shape, with me advising from the ground on what to cut off to try and tame the worst without losing the overall shape of the tree. I quickly discovered how compulsive it becomes – there was always just one branch more that needed to go. The discarded wood, looking almost like reindeer antlers, piled up and up on the grass until we started to fear there was more on the ground than on the tree. You still couldn’t fly a pigeon through the middle but one of the starlings that nest in our eaves might be able to have a go.

Pile of tree branches on grass
Just some of what we took from the tree

In the end, we decided to stop before it got totally out of hand. Then, as it was still early February, the race was on to cut the wood and move it before dusk fell and we ended up working in the dark – again. Chopping it into pieces small enough to go into the garden recycling was a long and extremely tedious job. It would have been great to keep it all and to use the smaller twigs for kindling, but we decided life was too short (well, the day was anyway) and we had no chance of cutting it small enough to use before it went dark. We did manage to save some of the larger pieces for the fire but it will need some drying time, as it was too green to burn – a good job we have a nice dry woodshed!

Hopefully the tree will respond to our well-meaning attempts and continue to thrive, bringing the fleeting beauty of blossom in Spring and fruit in Summer and Autumn for many years to come.


Pink apple blossom
Last year’s blossom


4 thoughts on “Pruning the apple tree

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