Pruning Young Apple Trees
Bare-root whips have to be pruned and trained to ensure that they'll develop into correctly shaped trees. Container-grown apple trees are usually two- to three-year-old trees. These trees require lime spreading and light pruning.
Bare-root trees should be cut or "headed" back to 24 inches to 28 inches above ground at planting. All broken or damaged limbs should be removed. This process enables branches to form at desired heights, improves the strength of the tree, and offers a balance between the top and roots.
Because the branches reach four to six inches in length, spring-loaded clothes pins may be utilized to form correct crotch angles. These clothes pins should be removed at the end of the initial season. Branches that start to grow at 18 inches or lower can be cut off during the summer time.
After one and two years of growth, all lateral branches below 18 inches or beneath the very first lateral are removed. Eliminate limbs which have narrow crotch angles (less that 45 degrees).
Apple trees are trained to the central-leader system which will permit three to four groups of 4 branches to develop for a standard-sized tree. The central leader is cut in March at 18 inches to 24 inches above the last group of limbs to make sure the development of more limbs.