I live in New Hamphire and just bought a house. On the property there is an old neglected apple tree. It is a big tangled mess and I noticed that the tree actually grew sideways. The neighbor said it was knocked down in a storm and never fixed after that. I would really like to restore this tree. The half that is lying on the ground has branches coming up out of it and the other, what I would call the main trunk, also has branches and growth coming from it. Can I cut the sideways half of thhe tree off or will it kill the tree?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hello, Caylyn in New Hampshire: It sounds like your apple tree has had a stressful life. These are pretty resilient trees and can take storm damage as well as neglect with the best of them and live to still be fruitful. Of course, it is going to take a bit of recovery and help on your part, so to answer your question, yes, you can remove the branch that was damaged by the storm without harming the rest of the tree. The best time to prune your apple tree is from February through April. Make sure your tools are clean and sharp before making any cuts. It is always a good idea to stand back and look at the tree before removing any branch. When you remove the larger sideways branch be sure to make your cut at the outer edge of the branch collar. Avoid cutting into the healthy main trunk. Your next step should be to prune out dead, diseased, and crossing branches. Any branches that are growing straight up should also be removed, as well as any suckers growing up from the root system. You might also want to remove some upper branches to allow for better air circulation and light filtration. All of these cuts will help rejuvenate your tree. It may take a few years for the larger cuts to heal and you may not get an abundant crop for a few years, but it is well worth the effort in the long run. If you want more detailed information on pruning apple trees you can visit http://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000582_Rep604.pdf. Heavy pruning can be very intimidating so you might consider hiring a certified arborist to do the job for you.