Pruning Apple Trees with Nice Guy Ted

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When we bought the farm, it came with our very own apple trees in the front yard. They were really neat to look at… but didn’t really produce squat. We were sure that they were a lost cause since it didn’t look like anyone had touched them for many, many, many, many years. However, our friend Nice Guy Ted, proved us wrong.

A little bit about Nice Guy Ted. You may have seen him in our earlier post, Flowers for Robby. He saved about 80 perennial flower bulbs for us so we could plant a memorial flower bed for our mutual friend Rob, because that’s just the kind of guy Ted is. Ted is probably the nicest guy in the whole damn world, and if that’s not enough, he’s also wicked smart.  By trade, Ted’s one hell of a a surveyor/engineer/building consultant. He worked closely with Bob Cassilly and the Cassilly Crew (thats where Dave met Ted) at the City Museum and Cementland. Ted worked with Bob for over a decade and often had the very lofty goal of getting Bob drawings and permits for the crazy things he and his crew were building. There are now several very unusual building codes and ordinances on the books in St. Louis City because of Ted’s work with Bob. Ted is also a very experienced gardener, horticulturist and all around outdoorsmen. Basically…TED IS THE SHIT!!!!

pruning apple trees in the late winter
Here’s Nice Guy Ted showing us how it’s done.

Anyway, back to the apple trees. Turns out that all they needed is a little love and attention. It just so happens that this is the perfect time of year to prune the trees! Pruning mature trees such as these will help maintain its figure and encourage production. The best time of year to do this is in the late winter/early spring before any new growth begins.

Now before you go off hacking away at limbs, make sure you know what you’re hacking off. Here’s a few things to look for:

1. Suckers (Not just on trees, but in real life)

2. Broken branches

3. Downward growing branches

4. Upward growing interior branches

5. Competing leaders

6. Crossing limbs

7. Weak crotches (Not just on trees, but in real life)

Here's my crappy diagram.
Here’s my crappy diagram.

Nice Guy Ted taught us to look at the flow of the tree, anything that is inhibiting the flow of the tree has to go. Chop, chop! Your tree should have one central leader, anything competing with that is weakening the tree. By removing a lot of unnecessary growth, the tree will be able to concentrate on filling the space with healthy fruits vs. being overcrowded with unhealthy fruit.

apple tree pruning in late winter
Dave’s really going to down on those suckers.
pruning apple trees
Mid-prune… suckers are a dying breed.
pruning apple trees in the winter
Here’s a tree post-prune. Admittedly, it looks really bare but come fall time it’ll be full of sweet, delicious apple goodness.

Now lets talk about tools. You can use the good ol’ fashioned hand pruners, loppers, pole puners, a hand saw or… a very nice machete. And who doesn’t like a good machete? According to Dave, everyone should have at least 36 good machetes laying around. You know.. just in case you and all your buddies have to clear brush or there’s a herd of zombies coming. (I told him that he can buy a machete if he does a nice blog post review on it. Bribery at its finest… coming soon, the Ka-bar Kukri vs Gerber Gator Machete.)

Oh yeah! Neat little tip! After you’re done pruning, take all the branches you have pruned and chop them into nice little 1 foot pieces. Store them in 5 gallon buckets under roof. The next time you want to BBQ (and want to impress ALL of your friends), pull the bucket out in the morning and fill it full of water. An hour before you’re ready to cook, (right about the time you’d light the coals on fire) dump all the water out. When the coals are ready, slap those wet sticks on the coals and slow smoke your meat (that sounds dirty!). Applewood smoking chips are hella expensive at the grocery store, like, $4/lb. We probably got 80 lbs of applewood by pruning our trees. It’s a win-win-win.

apple tree pruning using applewood for BBQ
Here’s the applewood we have collected. Awaiting their fateful day on the grill.
apple pruning and using applewood for smoking BBQ
Soaking our sweet wood before we use it to smoke our tender meat. (Yep… that sounds really dirty).

One Response

  1. March 19, 2013

    Just finished pruning our apple and pear trees last weekend. Everyone needs a Nice Guy Ted. Lucky you!

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