How severe can I prune apple trees???


I have a few apple trees that have done very well for me but as I am trying to get them to grow skyward (out of the reach of the deer) I have reached a time where a few of them have some decent branches that "need" to go. My concern is - in one case it will essentially remove half the top of the tree. I will wait until the tree is dorment to prune, but will the tree survive this heavy of a reduction? Tree is very healthy and is now on its 2nd full season in the ground - tree was planted as a 5 gallon container tree. I have never had to make this heavy of a cut on a tree and I am a little nervous about it.
Badger - did your tree respond well or did it need some recovery time? I am not sure why but removing healthy parts of a tree always seems counter-produtive to me at some level even thought I understand h reasoning.
J bird post us up a picture of the tree if you can. Your right removing something seems counter productive short term, but long term is the key.
I don't think it's a queston of IF the branch needs to go - it's how I go about it. It is already trying to become a second leader and as such I think it needs to go. My decision is do I remove it all in one cut or do I grossy reduce it this year and then entirely remove it next to reduce any potential negative impact to the tree. I hate seeing the tree put energy into somthing I am going to remove however.
badger, that tree looks great after removing the second leader.
Below is my apple tree in question. The red line is where I think I need to prune, but as you can see it will put a hurting on the amount of leaves on the tree. I really think this branch and the next scaffold of branches are to go. Top of the "T" post is about 5 feet. Also how far up do you all trim your branches before you remove the large cage? Is 5 feet enough?
apple needs trim.jpg
I would wait until it goes dormant and prune in late winter at this point in the year and then cut it on the red line. The problem with cages to some extent is they also change the growth habit of your tree. While the initial crotch angle looks good on our limbs those within the cage are showing a very vertical growth habit, not good for the long term production of the tree. You will want to bring those limbs back to more horizonal or plan on pruning them at some point.
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Yep - typically prune only when dorment - I will remove the small shoots the develop on the trunk and stuff when I see them. I am trying to get my trees to grow out of the reach of the deer - how far is far enough? I will then remove the cage and just protect the trunk. I will worry about better form at that point in time.
IMO 5' is where I want my lowest branches. A deer is going to have to be on its hind legs to reach anything above 5' unless you get snow pack. That height allows you to mow or spray under the tree as well without too much effort.
Looks like my trees are going to get a good trimming this winter/spring! You are also saying I want my branches more horizontal (like the very top ones in my pic) vs the sharp V shape I have on the lower branches? Sorry for all the ?'s I have only been doing apples for my 3rd year now.
Yes. You want the central leader to be the only vertical orientated growth. The side branches should be closer to horizontal than vertical. There is no need for them to be perfectly horizontal though. Branches that are structured more horizontally are stronger, produce more fruit and allow for a more open tree which allows for better sunlight penetration and air circulation. If your current tree was allowed to grow as is, it would take on a hot air balloon shape. You want to aim for more of a general Christmas tree shape. Not pointed at the top obviously, but structured so that the top doesnt shade the lower branch ends.

Your tree above without the cage looks better structurally. Also the angle that the branches are originating from the main "trunk" looks pretty good is is just that the tips are going vertical too soon.
My dad has a ten acre orchard. I've seen him take almost everything off a tree. I even asked him where he thought he would get apple if there weren't any branches. And wouldn't you know it, that darn Y-shaped tree trunk put out so many darn apples that it looked like it was covered in pearls. I'm not advocating cutting everything off, but I have seen some apple trees really get trimmed back to the point of alarm in uneducated me. But that left so much horsepower in the roots for a smaller tree above ground that the fruit came in thick and healthy.
Apple trees respond to pruning with aggressive new growth. I've seen a couple USDA papers on the subject which stated that you'll promote more growth the more you cut off.