Prune Fruiting Spurs

Apples are produced from branches and stems which are two years or more old. We have covered the basic pruning principles for apple trees three years old or more here but this page shows you how to clearly distinguish the difference between stems this year and stems grown the previous year.

It also shows how you can identify the all important fruiting spurs – these are short stems which will produce fruit in the summer. Avoid pruning fruiting spurs and you will maximise the fruit production in the current year.

When pruning an apple tree three years or more old you will want to remove about a third of the current year’s growth. Your apple tree will look something similar to the tree pictured below.

Branch structure of a three year old apple tree

To some it may look like a mass of young branches but, as our close up pictures below show, it contains this year’s branches, previous year’s branches and vital fruiting spurs. Let’s first show how you can differentiate between this year’s branches / stems and last year’s branches /stems. This is key to successful apple tree pruning because you need to prune away about a third of this year’s growth but leave most of previous growth alone.

The picture below shows a close-up of a branch which grew in the the current year and one that grew in the previous year. If you click the picture it will enlarge and you will be able to see more clearly. Comparing the two, last year’s growth has a greyer colour and a thicker stem compared to this year’s growth. This year’s growth is more slender and just looks more vibrant and new. The picture below is from a Fiesta apple tree although most varieties have the same look to their branches.

Last year and this year's branches on an apple tree
Click picture to enlarge it and see more clearly

The picture also shows where one of the branches was pruned the previous year and it’s typical that just below the pruning a new stem has emerged.

The final picture below shows a fruiting spur and it is on these small stems that fruit will be produced during the current growing season. Don’t prune these away if you want to maximise fruit production.

fruiting spur on apple tree