Late winter is generally the best time to prune apple and pear trees since they’re dormant. This has two benefits. The one that benefits you is the fact that there are no leafs in the way, so it’s easier to see where your branches are and get in there to chop things up. The one that benefits the tree is that it’s stored sugars for spring growth won’t have to spread throughout the tree and instead will focus on smaller areas that haven’t been pruned off for growth and fruiting. As far as a general how-to, Wiki-How has a pretty good article on pruning apple trees in particular, but it neglects to mention the suckers that grow along the root base.
Pruning itself is important, particularly if you have severely overgrown trees such as mine on my lovely inherited foreclosure home. The reasons I have to prune include 1) downward branches growing into the ground (though I’m sure the deer, bunnies, and my goats have enjoyed the bark), and 2) a windy day broke one of the main scaffold branches, and the other one looked pretty well on its way to being the next candidate, so I needed to chop it up to avoid disease.
I won’t go into the details of how to shape up your tree (especially since while I know the theory behind it, the practice definitely escapes me, aha), but I have noticed a lack of photos of actual trees as you go through the steps. So! For all my fellow human beings who don’t quite get what those vague drawings are referring to…
Let’s talk equipment, first. I personally ended up with an Echo PAS 225. I think it was supposed to be a birthday present for my husband from my dad, but I’ve also noticed he tends to get my husband power tools that he knows I need since we’ve gotten our house in hopes my husband will be the one to use them. But no. I need all the power tools! Bwahahaha. Err, I mean… The reason he got me—err, my husband–that one, I suspect, is because he has the Echo PAS 266 from his contractor days. The great thing about this is we’re able to share attachments, so aside from ones we use all the time (hedger, weed eater, etc), we can share! The pruner attachment included. That said, if you don’t mind having multiple tools and engines running around, I’m sure there’s something else or that there’s another brand of multi-tool that works well as well, I just personally like sharing the heads with my pops.
This is one of the few things I recommend buying at your local hardware store instead of online, since you’ll end up saving about 20-30 dollars for each attachment not having to pay for shipping. If you’re doing some massive pruning, you’re going to need a saw of some sort, and if you don’t have the strongest upper body, the electric saw attachment is nice. It cuts through branches like butter, so aside from lifting it I don’t have to apply much muscle – which is great for the gimp shoulder.
If you have a younger tree that you’ve kept under control, likely very little pruning is required and you can get away with a pair of loppers and some hand pruners. I have a pair of Fiskars (another thing to buy at the hardware store instead of online), but recently ordered a pair of Gonicc Hand Pruners due to my Fiskars giving me some wrist trouble and the spring open not working so well after a year of attacking blackberries. The Gonicc ones have nice padding in the hand area, and even after it got covered in tree sap it still opens as well as when I first got it.
Alright, so you have a pruning saw, hand pruners, and loppers. Time to prune!
You’ll notice my tree looks pretty naked at the end. This is because the tree hadn’t been maintained in years while my house was foreclosed, so hopefully yours will be in better shape!