Techniques for Training Young Apple Trees

Jon Clements, Extension Tree Fruit Specialist, University of Massachusetts

Win Cowgill, Professor and County Agricultural Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension


What follows are three important young apple tree training techniques you can use to insure the proper development of an orchard that will become productive early and maintain high yields of quality fruit. Note that the techniques described -- stripping, clothespinning, and pinching -- are used for central-leader type tree training and pruning systems, including slender-spindle and vertical axis. Time invested NOW in training young, central-leader type trees will pay huge dividends for the life of the orchard.

Young Apple Tree Training Techique 1: STRIPPING

Stripping is a young tree training procedure used to isolate and protect the central-leader of an apple tree. The three to four buds directly below a heading cut on newly planted apple trees develop vigorous, upright shoots. Choose the single most upright shoot to remain as the leader, and then strip (with a downward pull) or pinch out the few competing shoots (usually 2 or 3) directly below the leader shoot you want to maintain and promote. These should be removed as soon as possible to focus the growth into the central-leader and prevent a multi-leader tree from developing. Hand pruners may also be used. These competing shoots are easiest to identify and remove when 3-4” long.

Young Apple Tree Training Technique 2: CLOTHESPINNING

After stripping, the use of clothespins to develop wide (90 degree) and strong branch angles is the next most important young apple tree training technique you can accomplish. The ideal time to attach clothespins is when young shoots are 3-6 inches long and flexible. Clip spring-type clothespins to the tree trunk to force acute branch angles into a more perpendicular (90 degree) angle from the trunk. Take care not to tear the shoots from the trunk when affixing the clothespins. Clothespin all shoots with narrow crotch angles that may form permanent scaffold branches – usually 4-8 clothespins per tree are required. This is assuming you have already stripped (removed) the top few shoots competing with the leader. After several weeks, and when the new, wide branch angle is established, the clothespins may be removed and re-attached out onto the shoot tip to help hold it down and keep it growing in a more horizontal position. Take the time to train young trees with clothespins now and you will be rewarded with wide scaffold branch crotch angles that will withstand a heavy fruit load for the life of the orchard.


Young Apple Tree Training Technique 3: PINCHING

Pinching shoots is a young tree training technique used on mostly first-, and second -leaf apple trees to promote fruiting and manage growth in the top of the trees of vertical-axis, slender-spindle, or super-spindle orchards. Rapidly growing shoots that are six to eight inches long, that are in the top one-fourth of the tree, and that originate from the leader, are prime candidates for pinching. Pinch-back the shoot two inches using your thumb and finger(s) or pruners. Pinching will do two things: weaken the growth of the developing shoot so it is not as likely to compete with the leader; and promote the development of a fruit bud in the vicinity of the pinch if done now into early July. This technique will also prevent the tree from becoming top-heavy, which would eventually mandate a less desirable dormant pruning cut.

Watch a short video of Pinching (5.9 MB, QuickTime required)



Always read and follow pesticide labels. © Copyright 2002, Jon Clements, University of Massachusetts, UMass Extension and UMass Fruit Advisor.