The apple tree is damaged during a trim

This apple tree is the centerpiece of my zen garden. A small circular walk leads around its graceful limbs and twisted trunks. In the afternoon its shades my stone patio and lounge. It provides interest in the north part of my yard. In 2021 it produced so many yummy fruits I couldn’t use them all. But its been neglected. The tree itself has not been trimmed professionally in over 10 years. There is a central trunk that is dead. I keep the areas I can reach trimmed of water spouts and disease. But it really needed a good work over.

The zen garden’s circular path in 2019

When choosing to cut an apple tree you need to understand the various parts of the tree and how they function. There are 5 types of branches, only one of which, in a spur bearing like mine, will produce fruit.

Central Leader – The is the main limb that will develop veritcally and produce scaffold limbs that grow laterally from the leader.

Scaffold limbs – Scaffold limbs grow out from the central lead and are the heaviest limbs that create the structure of a tree’s canopy. Lateral branches and spur systems grow from the scaffold limbs. Scaffold limbs have strong collars where the trunk and limb meet. It is a raised area at the base of the branch where tree growth changes from trunk to branch. Scaffold limbs should be cut back a foot or more to keep their height below the main leader. When you choose which branches will become a scaffold limb, you choose limbs that form a wide angle between the trunk and the limb 60 – 90 degrees.

Apple tree selecting scaffold limbs. Wide angle crotches will be stronger versus narrow angle limb crotches.

Laterals – Lateral branches form at angle from the scaffold limbs. They are smaller in diameter. When apple trees are young you do not remove any of these unless they are crossing or damaging the limbs you’ve selected as scaffolds. Laterals are often trimmed on older trees to allow light to fruiting.

Spur systems – Spurs are short stems growing from branches that are at least two years old. These are the place that spur-type strains of fruit trees flower and bear fruit.

Water spouts – Thin branches that grow straight up often close together. They are unwanted on fruit bearing trees as they will never produce spurs.

The shade of the apple tree creates a cozy space on the patio. 2021 The lower part of the canopy you can see a scaffold branch with a wide angled crotch where it meets the trunk.

Each of the scaffold branches seen in the lower section of the tree has hundreds of spurs. As witnessed by the profuse flowering seen in the bumper year of 2007.

The apple in 2019. The canopy to theright provides privacy and shade. But there is some dead limbs in the center and left side.


I had asked a trusted company to trim the apple to reduce its height so that it would remain productive while lessening the number of high branches I couldn’t pick apples from. I also expected the water spouts to be thinned out.

Here it is today. Every lower branch within 20 feet of the ground has been removed. On the right side of the tree tens of water spouts that will not produce apples remain taking energy away from the few branches left.

On the left side of the tree not a single scaffold branch is left. There is a leader and a few branches with very narrow crotches that cannot be come scaffolds.

2022 After the trim not a single scaffolding branch is left to bear laterals and spurs.

After the trim, or should I say after the butchering? Every scaffold limb lower than 20 feet has been removed. There is not a single apple producing branch I can reach with my fruit picker. My cozy zen garden? Gone. My afternoon shade? Gone. My privacy, gone.

I am devastated. That’s all that comes to mind when I look at my 40 year old apple. Why did they trim it as they did? Why?

While the company said they would not charge for the trim, where is the compensation for what’s lost? My hubby says I should wait until spring to decide how bad it is. Maybe so. But for now I mourn what was a beautiful tree.

Next to the tree a lounge was my favorite place to enjoy the dappled shade of the apple.

An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.