University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Make Plans for Spring Care of Apple Trees

January 28, 1999

January showed us both bitter winter and wet spring-like weather, and who knows what February will bring. However, advancing into February means it is again time to start planning for early spring care of apple trees. Apples require regular maintenance and pest management to produce quality fruit.

Pruning is an essential maintenance practice, as trees pruned on a regular basis have improved fruit quality and size, and will be stronger to better support a load of fruit. Pruned trees are easier to work with since size and shape of the tree is kept in check. Finally, apple trees pruned on a regular basis are less likely to have as many pest problems as neglected trees.

Apple tree dormant pruning can begin in February and should be completed by early April. While it is difficult to suggest the exact way to prune each individual tree, there are some general rules to follow. Start by removing all damaged and diseased branches. Also cut out watersprouts, which are rapidly growing upright branches that tend to clog up the center of the tree. Also remove suckers arising from the base of the trunk.

Try to remove some branches growing into the prevailing summer winds to increase air circulation through apple trees, which can help reduce disease problems. Prune only enough to properly train the tree in the first five years. Prune older trees more heavily to keep them productive.

Application of dormant oil is another early spring activity to consider when growing apples. Dormant oils will help control scale and other insects that may have overwintered on the bark of the tree, but have no affect on diseases, such as apple scab, or insects that attack fruit later in the season, such as apple maggot. Pests such as these require cover sprays on the foliage and developing fruit during the growing season.

Apply dormant oil when temperatures are above freezing and expected to stay above freezing for the next 24 hours. Make this application before the buds on the tree open.

I'll address managing apple scab and other related problems a little later this spring. For now, inventory the pruning equipment and start making plans to get those apple trees pruned!


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