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I bought a house 18 mths ago - was owned by a keen gardener but age got the better of them ...(in their mid 90s now) - so garden had been neglected for a few years.  I was told there were two apple trees - a cooking apple one and an eating apple one.

Last year the cooking apple tree got some apples but was obviously in need of some TLC - the eating apple tree had no fruit, obviously hadn't been pruned in a long time - really twiggy...I also discovered it was loose in ground.

I got a profressional gardening company to do a restoration on the cooking apple tree  but thought the eating apple tree wasn't worth doing anything with - in fact its location doesn't really fit in with my longer term plans ..I even let my children have a go at trying to push it over...just haven't had time to remove it yet...

The restoration was done last march - they basically seemed to just chain saw it back to the main stump (I was really shocked at how much they removed!) it has quite  a bit of growth now - not sure what I should do with it? Thin it out?

Meanwhile the eating apple tree got fruit - quite a lot - green skinned apples - no idea of variety etc - they look more like Granny smiths than golden delicious... now I am not sure what to do with it...try and save it if I can or get a new one in the future?

(Wondering if the cooking apple treee needs the eating apple one for cross pollination - having said that the eating apple tree obviosuly didn't need the cooking one as that didn't blossom this year)

I know it needs a hard prune - thinking no point paying for another restoration - I could do a similar hack job on this tree...and professional gardener said it would be much more expensive to sort this one out as it doesn't have the defined 'poles' the cooking apple tree had... and ideally I would like to relocate it ..

So do you think I cut it right back after the frost next year - Marchish? - And if I do that when could I try and move it? Or could I do something else?

I'm in NE Scotland and a really novice gardner..










Hello lusi83,

There are a lot of interesting points in your post. First, apple trees like all living things, have a fixed life span and no amount of cosmetic work is going to turn your granny into a sex goddess. The eating apple had no fruit last year but lots this year. This is probably caused by a phenomenon known as biennial bearing. Some varieties slip into this naughty habit more readily than others and once they have the idea it is hard to persuade them to behave properly. If you like the type of apple it produces then it's maybe worth putting up with this. On the other hand, you could just buy another tree and have a more reliable crop from a more modern variety, which will probably be healthier too.

The cooker got the chop, literally, but is still alive. It sounds as if it is now frantically sending up what are known as "water shoots" - great long, whippy things that are going skyward. Quite frankly, any company worth its salt would know that this is not the way to treat an apple tree. The shape of the plant is ruined, the water shoots will never produce fruit, the thing is a mess. Get rid of it.

If it were my garden I would ask myself if I liked the eater for its architectural merit (you say it is in the wrong place and loose in the ground, so no to that) or if I really liked its fruit and no other would please me. If not, then I'd buy a new one. The cooker is ruined, so buy a new one of those too. Make sure that they are compatible, that is in the same pollination group and flowering at the same time.

Good luck.

water shoots - never heard that before but we've definately for them.
And had a very bad hatchet job done a couple of years ago ( no fruit last year as expected). Lots of fruit this year but not on the water shoots as you point out.

so how should I tackle this years pruning or watch over the next lot of professionals please?

I think the main thing to try and do is treat the hacked about old tree as you would a sapling. In other words, imagine that the water shoots are the main stems of a new young tree. So, in winter number one cut them back by a third of the new growth.  if there are dozens of them, cut out the ones that grow from the centre or ones that are crossing completely. This will possibly encourage the cut stems to branch out sideways in summer number two. In winter number two, cut them back by a third of that year's growth and with a bit of luck they will produce lateral shoots and a few fruit spurs in summer number three. It is tiresome and tedious and probably quicker and better to start with a new tree, unless you like the old one for sentimental reasons.


Thanks WB. DOnt think OH will go for new trees.



Sorry lusi83 , I think I just hijacked this thread.


You can turn water shoots into productive branches, but if the shape of the tree is ruined then there is little point.

Decide which shoots are the best, ie growing in the right direction etc. then remove all the others back to one leaf joint from their point of origin.

On the retained shoots remove the tip back to a leaf joint.

All this should be done in SUMMER. Pruning in Autumn/ Winter encourages new growth and you want fruiting spurs not new branches.

Takes a few years to get the tree back to production, so you have to decide if it is worth it.

Hi - no problem Mrs- that was helpful too...

I think they cut the cooker back so much because it was leaning to one side -  other trees etc around it being overgrown had made it start growing to the light  obviously it had been well looked after in the past...

Talking about whether it was worthwhile or not - he said it was a close call -  a new tree would take years to produce what that one can potentially...but I wouldn't get fruit for at least this year and it wouldn't be up to much for 4 -5 years...

Anyway the cooker can stay where it is - it is acting as a screen (or will do when it gets going again) and if nothing else my children enjoyed climibing on it (before it was chopped - after I have been telling them not to in case they damage the new shoots!) - and I have got space to put in two new ones elsewhere...

So now confused about summer or winter pruning of these new shoots - they aren't particulary long and whippy - more short and quite clustered together - suspect they do need pruning  - so looking at it if I get appples it is a bonus - if not it is a play tree -  just take the odd ones out to thin it out - trying to get a shape in mind - should I do it now or next spring - or next summer????

And thinking if the eating one has become biennual bearing - does it mean that in the year it didn't bear fruit it didn't blossom either? (thinking about the cross pollination thing for the cooker) 

Thanks ... 

(I think the eating apple one is destined for the woodburner ....)


Hello lusi, sorry to have left you in limbo. I wrote a long message earlier on, only to find that it was deleted because the forum had signed me out. Didn't have the strength to retype it straightaway. Here goes again.

I think the best way for you to find the answers to your questions is for you to Google "RHS apple pruning". The RHS website deals with both summer and winter pruning plus why it is done, how to do it and when to do it. There is also a section on renovating old trees. There is so much information needed to answer your questions that I think you will need to read it all at your leisure and take a bit at a time.

I have never done summer pruning because all my trees are full size ones. As you will see from the website, summer pruning is generally done on what is called restricted forms, in other words shapes that the tree would not normally wish to grow into, such as cordons and so on.

I would think that there is little danger of your trees lacking a pollination partner. If you live in a town or suburb you probably have neighbours with apple trees. When bees are about they can fly for two miles to collect pollen and nectar.

Jim Macd

I first of all I want to say don't every use that gardening company again. They sound like a bunch of cowboys. Your tree may not have cropped last year because of the lack of polinating insects. I've had similar problems but this year decided I would polinate the trees myself and had better success. It could be a bienial tree though. It's a big subject and l could type for hours. But if you are serious about your apples them look up Stephen Hayes on Youtube. He has so many videos on pruning and grafting apple trees plus some on restoring old, neglect apple trees. You're much better getting real expert advice from him than me wittering on. There are many, many myths about apple trees and growing them in your own garden,not to mention the sheer number of varieties of apples. Picking is also an art. Don't dismiss an apple tree becuas you picked at the wrong time or didn't store your apples. Some of mine are only good after storing while other must be eaten from the tree. Anway look up Stephen Hayes.  Good luck.

Jim Macd

Watterbutts, I disagree with much of your advice. And old apple tree that has been hacked is far from fit only for the fire. It will grow back to full production far quicker than buying a new tree. As for puring back all the watershoots. Again, NO, totallly prune off any that are in a bad position. Leave any that are in a very good position. Remove any that are damaged or too close to better positioned ones. Any that are underneath the branch or are crossing should be removed. Etc, etc. You don't want to be cutting any of them back if you want them, why would you? You're getting confused with winter and summer pruning. Yes, you can prune back strong growing shoots if you want to keep a tree small and you already have a good branch structure but if the trees been hacked pruning it more unecessarily is not going to help get the tree back on track. When pruning a tree you have to think about what you are wanting the tree to do. Following some rules you've learned from a book while not understanding when to aply the rule then giving it as adivce is not going to help. For the same reason you don't give your warfrin prescription that did you the world of good to a haemophiliac who's feeling under the weather. 

Jim, look at my initial post. I said "get rid of it".

I have been growing apple trees with success for going on 60 years, I haven't just "read a book".


I think I have gone invisible. All that has been repeated here is what I posted.

And like waterbutts I have been growing and pruning Apple trees for more years than I care to think about and learned it from a professional Orchard man before I started.

The only thing I would diagree with (and that is just an opinion) is that summer pruning is for restricted shapes only. Well generally yes, but in this case the tree has been turned into a restricted shape so Winter pruning is not going to help. Summer pruning creates fruiting spures. Winter pruning makes new growth.


Jim Macd

Sorry Berghill, but I didn't read your post you're right. However you say,

"The only thing I would diagree with ... is that summer pruning is for restricted shapes only ..., but in this case the tree has been turned into a restricted shape so Winter pruning is not going to help. Summer pruning creates fruiting spures. Winter pruning makes new growth."

I'm afriad you have also misunderstood pruning. Summer pruing restricts growth, rather than it is for restricted growth. The linguistic difference is slight but the horticultural difference is immense. 

What you write is not wrong per se but you must use the right tool for the right job. To use a different analogy. You understand the nature and maths of a round hole and you understand the nature and maths of a square peg yet you are still trying to put that square peg in a round hole. 

This tree has been badly hacked. The last thing you want to do with it is restrict it's growth further by pruining it as if it were a privet hedge, which is essentiall, all being exagerated, what you do with restriected growth trees. Sure you can prune it in the summer but not in the typical 'summer pruning' way. He needs to get back a good branch structure. He's not aiming for fruit production now on a tree that's been butchered. He needs to encourage a good structure again. When he's got that good structure then he can think about pruing for fruit spurs. 

The reason I directed him to watch Stephen Hayes videos rather than read a load of text here is because pruing fruit trees can be extremely confusing to a new gardener. My partner still can't understand the basics of prruning after years of me trying to explain it. You have to A, want to really understand it, and then B, watch the expert. I realise I've not come across as very polite and I do apologise for that, however it makes me very frustrated when someone asks for help and gets bad advice. I'm sure you both do have years of expericence but years of experience doesn't always equate with good practice or good understanding. I've baked bread for well over 20 years and for most of that time doing the most basic of baking and was totally unaware of making the most horendous mistakes. Unless you watch someone who knows what they're doing it can be very hard to know you've been doing it wrong for all these years. 

Well, 60 years wasted. I suppose I'd better get the Stephen Hayes video and pay attention this time.

Better bin those 30 kilos of apples I've got in the freezer, too. Inferior products obviously.


Jim Macd

you put your apples in the freezer? That's where you're going wrong!

Jim Macd

Sorry lusi83 I said 'him'. I didn't pay much attention to your suer name. 


Me too Waterbutts. Obviously the 100 pounds each of Greensleeves, Crown Gold and Discovery were grown all wrong and I should have thrown them away. I will do that with the 200 or so pounds of Catshead and heaven knows how many of Ashmeads Kernel. And I will have to glue the Summer prunings of these tree back on so I can take them off in the correct way, for the correct reason at the correct time.

And while I am at it I had better get rid of the frozen Katja puree from the freezers.



Better luck next year, Berghill

Jim Macd

I'm sure both of you are very good at watching trees grow. Just  not so good at giving advice. Thankfully most fruit trees can still produce buckets full of fruit even with the worst treatment. There's a feral apple by the A1 that is so heavy with fruit every year it's a wonder it doesn't fall over.