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apple trees - trained to have a central leader?


By Tman

i have two apple trees, they are both about two to three yrs old. i have pruned them both yrs but was unaware until recently how to correctly trim/train an apple tree. both trees do not have a central leader, in fact the trunk is approx. 3" in dia and about 30" tall to the trunk and the remaining approx 4' of the trees have four to five large scaffold branches and many one yr old shoots. is it two late to train to a central leader or what is the best course of action. it has not yet begain to bud but will any day now. please help.

On plant Malus



I don't think apple trees are normally trained to have a central leader - I believe it is more usual to train them into a 'cup' shape with an open middle that lets in light and air. Hope this helps.

9 Apr, 2008


I always thought that you had to try to get an open centre with the branches making a shape like a wine glass.

11 Apr, 2008


The Centre-Leader is used in commercial production where trees are planted closely in lines of 100 or so.

The leader takes up most of the growth and its leaves, to some extent, shade the laterals in to growing outwards rather than upwards.

A framework is established around the main leader (trunk), like spokes on a wheel.

Aim for the crown to be about 2.5 feet from the ground, and to establish a framework of about 4 'horizontal' branches. stake the tree so wind wont break it or remove root to ground contact.

Pruning is in winter, using the renewal method.Young shoots grow aside older fruiting ones, until the old wood is removed, when the newer wood is ready to fruit.( 2yr old wood and older will give fruit)

tertiary branches produce fruit in the second and later years, so are left to grow on. The older tertiary branches are cut to the base when spurs are formed. this allows newer wood to replace old and fruiting is every year.
(the trunk is the primary branch, the horizontal framework is the secondary branches, and any 'vertical' shoots coming from the horizontal frame are tertiary branches.)

Though they arent in some ways as pretty as the traditional open centred bush forms, these trees give heavy crops and no ladders are needed to pick fruit.

Whole orchards are ripped out and replaced after about 8-10 years in commercial production.

contact Blackmoor nursery, Hants. or Brogdale fruit collection in Kent for advice.

Heres what you can do in my opinion.,
get a six foot cane.put in the ground next to the trunk.tie the trunk to the cane, select a striong leader and tie it to the vertical cane.-the new centre leader.
now select four 'feathers' or branches to form spokes around the leader, 2.5 feet above the ground.tie them down towards horizontal in early years if needed, ( twine and tent pegs is ok, or more canes and ties.)
then, as i said above, only prune tertiary branches. only if there is a younger replacement which will fruit next season, or if overcrowded.Also remove brand new growth of less than pencil thickness, and dead diseased and dyingor badly positioned/crossing other branches.
clear most of the growth above the crown (not the leaderthough!) but leave some secondary growth around the leader for shading.

buds need light and air. if you can fit your handspan between two tertiary fruiting branches, they have enough space to both remain. if not, older wood should go first

best regards from james

5 Sep, 2009

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