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Apple Tree Care Starts Now

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Apples require regular maintenance and pest management to produce quality fruit. Now is the time for two such maintenance activities; pruning and dormant oil application. Here's an overview of what can be done in the month of March.

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.

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.

Managing apple scab and other insect problems can wait until later this spring. For now, inventory the pruning equipment and start making plans to get those apple trees pruned!

This resource was updated March 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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