Resist the temptation to cut off large limbs – radical pruning is always disastrous
It may lean over its neighbours or have overgrown its spot, but you cannot treat a neglected apple or pear – one that has not regularly been pruned – with a short back and sides. Radical pruning of apples is always disastrous, because it results in more vigorous growth. It may look like you’ve solved your problem, but next spring, the tree will sprout a mass of watershoots. These are vigorous non-fruiting, vertical shoots produced to restore the balance of roots to shoots. Instead, in any one year, aim to take off no more than 25% of the canopy.
Standard apple and pear trees are pruned into a goblet shape with an open middle for air circulation and light, and equally placed framework of limbs, usually four to five main branches roughly 50-60cm apart. If it has not been pruned for a while, start by removing branches in the centre of the tree to open it up. You may need to take them right the way back to the main framework or point of origin. However, resist the temptation to prune off large limbs – avoid cutting off anything bigger than 20cm in diameter. If, by thinning out the middle, you have already taken off your 25%, then stop. No more pruning until next year.