Advice on pruning an old apple tree


The photo I am submitting is of an apple tree in a corner of a courtyard in downtown Toronto where I live. I gets lost of sun. It’s semi dwarf, probably close to 15ft in diameter and about 12 ft tall. It gets adequate water and the soil is pretty good. The tree has a duel purpose: I pruned it to be a climbing tree for chldren as well as a fruit bearing tree (apples are really delicious!). Unfortunately the local cats love using it as a scratching post;( I have repeatedly topped it to keep the height manageable. Problem is I have a huge number of water sprouts. Under the circumstances is it possible to prune the tree in such a way that it does not keep producing more and more water sprouts? Because of the angle I had to take the picture so you could see the branches against the grey sky it’s hard to get an overview of what the tree looks like unfortunately.


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners about pruning your apple tree and avoiding watersprouts. Watersprout development is a common problem with heavily pruned trees along with the risk of disease development, such as fireblight, particularly on apple and pear trees, along with winter injury. While pruning of the main structure of the tree should be delayed until the tree goes dormant, you should remove all of the watersprouts anytime they appear as they can affect the health of the tree, do not produce fruit and inhibit air flow into the canopy. These can be removed by hand before they become woody at their attachment. To remove older watersprouts, you will need to use suitable sized disinfected pruners after each cut.

When pruning, be sure not to remove more than 1/3 of the growth annually. Pruning back a tree by more than that tends to reduce its vigor. The following article provides extensive information on pruning mature apple trees:

As for the cats, they are lovely but can be dissuaded from their scratching post habit with regular sprays of unpleasant-to-cats odour of commercially available cat safe organic products.

For more information, please see:

Wishing you much success in effective pruning of your mature apple tree, managing watersprout development and promoting its health and longevity.

March 19, 2021