Remove Water Sprouts from Trees Now

I thinned out lots of branches in my apple tree in March. Now I have lots of little branches growing straight up. Should they be pruned off now?

Those little branches growing straight up are called “water sprouts”. They grow very rapidly straight up in May and June following heavy pruning. They most commonly occur on fruit trees, especially apple. However, they can occur on any tree which has been pruned the previous fall, winter or spring. They can even occur on trees which have not been pruned.

Water sprouts are undesirable because they crowd the upper branches with excess growth which shades the fruit on lower branches. Water sprouts seldom, if ever, produce any fruit.

Early June is the best time to remove those fast growing water sprouts. They can be quickly and easily snapped off with your fingers when they are soft and flexible. Snapping is preferable to cutting, because it removes tissue which can regrow another water sprout, sometimes in the same growing season. If you wait until fall or winter to remove those sprouts, new ones will grow to replace them next spring. Stop the sprout cycle now. And if you do happen to have more new water sprouts later, snap them off while they are young and soft.

You may also have large woody water sprouts from last year, Now is a good time to remove them too. Wait until dormant season to prune any vertical branches which are more than 2 years old.

Now is also a good time to prune spring flowering shrubs after they have completed their bloom. This is the best time to prune lilacs which have become too tall. Instead of removing the rapidly growing water sprouts in lilacs, just shorten them by half. This is also the best time to remove one or two of the biggest, oldest branches of lilacs at ground level. This will encourage several additional rapidly growing sprouts in June and July, which should also be pruned at a 2 to 3 foot level.

When pruning other flowering shrubs, prune them one branch at a time. Make your pruning cuts below or inside other growth so the stubs do not show. Prune just above a side branch if possible. Dead flower heads can also be pruned off now.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

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