Pruning the apple tree

Garden Q&A

November 24, 1996

I recently bought a house in the city that has a large, neglected apple tree -- more than 20 feet tall. Will I kill it if I prune it back severely? Is this a good time to prune?

It may take two to three years to renovate a dense, overgrown tree. If the tree is fairly healthy you can reduce its height by one-third without damaging the tree. Remove weak, diseased and crossing branches along with the large limbs high up in the tree. Be certain that you have the tools and necessary help to handle large branches.

Fall pruning may stimulate the tree to grow, especially if we have a mild winter. So prune your tree in late winter, sometime before the buds begin to swell. Severe pruning will force the tree to produce many succulent water sprouts near the pruning cuts. These should be pulled off the tree when they appear. However, new fruiting branches can be selected from a few of these sprouts.

For a more complete discussion, order "Pruning Fruit Plants in Maryland," Bulletin 197, from your local Extension Service office.

My two mugho pines have many white spots on the needles. It doesn't look like an insect problem. What could it be?

You have pine-needle scale, an insect pest that is common on mugho pines. The white spots are shell-like covers for the sedentary adults. Tiny, red eggs are laid under the covers during the winter. Red crawlers hatch in the spring and feed on foliage. A heavy infestation can produce yellowing and die-back of needles.

Control pine needle scale by applying a dormant oil spray at this time. A summer oil or insecticidal soap spray can be applied in the spring when you observe the crawlers moving around on the needles.

My son got a tick on him last week while playing in the yard. I thought ticks die off when it gets cold. How do I keep ticks out of my yard?

Ticks remain active as long as daytime temperatures exceed 50 degrees. There is no practical way to make your yard tick-free. However, you can manage your landscape to reduce tick populations.

Mice are the primary hosts for deer tick nymphs. Deer ticks, as you probably know, can transmit Lyme disease to humans. Nymphs (the name for these ticks in their immature stage) are very tiny and thus difficult to spot. To reduce the rodent population in your yard, keep grassy areas mowed and move bird feeders out to the perimeter of your yard.

Humans can reduce contact with ticks by staying out of places their rodent hosts prefer: tall grasses, shrubbery and other less manicured areas of a yard.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at (800) 342-2507.


If you have a compost container in your kitchen, prevent fruit-fly problems by keeping the container covered and emptying it at least once each day.

Don't add lime or soil to your compost pile. The pH of finished compost is around 7.0 (neutral), so lime is not necessary. As for soil, it is very dense and can prevent a compost pile from heating properly.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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