Winter Maintenance in the Apple Orchard

Jan 27 by in Apples, General, Orchards & Apples, Trees tagged , , , , , , , with 4 comments


Apple orchards are popular places at two distinct times of the year – during the spring bloom, when branches are covered in pink and white flowers, and in the fall, when crisp, juicy apples are ready for harvest. Most people don’t realize it, but wintertime in an orchard is important, too. Attention to detail in the off-season makes both the bloom and the harvest better.

Pruned apple tree at Arbor Day FarmEvery January at Arbor Day Farm, all the fruit-bearing trees in our orchards “get a haircut.” Me and other members of the orchard staff head out into the snow drifts and up into lifts armed with saws to prune each tree. Cutting away some branches makes for odd-looking apple trees – leaving behind stumpy, irregular trunks like the one shown at right – but it’s beneficial to the health of the trees and improves the quality of the apple harvest. With these excess branches out of the way, more sunlight and more airflow can get into the center of the tree, both of which are crucial in producing a good, viable crop of apples come fall.

We make good use of the trimmed branches, too. A few of them remain on the ground in the orchard, providing winter shelter and foraging options for a variety of animals. But for human enjoyment, apple wood is known for being an excellent wood for smoking meats, particularly pork. We haul some of the apple wood to the Timber Dining Room at Lied Lodge and to local barbecue restaurants, where it’s used to bring delicious, smoky flavors to your table.

The hours of winter maintenance in the apple orchard today make for tastier, more abundant apples in September. I hope you’ll come and see for yourself.

 Erik Olson is the Orchards Manager at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska. 

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  • Gail Russell says:

    John 15:2- Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away. And every one that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bring forth more fruit.
    ( I finally “get that” verse now after reading this article! Thank you so much for sharing this.)

  • Duane Mann says:

    Erik, I will be attending a wedding there at the Barn on June 11th. I operated an Orchard Supply Company for many years that dates back to the time when Grove Porter owned the Orchard. I also worked with Mort when he managed the Orchard. I wrote spray guides for them and sold them supplies and equipment. I haven’t been back to this area for a long time and am looking forward to seeing how everything has changed and all the development that has gone on. Is Mort still around? If so, I would hope that I can locate him and say hello. I would very much like to meet you and discuss what is going on in the Orchards. Duane E. Mann P.S. I once purchased a nice Palimino Saddle Horse from Grove that my family had for quite a few years!

  • RON says:

    just bought land with apple trees cherry trees grapes need care instuctions thanks

    • Luke @ Arbor Day says:

      Thanks for your post Ron- here is my advice on when to prune:
      Cherries- late winter through early spring
      Apples- later winter through early spring
      Peaches- Spring after last spring frost
      I would advise you to contact your cooperative extension office to determine specific times. Here is a link to their website:

      Also ask them about how to prune, or if they have a good resource to recommend. There is a lot of literature on fruit tree pruning, but it would be best to find a resource written by an author in your area.

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