The shape of an apple tree, which must be established when it's young, will directly affect its production. To get the most out of dwarf apple trees in particular, you should trim them so that they have one central leader. Here's why this is the best way to prune a dwarf apple tree, along with how to properly trim the tree into this shape.

Having a Central Leader Increases Apple Production

Apple trees that have a central leader look like Christmas trees. They are trimmed so that one main shoot grows upwards, and horizontally growing branches come off of it. The branches on the bottom of the tree are older than those towards the top; therefore, they're longer than branches higher up.

The pyramid shape that a single central leader creates increases apple production because it maximizes how much sunlight and fresh air reaches the leaves and fruit. Shorter branches that are further up the tree don't block light from reaching the longer branches below them, and, as long as the branches are trimmed so they're several inches apart, the leaves won't be dense enough to prevent air from circulating around the apples.

Just as a Christmas tree has enough room on its branches for lights and ornaments, an apple tree that has a central leader will have enough space between its branches for sunlight to filter and air to flow through.

Large Apple Trees Grow Too Tall for a Central Leader

Despite the production benefits that establishing a central leader provides, many apple orchards that grow full-size apple trees trim their trees into a different shape. EXtension notes that standard-sized apple trees can grow to be 30 feet tall if they're left unpruned and 24 feet if they're pruned. At these heights, an extension ladder is needed to reach the apples on the uppermost branches.

In order to make picking easier, many orchards will trim their trees so there's not a central leader that will reach these heights. They may trim their apple trees into a modified central leader or open-center shape, both of which force trees to direct more energy into horizontal branches and less into upward shoots.

Dwarf Trees Are Short Enough to Have a Central Leader

If you're growing a dwarf apple tree, height isn't a major concern. Mature dwarf apple trees are 6 to 12 feet tall, according to eXtension, so the apples will be much easier to reach than those on a mature standard-sized apple tree that was allowed to grow upwards. Therefore, trimming a dwarf apple tree so that it has a central leader will maximize your crop without making harvesting overly difficult.

Establishing a Central Leader Is Easy

Establishing a central leader isn't difficult, but you must trim your dwarf apple tree into the proper shape when it's young. Once you have a healthy whip that's about 30 inches, plant it and follow these steps during the first year:

  1. When planting, cut any branches that aren't at least 24 inches off the ground, and trim branches that are at least 24 inches high back so they're 2 inches long
  2. During the first summer, cut off any secondary upward shoots, only letting the central shoot and horizontal branches grow
  3. During the first winter, trim the central shoot back and the four healthiest horizontal branches; cut off all other shoots and branches

After the first year, you should continue to follow Steps 2 and 3. In the summer, cut any upward shoots that would compete with the central leader. During the winter, trim the central leader, the branches from previous years, and three to five new, healthy branches. Any additional shoots or branches should be cut. Within a few years, you'll have a pyramid-shaped dwarf apple tree that produces lots of large, beautiful fruit.

When growing a dwarf apple tree, the way you trim it in the early years will affect its production for decades. By promoting a central leader and establishing a pyramid shape, you'll encourage a shape that will maximize production.

Check out a site like for more information on tree trimming services and hiring a professional to keep trees in good shape, both visibly and internally.