Pruning at Planting
If you purchase an unbranched tree, or one with no branches 20 to 30 inches above the soil line, cut the tree at 26 to 30 inches above the ground after planting. Failure to do so will result in a tree whose major branches are too high above the ground (Figure 5.2). The scaffold branches will develop within 4 to 6 inches below the cut.
If you purchase a tree with healthy branches located 15 to 30 inches above the soil line, select three or four branches, one at each of the compass points. Choose branches that initially develop from the main axis at a 60- to 90-degree angle. Cut them back by one-half to a healthy outside-facing bud. Remove all branches that are less than 15 inches above the soil line and cut the tree off just above the topmost selected scaffold (see Figure 5.2). During the summer, pinch off any shoots that begin to grow toward the center of the tree.
Cut unbranched trees 24 to 30 inches above the soil line. Cut branched trees back to 30 inches and cut three to four side branches in half, removing all others.
By the end of the first summer, trees should begin to take on the typical open vase shape. Three or four permanent scaffold limbs should be selected at this time and the others removed. The permanent or primary scaffolds chosen should be distributed evenly around the trunk, approximately 6 inches apart vertically. Small side branches along the scaffolds can be left for early fruiting. Do not select primary scaffold limbs that are directly above one another. The limbs selected should have an angle of 60 to 90 degrees from vertical.