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Training and Pruning Cordons

A cordon is a single stem tree with pruned side shoots (known as fruiting spurs). The tree is planted at an angle of 45 degrees to restrict its size and ensure that it produces apples early in its life. They are relatively easy to prune and occupy very little space for the crop of apples produced. 

However, they do require some preparation beforehand, to ensure that the necessary supports are in place.

Picture of pruning apple treeWhen buying a cordon,  make sure you either buy a one year old tree (known as a maiden) which can be trained to the correct shape, or that you buy a two or three year tree which has been trained as a cordon. This article begins with the pruning and care required for a one year old tree which has been purchased in November to January.

The cordons will need three wires (25mm 1/10in) along their length to support them (see wires in picture above). These should be supported at either end by strong posts. The heights of the wires should be 60cm (2ft), 1.2m (4ft) and 1.8m (6ft). For each cordon tree (allow 75cm / 2ft 6in between each tree), fix a 2.4m (8ft) long bamboo cane to the wires at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. 

Picture of Planting a cordonThe cordon  should be placed in the soil, with the joint between rootstock and scion above ground and with the scion uppermost - if planted with the scion on the lower side, there is a risk that the stem will break. See the diagram on the right.


After planting the cordon at a 45 degree angle, secure it to the bamboo cane with ties which should be checked every few months to ensure they are not cutting into the stem. All side shoots  longer than 10cm (4in) should be pruned immediately after the third bud.

Picture of pruning a cordon apple treeCordons need to pruned annually around mid August. The tree is ready for pruning when the side shoots from the main stem begin to develop woody stems at their base. Shorten all side shoots from the main stem to three leaves above the cluster of leaves at the base of the shoot - see the diagram to the left. Where a side shoot from the main stem has a side shoot coming of it, prune this to one leaf above the cluster of leaves at the joint of the two side shoots.

The main stem of the tree should only be pruned when it reaches the space available. As the tree matures, it will gradually cease to produce new growth each summer, easing the task of pruning. However, take care that the tree does not become congested (remove some side shoots in December if this is the case), and remove any diseased wood as soon as it is noticed.



Name: jim@GardenAction
Date posted: November 16, 2011 - 05:44 pm
Message: For excellent advice, go to:

Name: John Whitaker
Date posted: November 16, 2011 - 04:49 am
Message: We moved house and "gained" an apple tree. It is hardly more than a little shrub, very leggy and unruly. It has produced an abundance of apples for the past 5 years, cookers and very tasty. This year the apples are still plentiful but quite a lot smaller. I would like advice please on pruning the tree. Thanking you in anticipation. JW

Name: carol
Date posted: August 21, 2011 - 08:22 am
Message: We moved into a bungalow last november, we have an apple tree in the corner of the garden. It is a cooking apple tree that much I know as I tried cooking one of the apples and they taste very nice when xooked and sugared. There are plenty of apples but not that big in size and the tree is slightly unruly. I think it is a Branley Apple tree as they taste similar. Also some of the branches are hanging over the next doors garden and soon will be falling off. As we are not avid gardeners we have no idea on ow prune this tree and improve its growth and fruit.
regards Carol.

Name: Robert Shear
Date posted: July 31, 2011 - 08:13 am
Message: I planted an apple tree about six years ago. It's done real well in producing branches, but only one or two apples a year. Would like to have a detailed way to prune and or produce apples.

Name: Janice Gulledge
Date posted: July 19, 2011 - 11:27 am
Message: My apple tree has really gotten out of hand.It needs to be cleaned under but the branches are so thick and heavy that you cant get under it. can it be cut back now without killing it?

Name: bob mitchell
Date posted: January 02, 2011 - 11:40 am
Message: I have a reasonably productive apple tree of about 1 and a half metres high It has four or five branche growing almost vertically but unfortunately the fruit all grows at the extreme end of the branches. There is litle or no signs of life i.e. leaves or buds on those parts of the brances nearest the trunk. Apart from anything else it looks stupid. Any ideas (I'm completely cleless but keen to learn! Thanks

Name: lisa davison
Date posted: October 29, 2010 - 08:16 am
Message: I would like to take cuttings off a very old apple tree that is in my Dads garden. Sadly he passed away and for this reason I would like to take a graft for my garden before the house gets sold. How do I go about it? Any advice would be so appreciated.

Name: james ricciuti
Date posted: September 19, 2010 - 05:10 pm
Message: How to prune 20 year apple tree loaded with apples but the apples are small.

Name: richaed
Date posted: August 28, 2010 - 08:53 pm
Message: got an apple tree that has apples every other your i was told it was an old apple tree called stayman golden in ky. they start turning in late aug a yellow color. and good to eat.

Name: Jay
E-mail: Ihalmiut@
Date posted: August 12, 2010 - 01:29 pm
Message: I planted a snowcrisp in may and also a honeygold 5 years ago. With all the rain here in Minnesota I am shocked that both of these trees over the past few weeks have gone brown. Do you think they are dead? I've never seen this with any of our previous applle trees. Worried, Jay

Name: Jim Collins
E-mail: Private
Date posted: August 07, 2010 - 10:22 am
Message: We planted 2 apple trees in early May,w/ all the rain that we have had in June, they both have seem to lost much of their leaves or they have turned brown, the branches still seeem goood � brittle. Should their be any concern? Any pruining in Dec.- Feb. would be best for next years growth? Worried in Wisconsin.