Pruning old apple trees

We're trying to rejuvinate some 20+ year old very overgrown apple trees on our WV property. Can anyone suggest a good guide for pruning to get them back into shape?
Thanks, MJD
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Yep, what Dwayne said. First, cut out all deadwood. Use a little chainsaw, if the branches are big enough and you can use a saw without dinging the livewood or the trunk. *Don't* put any wound dressing on the cuts. (Really. Research shows that trees will compartmentalize wounds and heal them better if you don't goober wound dressing on them.)
If you aren't good with a chainsaw, go buy a pruning handsaw. (Buy good tools. For snips, Felco. For loppers, Corona. Cheap tools suck. Spend a little money one time and take care of your tools. They'll last you a lifetime. I can't remember what brand my pruning handsaw is, but I've used it for 20 years now and haven't had to sharpen it yet. It's cut many, many trees. I have to order a new cutter blade for my Felco snips this year though, as I think I've got my 250,000 snips out of the original blade... *g* We've sharpened it so many times that it's getting tiny.) Spend money on your tools. Don't buy stuff out of the $2 bin at the hardware store.
Do an undercut first, then do the top cut, so you don't peel a bunch of bark off the trunk. If I have to explain the above to you, get some help. Find someone in your area who knows how to prune. Go to the coffee shop and find an old fart who knows how to cut fruit trees.
I was taught how to prune fruit trees by a 90 year old man, who was *delighted* to teach a "kid" what he knew. He died a year later, but he passed his knowledge along. That means a LOT to an old man. And I made a living pruning home fruit orchards like yours, from what Papa Frank taught me. (Then I moved to Alaska. I have small apple orchard up here, where apples "don't grow." Heh.)
Okay, so cut the deadwood. Then start pruning out the waterspouts (branches going straight up into the air), crossing branches that grew willy-nilly into the center of the tree. Call it good for this year.
Next year, start pruning the trees for the desired shape. (Wine-glass shape is good. Apples need air and sunlight. You should be able to throw a cat through the center of the tree, without whacking the cat into a branch.) Books really can't show you how a well-pruned tree should look. You need to go look at some well-pruned trees, and you'll get the idea.
I've rehabilitated 100 year old apple trees and got them to start cranking fruit out again, in just a couple of years. Apple trees are amazing -- they are really forgiving trees.
Once you get the trees in shape and they start to set lots of apples again, thin your fruit early in the spring. The measure is to spread your thumb and little finger as wide as you can. Thin every apple between that measure out. (Pick it off the tree.) Your tree can't make big apples if you leave *every* apple on the tree. Thin them out and you'll get more good, big apples than you can stand. ("Fruit drop" is normal. Don't sweat it. Trees will drop some fruit on their own. But you still need to thin.)
Fertilize your trees in the spring. Ask local gardeners with really good gardens to recommend what works in your area. If you get worms in your apples, try the coddling moth pheremone traps before you spray poison on your trees. The scent traps work. And, as my mother's gardener used to say, "if it ain't good enough for a worm, I don't want to eat it either." Jay was a renegade in the 1960's, but he was an organic commercial gardener in the suburbs of San Francisco : )
Best Fishes,
Jan, in Alaska
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Do a search on"prune neglected apple tree" and you will find lots of info. Here is one link: http://eesc.orst.edu/agcomwebfile/edmat/html/ec/ec1005/ec1005.html

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I didn't ask the question, but that's an interesting article. Thanks, Ken.
Milt wrote:

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Thanks to everyone for the helpful suggestions. In addition to reading, I am very likely to implement Jan's idea of consulting an "oldster". It's a small town and there are a few fellows around who know their stuff. I'll try to enlist their aid. Intergenerational knowledge transfer (folk wisdom) is a lost art here in the suburbs of Virginia, but it keeps many small rural areas, like our place in WV, going.
Mike D.

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Yo Mike:
If you have old farts in your area, they're just a gold-mine of information. They can probably tell you who planted your trees, when and what varieties they are. I'd be willing to bet that you can make some friends, just by asking the old poops for help on rehabilitating your orchard. A 20 year old orchard is no big deal, but making friends with the old-timers is priceless. (They can tell you the entire history of your land; all the gossip, rumors and the true stuff, too.)
When I was pruning 100 year old trees in the Mother Lode of California, I had folks who were 4th generation on the same land telling me about their families planting the orchards 3 years after gold was discovered down there at John Sutter's sawmill in Coloma (10 miles away) in 1848. The families had been there continuously, and they *knew* the history of all of the orchards and places in the area. I made *many* lifelong friends by cutting fruit trees for those folks and heard stories that would give most historians the vapors : )
Jan

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