Some of the most popular apples, like 'Granny Smith' and 'Northern Spy', are unruly growers. Other examples are 'Rome Beauty', 'Melrose', 'Northern Spy', 'Spygold' and the old-fashioned non-spur-type ' Red Delicious '. In spring they shoot up strongly from a handful of buds near the tip of each branch, leaving a lot of unproductive "blind" wood lower down on each limb.
Researchers in South Africa, where 'Granny Smith' is a very important commercial apple, have come up with a surprising pruning method that makes more side branches and less long, whippy growth. The result: more easy-to-pick fruit.
After ordinary dormant pruning on 'Granny Smith', only five buds near the branch tips typically broke dormancy and the shoots reached 45" long. But when the researchers pruned 14 days after full bloom, 13 buds per branch started to grow, and the main shoots averaged just 30" long at the end of the season. When pruning was delayed two more weeks, 10 or 11 side shoots grew.
You can get similar results by spreading the branches on unruly apples to 60 degrees or less from the horizontal (use weights or spreader sticks). But if you favor pruning shears, forget dormant pruning on those trees. Instead, wait for bloom, then mark your calendar for a little more cutting in a couple of weeks (as if there isn't enough to do in the garden then!).