Apple Bush Tree

Bush trees are similar in form to standards and semi-standards but are smaller. This makes them useful to anyone with a small garden.

A well-developed bush is still tall enough to sit under and looks like a smaller version of a fully grown tree, which may be important for  the design of the garden. Again, like standards and semi-standards, bush trees are suitable for both spur- and tip-bearing varieties.

Bush trees are the best type of apple if
you want a “tree-shaped” tree. They are
relatively small, even on larger rootstock.


Choose a stout stake, and insert this into the ground before the tree is planted. Avoid doing it after planting as this can damage the roots. In exposed positions, a stake on either side is more secure. Use proprietary tree ties, as these are designed to expand so that they do not rub and bruise the bark.

Initial training

You will need to start with a feathered tree, which is staked. As the young tree grows, gradually remove the lowest side branches in order to create a bare trunk. Do this until the trunk has reached the height you want. You should now remove the leader. The tree’s main branches now develop from this point and any remaining branches on the trunk should be removed. As usual, ensure that the branches are well spread and remove any that cross. Shorten the shoots that develop on the branches so that the tree branches out. Keep the centre of the tree open.

Established pruning

You will usually only need to prune bush trees in the winter. The method you use depends on whether the tree is spur-bearing or tip-bearing. For spur-bearing apples, remove any overly vigorous and unwanted wood, as well as any branches that are crossing or rubbing. The leaders of all the branches can be reduced by about a quarter to one-third of the previous season’s growth. If any of the spurs are overcrowded, then remove the older and less productive wood. For tip-bearing apples, either leave the young wood unpruned or just remove the tip back to a bud. Remember to take out older wood back to young shoots to ensure renewal and continued fruiting. As usual, take out any crossing or rubbing branches, and any that are too vigorous or misplaced. Try to keep the centre of both types reasonably open.

Training an apple bush tree

Bush trees are ideal for the small garden as they do not need a great deal of training or pruning once they are established. Both initial training and the pruning are very similar to that of standard and semi-standard trees, except that the tree is on a smaller scale. Both tip- and spur-bearers are started in the same way, but from the third year onwards they are treated differently.

Training an apple bush tree

Spur- and tip-bearers: In winter, plant a young feathered tree. Grow on until the top branches have reached the required height. Remove the leader and prune back the branches so that they will divide. Remove any laterals below what will be the lowest branches.

Picture of Patio Planting

Spur- and tip-bearers: Remove any shoots that cross over or rub, and cut back new growth on main leaders by half. Any  side shoots not required as branches should also be cut back to about four buds.

Garden Planning

Spur-bearers: Cut back new shoots to about five buds, once the bushes are established. Continue to remove any misplaced shoots or branches. Thin the clusters of spurs if they become overcrowded. Occasionally replace older sub-branches by cutting back to a strong shoot. 

Garden Planning

Spur-bearers: Continue to cut back the new growth of the main leaders by a quarter to one-third. Develop the fruiting spurs by cutting the shoots not required for branch development back to four buds. Continue to remove any crossing or misplaced shoots or branches.

Garden Planning

Tip-bearers: Tip-bearing bushes should only have the new growth on the main branches cut back by a quarter in their third year. Do not prune any of the other shoots, except if they are crossing or misplaced when they should be removed or cut back to a suitable shoot or growth bud.

Garden Planning

Tip-bearers: Once tip-bearing bush trees have become established little or no pruning is required. Just cut back the tips. Cut out any crossing or congested wood, especially towards the centre of the tree which should be kept as open as possible.