Pruning the water shoots is of great importance for apple tree growth and a bountiful harvest. What to look out for and how to cut them correctly is explained below.

water drive formation

  • Compensation for the supply deficit due to excessive pruning
  • To stimulate fruiting when it is continuously declining (but rarely works)

cutting ground

Although nature meant well with the formation of water shoots, in reality their benefit for the apple tree is meaningless and rather counterproductive. They rarely form infructescences, which also leave a lot to be desired in terms of quality. As superfluous parts of the plant, they unnecessarily withdraw nutrients from the Malus, which it needs more urgently, especially for the formation of flowers and fruits. In addition, they can cause a split in the tree crown if they are not prevented from growing. Another reason to prune water shooters is that they have an increased susceptibility to disease and thus pose a health risk to the entire tree.

recognize water shoots

In order to be able to remove the water shoots, shoots or Geiltriebe, as water shoots are also known, they must be identified as such in advance:

  • Fine, thin knots that always form together with the annual new shoots
  • Grow steeply upwards, rarely slightly to the side
  • Mostly found inside
  • Have a “sleeping bud” from which the shoot grows (recognizable by scar-like branch thickening)
  • soft wood
  • Lighter bark than the rest of the branches


Care and caution should be used when cutting water shoots. If too many horny shoots are removed, this provokes increased new growth, which should actually be avoided. This is because new shoots draw energy and nutrients from the apple tree and less is left for fruiting on two-year-old or older shoots, which can result in a reduced crop yield. Therefore: only a maximum of one third of all existing water shoots should be removed.

Tip: If you want to make the (theoretical) advantage of stimulating fruit formation by water shoots realistic, don’t cut them off, but tie them diagonally downwards and align them in the juice scale.

Best time

Basically, apple trees should be checked every year for water shoot formation in order to be able to remove them at an early stage before they cause damage.


The best time to cut water shoots is spring, when no more frost is to be expected after the ice saints in mid-May. In this way, the supply for high-energy growth and flower formation is optimally optimized at the beginning of the growth period.


It can be trimmed again in summer if some water shoots were overlooked in spring or grew back too quickly. However, the full foliage often makes it difficult to find them. An experienced eye is an advantage for this. In summer, the water veins should be cut off after flowering, but before the start of harvest.


A water shoot pruning should be avoided in autumn because it is the optimal time for the annual pruning of normal shoots. If the unwanted branches were also removed, there is a good chance that the water veins would be vigorously stimulated to grow due to the larger cut. In addition, the wounds heal more poorly due to the usually higher humidity, which increases the risk of infection.


For similar reasons as in autumn, horny shoots should not be cut off in winter either. Especially at this time of year, the apple tree has so-called dormant eyes, which form the basis for the rapid formation of many new water shoots. A cut of the existing ones would provoke the sprouting out of the sleeping eyes, which the experienced fruit tree gardener does not wish for.

Tip: Sleeping eyes can hardly be recognized. If they exist, Geiltriebe are not far away. A closer look is highly recommended, especially in winter. In this way, the localities can already be identified where water shoots may form before visibility becomes increasingly difficult due to leaf growth in spring.

Cut or cancel?

In principle, cutting tools can always be used to cut off the drive shafts. It is important that it is disinfected so that no pathogens/diseases are transmitted to the apple tree. Since they are thin, normal pruning shears are usually sufficient for cutting them off. Cutting brings the following advantages:

  • Clean incised wounds with mostly smaller wound surfaces for entry of pathogens
  • Significantly less effort is required with the right cutting tool
  • Precise separation possible

Young water veins that are not yet lignified can easily be broken off by hand. This also has advantages over the cutting variant:

  • Prevention of new formation of sleeping eyes
  • Simultaneous removal of by-eyes possible
  • Faster apple tree recovery than after pruning

Cutting water shoots – instructions

The work steps always begin with identifying the Geiltriebe. Once they have been identified, the further steps take place depending on the type of removal:

To cut

  • Intersection just above the astring (prevents secondary infection)
  • Position the scissors at an angle (moisture runs off better on inclined surfaces and wounds heal faster)
  • Only cut or possibly saw, do not tear, so that there are no bruises and frayed edges of the wound
  • Do not leave any branch stumps (to avoid the rapid formation of new water shoots)
Note: The knotring is a thickening that forms at the base of the branches.

Tear off

  • Firmly grasp the selected shoot with one hand
  • With more effort, several adjacent shoots can be gripped
  • Best tearing effect when hand clasps the shoot in the lower third
  • With a tug, pull the water shooter down vigorously and as steeply as possible

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