Ask a Question forum: The Unruly Apple Tree

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Name: Amy
Metro Detroit (Zone 6a)
Region: Michigan
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sundina
Mar 2, 2014 6:57 PM CST
So, we have this apple tree in the back yard that has suffered many years of neglect now (I'll estimate about 15 years or so); no pruning, no spraying, nothing. The tree is roughly 12 feet tall. The poor guy was so overloaded with small fruits last year I though it was going to lose branches from the weight alone. Is there any hope of getting this tree back in shape so that it will bear better tasting, bigger fruits? Now, I have no experience with taking care of fruit trees, so I need the super beginners explanation.

If you need photos of the tree or any other information I will do my best to supply it; even if it means shuffling through 3 feet of snow to figure it out. :-)

Thanks in advance everyone.
Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
I'm always on my way out the door..
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chelle
Mar 2, 2014 8:43 PM CST
Hi, Amy.

I'm no expert or qualified orchardist, but here's what I do...

I feel that our yard trees should present a decent shape overall, so first I try to gauge which areas are out of symmetry (if any) and keep that image in my head while I look for and prune away any broken branches or deadwood. I'll then remove any suckers that are present from the ground up to the main scaffold branches. After that, it's time to get up into the canopy and find branches that are heading more up than out, or are crossing/crowding others. I like to remove just a few all the way back to the main branches or trunk in each section, then move on to the next until I've been around the entire tree. While you're up there, also think about creating enough elbow-room; it's easier to do later health inspections, disbud and harvest if you have enough space to maneuver (swivel around) in at least two directions between limbs.

I wouldn't suggest removing more than a third of the branches in any given year, but don't be afraid to cut away what's obviously too densely filled with tiny branches or too long and flimsy to support the weight you assign to it. If you want fewer but larger fruits you'll need to remove all but one or two forming fruits from each cluster. If you don't remove any the fruit can be plentiful, but usually smaller.

I don't think flavor is enhanced much if any by pruning/reducing, but the fruit is probably juicier if reduction is done. Shrug!

I don't spray my trees with chemicals. Some years I have great apples and some years the bugs get a lot of them, but that's just my own personal preference. Smiling
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Name: Horseshoe Griffin
Efland, NC (Zone 7a)
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Horseshoe
Mar 3, 2014 10:58 AM CST
Ditto what Chelle said...open up the inside, trim out dead/dying branches, branches growing back inwards toward the tree, branches rubbing against each other (or one of them), etc.

If your tree is 15 years old and is only 12 ft tall I wonder if you have a dwarf, which would be grafted. Look for the graft and be sure to cut any branches below the graft.

Hope you get some good apples this year, sundina!

Shoe (whose dwarf apple trees grew 25 ft tall...boy did I get took, eh?)
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Mar 3, 2014 3:08 PM CST
Pruning before it begins to leaf out in the spring would be a good idea. If you still have 3ft. of snow, sounds like you have a little cold time yet. Rolling my eyes.

You can usually tell if a branch is dead by scraping a tiny bit of the bark back with your thumbnail. If there is green under the bark, the branch is still alive. Also, of course dead branches are usualy very brittle and some might have broken on their own from all that snow!

Did you mean that the tree is 15 years old, or that's just how long you've been aware of it? If it could be a lot older than that it might be more worthwhile to take it out and start a new tree.

You might also invest in a bag of fertilizer - look for one that says it's for fruit trees. After you prune, when you start to see leaves budding, sprinkle fertilizer lightly around on the soil under the spread of the branches. Be sure to spread the fert out at least as far as the branches reach, not just in by the trunk. Most fruit trees have feeder roots that extend beyond the tree's canopy. The more healthy leaves that tree can make, the sweeter the fruit can be. Leaves make the sugar for the fruit, right? Enough water while the fruit is sizing up is also important.
Elaine

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Name: Michele Roth
N.E. Indiana - Zone 5b
I'm always on my way out the door..
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chelle
Mar 3, 2014 3:48 PM CST
Probably not a high Nitrogen fertilizer after pruning though. I think it might encourage water sprouts to shoot out from each clipped area. At least that seems to be the case with my dwarf apple that ends up with lots of grass clippings underneath it. The standard trees don't seem to be affected as much, for some reason unknown to me. Smiling
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Name: Amy
Metro Detroit (Zone 6a)
Region: Michigan
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sundina
Mar 3, 2014 8:54 PM CST
The tree is about 15 years old that I know of. It's probably a bit older than that actually. And we are on about 2 acres right now, so there is plenty of room if we decide to put in a new tree; we won't have to remove the old one.

I'll try pruning the tree this year once there is a bit less snow on the ground and see what happens, probably give it some fertilizer. I found this handy short article on apple trees from the Ohio State University. http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1401.html

According to it I need to picture a well pruned tree, and then start working toward that goal over the course of a few years; removing any unnecessary large limbs two or three at a time each year.

This will be an interesting experience for sure. Thanks for all of the help everyone. Smiling
Name: Neil
London\Kent Border
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NEILMUIR1
Mar 4, 2014 3:38 AM CST
Horseshoe is correct. Cut out the dead, damaged, diseased and crossing branches. Then simply walk away and look at the tree. Then you can see how it should balance and prune it accordingly.
In this country we have wassailing.
Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing.

See this for wassailing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassailing.
Regards from England.
Neil.
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
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Leftwood
Mar 4, 2014 1:18 PM CST
If you remove the period from the link just posted, it will work.

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