Saving an Old Apple Tree

David88(5a W. Central IL)February 8, 2013

My sister has an old apple tree in her yard that my great uncle had developed about 100 years ago. At one time there were many in our area but to our knowledge this is the last surviving one. Her husband wants to cut it down and she does not know how much longer she can hold him off. About twenty years ago our cousin tried to graft some cuttings but none of them worked. I have read that if you cut a small section of bark around a stem and put rooting hormone on it and then surround it with soil and seal it up it will develop roots and then you can plant it. Has anyone tried this successfully? Are there better ways? I have never tried grafting and really want something as foolproof as possible. This tree has sentimental meaning to me and my family and I would like to get several growing.

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


You might give T budding a try. It's not that difficult, actually pretty easy with a little experience. You'll need a rootstock which could be any cheap apple tree you buy or a real rootstock like those sold by Raintree Nursery.

You'd be able to T bud anytime this summer and don't need to store the budwood. Cut the budwood off your old tree and bud immediately. Way easier than storing graftwood a couple months. The rootstock does need to be growing actively so that the bark is slipping when you bud. All that takes is regular watering.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 10:56PM
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Did you try this...Cut a 4-6" softwood (new growth) cutting and dip in rooting hormone in fertile soil in a pot. Put a humidity tent over the pot or make one with skewers and plastic wrap to keep the humidity inside the pot. They should root in 3-4 weeks.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 11:00PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

If you want immediate results,..especially when not heaving experience in grafting, get in contact with a nursery which does apple grafting, bring them a bunch of branches, last year's growth, pencil size and is always at the very end of branches, look for the most vigorous ends or water sprouts.

Rooting is almost impossible to do, not recommended.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 11:09PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Cut down the husband, that might be much simpler.

If you can't find a local nursery willing to do the grafting for you, there are reputable places you can find on the internet who you can send cuttings of dormant branches and they will graft them for you, then return the grafted trees for you to plant.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 1:22AM
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It is not true that you can't root apple trees. Many old apple trees can be easily rooted. Look on the branches to see if this apple tree produces burr knots. They will look like little raised nodules protruding from the branch and they will be in generally roundish groupings. They are actually roots that can develop given a chance. If the tree produces burr knots, it will root easily. All you need to do is find a section of burr knot with a young branch growing from it. Cut out the section with the burr knot and the new growth and plant that in a gallon or two gallon pot with good soil and keep it well watered until it is growing well, usually a year or two.

Another even easier way to get a new plant from the old tree is to look around the base of the tree for suckers (small trees) growing around the trunk. If the apple tree is an old cultivar and was never grafted, then the suckers growing around the base will be the same variety as the main tree. To start a new tree from the suckers, dig down around the suckers a bit and expose the roots and the base of the sucker. Use clippers to snip the sucker off below the roots. Pot the sucker and grow it for a year or two then plant it out in the yard or garden like any other apple tree. You should take several of the root suckers, or try to find several of the burr knots with a branch, or both, to ensure that you definitely get one good tree for your effort. You can do this. I have done it many times with old apples tree varieties.

What is the apple from this tree like? What is its growth habit like? You may find that many of the older apples are better performers on their own roots. They don't have to be grafted, though they will produce larger trees on their own roots. That is best, for me, as in my area, the low vigor rootstock dwarfs are basically nothing more than a deer feeding station. I prefer a real tree for that reason, but if you don't want a full sized tree, you might check into getting it professionally grafted. David Vernon at Century Farms Orchard does this and is a good source for grafting, rootstocks and many varieties of old fashioned apples. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 3:08AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

I remembered this great thread. It may help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rooting Pears

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 3:19AM
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alan haigh

The chances are that it is a grafted apple- especially if its fruit is worth eating- so any suckers from the base may be a different apple. If it is generating new wood (upright shoots) of any vigor from its branches you can find a nursery to graft it to a rootstock for you. Some small mail order nurseries do custom grafting, and if you send them wood now they may be able to graft it to a rootstock and send you a tree to plant next year. The service will probably be under $50.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 7:53AM
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great tips.....interesting thread.....of course, the final thing to think about is the idea of postponing the time you need to cut the tree trees can produce for 150 years or longer......yes the insides of the limbs become hollowed out....but as long as the tree itself is not a hazard to anyone and as long as the outer cambium level of the limbs is alive, then the tree can produce fruit for some time to come and live for some time to come.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 7:40PM
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I have to respectfully disagree that only grafted trees produce apples that are good to eat. My family had an orchard here on the old farm for over 100 years and none of the trees were grafted and they all produced useful apples, with the eating types producing apples fit to eat, and on their own rootstock. A great many of the old folks, 100 years ago or more, did not use grafted apples. Many of those old apples were reproduced by root suckers and/or burr knot cuttings. It almost saddens me that this old knowledge is so lost.

In salvaging some of the old trees here on the farm, I have reproduced them from root sucker cuttings and as those matured, on their own roots, they produce the same types of apples as the parent tree, and on their own roots, are edible, delicious in fact. I don't want to seem argumentative, but I do know that many old apple varieties can be grown successfully on their own roots (and were all over the eastern US) and produce nice, wonderful tasting apples.

If the apple tree in question in the original post of this thread is from 100 years ago or so, the chances are good that it is on its own roots and that root suckers could produce the same type of tree. It is not 100% guaranteed, but there is a good chance. I do agree that I would not rely entirely on root or branch cutting to rescue the variety, and I did list the business that I would use for getting the apple grafted, but there is as much of a chance it is on its own roots as that it is grafted, if it is an old tree.

For my part, I would experiment with both root suckers and getting some grafts made, and if there are burr knots, I would experiment with starting from those as well. If this is the last tree of a family heirloom, then I would make every effort to use every method available to rescue it. In the end, there is not just one "right" way to do things, and whatever method works for any individual is the right method for them.

David88, if you try all methods and end up with more trees than you want, then spread them around! Preserving those old varieties is a wonderful thing to do, and what a wonderful way to honor your great uncle by making sure his legacy persists. Name it after him, if you don't have another name for it already.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 1:57AM
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alan haigh

Of course not only grafted trees produce good fruit, all older varieties originated as chance seedlings, but I get a chance to sample fruit from hundreds of seedling trees and they usually suck. In breeding programs less than one in a thousand seedlings (that have been bred from great varieties) are deemed worthwhile.

If you take a root sucker from a quality seedling tree it will be a clone of that tree.

The history of apple production in this country is mostly about the production of (hard) cider and early Americans didn't tend to be conesseurs of this particular beverage- most any apple would do. Also apples were at least as important for drying and making sauce and butter as for fresh eating.

I have read that a typical homestead farm would start with about 100 seedling apple trees but often one or two would be exceptional and grafting over would be done on many of the trees to upgrade the quality. This is why there was such an explosion of wonderful American apple varieties in the 18th and 19th centuries as neighbors would share wood and regional varieties would sometimes rise to stardom and become the Baldwins, American Golden Russets, Winesaps and Newtown Pippins that many on this forum grow today.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 7:39AM
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eclecticcottage(6b wny)

I was just referred to this thread when I asked a similar question. I like the suggestion of asking to see if someone locally can graft for us. We have a tree that will be lost within a few years to mother nature (it is planted along the cliff by the lake, and it is eroding). We also have no idea how to graft, and since it's time sensitive, it's worth trying with someone that knows better than we do.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 8:03PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Yes, you have also some time now to try it on your own. Learn some grafting techniques.
Cut some scion's now, put into a zip lock bag with a moist, [not soaking wet] paper towel, put into fridge. When buds start to leaf out you can graft for several weeks.
Bark grafting is my favored, make some cut's now with dummy wood to get used to and get the hang of it before season starts.

Here is a link that might be useful: Konrad's modified bark grafting

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 11:20PM
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