Why is my apple tree turning black and has cracks in the bark?

keepitlow(6)April 5, 2010

It is a Newtown Pippin and one branch is turning black and has a crack in the bark in 2 spots. I planted it 3 years ago when it was 6 ft tall. It is about 9 ft tall now. Never made one apple. (Also never sprayed it)

I picked the Newtown Pippin cause it is supposed to be an old time apple. You would figure old time apples that stuck around would produce decent fruit...but this tree sucks.

Should I pull it out and replace this tree?

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

That is an old fireblight strike. You are lucky you did not lose the main tree trunk in that big strike. You will need to start doing fireblight control sprays. There is no fireblight immune variety and while some varieties are worse than others I have not found Newtown to be particularly bad. I did my copper dormant last week and with this hot weather its agrimycin this week (20% bloom).

Apples can be a lot of work in our kind of climate - fireblight, cedar apple rust, moths, curculio, etc.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 9:41PM
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Thanks Scott.

Should I cut that part off?

I just started to spray with copper this year. Have given them 1 spray so far. Do not like to spray much, am trying to be organic. Do you think 2 copper sprays each season will help on the apples?

In the spring the apple trees look nice with good foliage. As time goes on they all look sickly and half dead. My 6th apple is a Pristine and does OK compared to the others. At least it produces some apples. But the 5 other big name apple trees are a real mess.

I know people grew apples and grapes in our region centuries ago. How did they do it? They didn't have all these sprays.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 9:16AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I can't tell what the whole tree looks like; I usually prune the old strikes off if its not going to wreck the tree, but if its on the main trunk too low then I just leave it; sometimes I will paint doc farwells over them to keep any remaining fireblight if any from spreading from the old wound. You should also when pruning the trees look carefully for fireblight wounds and remove that wood. I removed many such pieces in my pruning early this spring. One major thing you can also do to help against fireblight is to prune the trees more open -- I always like the "so a bird can fly through it" analogy. My pruning has radically changed from how I was doing it several years ago, now I make trees much more open -- I noticed the worst fireblight was always on the trees that were too tight with foliage.

For your apple, it should not be looking sickly. Maybe if you posted a picture we could help diagnose the problem. My apple leaves look pretty good throughout the year, except for the CAR blotches on a few varieties.

Re: growing fruits in our climate, I think people had a lower standard of fruit quality in the past, some diseases and bugs had not spread yet, and there was generally a deeper knowledge of fruit-growing since it was critically important to everyones livelihoods and so variety selection, site planting, soil, etc was done better. Note that strong chemical sprays such as arsenate of lead are in fact quite old, dating from the mid-1800's or earlier.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 1:42PM
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Thanks Scott.

The fireblight is only on one upright part of the tree. I can cut it out or try to clean it up and leave it.

Don't have a photo of my sickly trees leaves from the last 2 years. Right now the leaves look nice. And some nice pink flowers getting ready to open. But give it time and 60% to 70% leaves will fall out and the few left will look like this or worse.


What is the minimum spray schedule you can recommend for apples that will let a tree do 'just OK' Scott?

By that I mean that the tree produces fruit (some spots OK) and the tree does not drop most of its leaves. Can I produce OK apples with 2 copper sprays and a few more baking soda sprays a year Scott?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 6:45PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

keepitlow, I don't have serious scab problems, so I'm not that experienced with control for it. If you want to be organic the most common approach to scab is probably sulphur, put on before rain events from 1/2" green through quarter-sized fruits. If you want to try a synthetic with low-impact you can use Immunox at tight cluster and petal fall. These diseases are horrible but the good news is all of the activity occurs due to wetness before fruits are nickel-sized so that is the key time to spray.

I would skip on the baking soda; it doesn't have enough impact on the serious apple diseases. Beyond sulphur I find oil (Saf-T-Side is the best) and Serenade to be the best organic disease control measures during the growing season. I don't in fact use much sulphur these days, I am mainly doing oil and Serenade. Serenade has some effect on scab but you need to spray at every rain event since it is very low-power compared to Immunox. Serenade also has some effect on fireblight and unlike copper you can spray it on the leaves after they are out (don't spray copper once the leaves are out on apples).


    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 8:18PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"I know people grew apples and grapes in our region centuries ago. How did they do it? They didn't have all these sprays."

Read a history of pesticides, or some old fruit books. Farmers used copper, lime sulfur, and lots of nasty stuff like Paris Green, and Lead Arsenate. My wife's father remembers his dad using Lead Arsenate to kill squash bugs, and later using DDT to dust cattle.

As Scott points out, disease and insect pressure are greater now. Oriental Fruit moth wasn't introduced until the early 1900's. It took many decades more to spread across the U.S. Codling moth was introduced with the settlers, but like OFM, it took a long time to spread. It didn't make it to Canada until the twentieth century. There are some places in Canada that still don't have CM. The east coast used to have a prosperous pear industry until fireblight destroyed all the Bartlett groves.

Insect pressure will continue to mount. We now have the light brown apple moth in CA. As I recall, the Med fruit fly has been twice introduced to the U.S. and twice eradicated. It's probably only a matter of time before these and other pests become ubiquitous. Our descendants will likely have to deal with the Med fly, Sharka virus, light brown apple moth, and others. They'll be in awe we had it so easy.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2010 at 9:24PM
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Thanks for so much help Scott. I printed out your instructions and will give the sulfur a try. Should I be using the sulfur at any sage of the apple growth? Also when do you stop spraying your trees? if apples are half size can one stop?

olpea, why do you think the bugs and disease are increasing? Just how it is?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 8:58AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I'm not sure they're increasing on a global scale, it's just that societies are much more mobile now, and bring pests along with them, so that there is a larger diversity of pests here. A couple more imported pests that come to mind are Japanese beetles introduced in the early 1900s, and the very recently introduced spotted wing drosophila fly.

Once introduced, it has generally taken a long time for some of these pests to become omnipresent. Codling moth, even though introduced with the first settlers, didn't find it's way to Kansas until 1850. Japanese beetles, even though introduced 90 years ago, are still not found in all KS counties today. However, in the future with our society even more mobile, it may take less time for these newly introduced pests to fully disseminate.

OFM has become more of a problem due to mutation. Originally it was exclusively a stone fruit pest. In recent years it has become a pest in commercial apple orchards as well. I've also read it can be a problem in some home orchards where there are lots of stone fruit and apples planted together. To the naked eye, the larva are indistinguishable from CM.

Lastly, introduced pests are not limited to fruit. Bedbugs have been practically unheard of here for half a century. Remember the old adage, "sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite"? That came from a time when people slept on hanging rope beds. Bedbugs could be somewhat thwarted by tightening up the ropes to prevent the bed from touching the floor. In recent times some hotels (even nice ones) have had problems with bedbugs being reintroduced from overseas travelers.

That'd be a case where I'm going to kill some nature, and feel really good about it.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 11:20AM
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