Trying to Salvage an Inherited Orchard

prairiewayMay 30, 2013

My husband and I just bought our first house and we inherited about 40 fruit trees. They were not necessarily planted by someone with much knowledge and some varieties are not suited for our zone (I.e. Fuji apple or apricots, neither of which will mature in time in our frost free season).

So, at least half are dead. But some are 6' tall and well leafed, even flowering depending on the variety. I'd like to salvage as many as I can and have some questions:

1. If the main trunk and branches are dead but the roots have sent up shoots can I remove all but 1 shoot and get a tree from that? Specifically 2 apple trees are doing this. Since they are dwarf I assume the apples won't be true to the original tree, but maybe I end up with a decent pollinator crabapple type tree?

2. I know pruning should wait until the trees are dormant, but can I shorten shoots that tower above the height of the tree and also remove dead branches now or should that also wait until fall?

3. Any of these trees that did flower this year did not set fruit. I guess I'm trying to troubleshoot why...most appear to have pollinators nearby. But these trees have not been watered regularly for 3 years, at least. So could that be the reason? Fertilization maybe? Lack of bug life? I didn't expect a bountiful harvest from a neglected orchard, of course, but the more I know the better next year should be!

4. Ants? There are some sort of ant on the trees? Not a fire ant *though we have plenty of those!* But a red and black ant, about the size of a fire ant. Mostly likes the peach trees. Any idea what those are and how to get rid of them? Not there for scale - don't see any scale anywhere.

5. --really a matter of opinion here, but hoping to hear some opinions: Should I just scrap the whole thing and start over? None have ideal shapes, all need lots of pruning and care, many have wilted or mis-colored leaves so perhaps disease I don't know about, and so on...

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mrsg47(7)

Please take pictures

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 11:02PM
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curtis(5)

1: you can choose one to let grow and graft onto it.

2: It's probably not a big deal either way.

3: weird year and all the things you have said. don't worry about it. just get it in shape and move forward.

4:my experience is that ants are there when there is damage to the tree or fruit. look for sap leakage in crotches. That would be borers. poke around in those places with a paperclip and you will kill the borer and it will heal.

5, you have trees that should give you fruit next year if you leave them. Also you will learn a whole lot trying to fix these up, so that when you plant the ones you really want you will be pretty skilled.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 11:06PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

Apricots should ripen fine in Zone 7.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 1:51AM
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skeip

I was in a similar situation about 3 years ago. A seven year old orchard, neglected for the last five. A few trees had been overtaken by shoots from the root stock, I pruned and tried to save the grafted portion where possible. On the apples it was fine, lost two cherries completely.

If the graft is dead, I would grub it out and plant something desirable. If you're adventurous, you could try grafting onto the shoots.

You don't say how old the trees are, but if they are blooming age, you need to prune for form, or you're going to have a bunch of unproductive over grown trees. Google how to prune fruit trees, there's a lot of good information.

The ants I probably wouldn't worry about unless they are causing some obvious damage. Get yourself some information on fruit tree IPM right away too.

It can be a lot of work, but the longer you're at it the less work it becomes. There's nothing so sweet as the taste of that first apple from your own tree!

Steve

    Bookmark   May 31, 2013 at 5:58PM
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prairieway

Lots of promising feedback, thank you everyone! I'll add some pictures as well, once I get outside and take some.

I did find a couple of sticky, sappy spots where the ants seem to go the most and poked around at those. We'll see! I may try a fungus treatment as well, Neem oil or possibly a petroleum product. We'll see!

I tried taking off height and dead wood for now. I'd like to really shape the trees for fruit production when they are dormant. Much easier to see what's going on in there!

The trees must be 6-8 years old. The ones where I have had to remove the bulk of the tree the graft is definitely dead. I don't really know much about grafting - I know the basics, I know roughly what rootstocks I have, and I've seen it done. But have never done it myself. If I decided to go that route 1. how tall should I leave the root shoots? On one apple the shoot I left out there is 4.5 feet tall. And 2. what time of year should I try grating something onto the shoot?

Will return with some pictures!

Oh, and, apricots SHOULD ripen in Zone 7. I border on Zone 8. They do not ripen here because of our winters according to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. I plan on leaving the trees in, but don't expect fruit from them :) But at least I can get peaches and apples!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 9:42AM
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glib(5.5)

Remove all dead material (trees and branches) now. Remove all shoots. Even though it is tempting to graft one shoot, you are much better off starting over with a new tree. Your extension may recommend varieties.

I think that, in Nevada, you have plenty of sunshine to ripen apricots, but you also have late freezes in the desert that do not agree with the early blooming of apricots. Likewise Fuji might ripen if the early fall freezes are not too hard. It is a very sugary apple, it should take 27F without a problem. For both Fuji and apricots, there will be lucky years when they will crop.
Start summer pruning the healthy trees now, they will be better than if you winter prune them.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 11:31AM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Dave Wilson nursery has some good videos on summer pruning, something we have to do in SoCal. You might want to watch a few and see if you can glean some insight on your orchard.

Having dug out MANY old or self planted trees, I would rather dig out when small and start with something I want and that fits my zone. Dad always wanted to see what the self planted trees would be: cling peaches with giant pits. At best I have a lot of wood to play with grafting on. At worst it is a lot of work picking up buckets worth of unless fruit before I get a hillside full of "marbles"

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 1:46PM
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curtis(5)

watch this guys videos. He has quite a few on grafting existing trees and he is pretty good at explaining things. This is just a random video that I have bookmarked to find him, poke though his other videos

Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R60GnDbv6r4

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 10:52PM
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mamuang_gw

I do like Stephen's videos very much. I did my grafting (pear) for the first time this year from watching his varioius grafting techniques. All my grafts took.

In one of his video he showed the grafting tools he used. I bought the same brand of knives. They are very handy.

I've heard that grafting stone fruit is harder than pomm. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 11:31PM
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