Apple Tree Care

eve80August 21, 2012

Hi Everyone, I have a question about an old apple tree that was in the front yard of the house we purchased. Trying to make this long story short: it's overgrown - to say the least. We've been trimming it every year for 3 years now but my fiancee has difficulty understanding that the more we cut, the better for the tree (unfortunately he's the one with the chain saw in the tree). He did promise that he would trim more this winter - we'll see.

My question is more about the care, though. The first year, the tree had about 2 grocery bags of apples but they were fairly small. Year 2 - no apples at all. Year 3 - maybe 10 apples altogether but none we could eat. All rotted.

I admit that except for applying fertilizer, I didn't spray the tree at all. Where do I start? What products do you recommend? I would love to have home grown apples. I've read through other forum questions and got some information but any advise would be greatly appreciated (please provide some specific names of products, if possible, I really am a newbie at this). I spent countless hours on researching how to trim the tree but know nothing about its care. And by the way - I have no clue what kind of apple it is. The first year fruits were ready late August - right about now.

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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Your post says"where do we start?" That also applies to answering your post. Your best information will be local, where your growing problems will be known. Call your local county extension service and ask if they have a bulletin about growing apples, where you live. By the way a chainsaw is not usually the pruning tool of choice, at least not for apples. Al

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:40AM
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Thanks for the reply. I teach technology so online is usually my first choice to look for info :) I will try to see what I can find locally.

We're using the chain saw because branches are about 12 inches in diameter - that would be a lot of work by hand :)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 12:56PM
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alan haigh

No, you did come to the right place. Local is good too, but pests tend to be fairly wide spread regionally and finding truly knowledgeable local help can be difficult. You need to tell us your state, and better, which part of the state.

You will likely need to do some kind of spraying to consistently get useful apples but pruning properly is crucial- not just cutting out more wood, it must be the right wood. If branches are being stubbed back that will destroy the trees incentive to fruit. It's mostly about removing entire branches and opening up the remaining ones to ample air and light.

A picture would be useful.

I have renovated many hundreds of neglected apple trees over the last couple decades plus and the results can be very rewarding or I wouldn't be in business.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 3:10PM
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Thanks, harvestman. I am sharing pictures but PLEASE, everyone, don't make fun of me or my poor tree. I realize that it's in bad shape. Again, my fiancee seems to have a hard time cutting anything growing and I'm afraid to climb the tree. Also, please remember that this is already TONS better that what it was when we bought the house. The old owner was a single older lady who lived there for 20 years and it seems like she didn't trim anything (we've so far cut about 30 trees that were choking the house and we're not even close to done).

Last winter we cut 2 branches on the top and now we have a lot of new growth but also a lot of suckers on the top. So, it's out of control. I'm surprised we had any apples this year.

We need to cut the tree to a lower height. Right now it's about 25-30 feet tall. We still have 2 big branches that well exceed the height of 20 ft. Also, those 2 branches are at a V angle and both grow upward, almost like 2 competing tops. My plan was to cut one entirely and the other only to the height of about 12 ft. Do you think that would work?

I live in Southeaster Connecticut, about 10 miles away from the ocean - zone 6A. The summers are hot and very humid and winters vary. The tree is on the north side of the house but gets sun most of the day (probably until 5 p.m. or so).Again, please be gentle on me !!!!!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 7:15PM
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alan haigh

You probably live about 25 miles from me and closer to many of my clients in Greenwich and Stamford CT.

There is a book by Bart Hall-Beyer and Jean Richard called "Ecological Fruit Production in the North. It has a fine chapter on renovating old apple trees with a pretty clear explanation and clearer photographs.

Essentially it shows you how to prune a tree like yours to a weep. I don't agree with some of what's written such as that it is important to chose a central leader but if you follow the instructions on pruning to weaker weeping wood as you open up the tree it will be a great place to start.

In Greenwich, off of Roundhill Rd, heading north of the Merritt on the left side there is a property owned by an old apple grower family who has sold all the surrounding property. They have held on to a small part of their orchard and it consists of very old large apple trees- maybe 60 trees. You can see them clearly from the road and use them as I guide for the shape your going for.

Low Spray Schedule for Home Orchards in the Northeast

Here's my spray schedule for the scores of orchards I manage around SE NY adapted for home owners managing a few fruit trees. It has functioned well for me for over 2 decades, although J. Beetles and brown rot of stone fruit increases the number of sprays and necessary pesticides some years some sites.

Please note that pesticide labels must be read before their use and my recommendations do not override the rules on the label. The label is the law. This document only communicates what has worked for me and your results may vary depending on local pest pressure, which may require a different spray schedule.
Dormant oil (this is optional if there were no mites or scale issues the previous season, which is usually the case in home orchards). Do oil spray somewhere between the point where emerging shoots are 1/2" and the flower clusters begin to show a lot of pink. Mix Immunox (myclobutinol) at highest legal rate (listed on label for controlling scab and cedar apple rust on apple trees) with 1 to 2% oil. If it's closer to pink use 1%.
Don't spray again until petal fall when petals have mostly gone from latest flowering varieties and bees have lost interest. Then spray Triazide (Spectracide Once and Done) + Immunox mixed together at highest legal rates. Repeat once in 10 to 14 days.
Where I manage orchards, the space between earliest flowering Japanese plums and latest flowering apples is only 2 weeks or so which usually allows me to wait until the latest flowering trees are ready to begin spraying anything. Plum curculio seems to time its appearance conveniently to the rhythm of the last flowering apple varieties. This may not be true where you are.
If plums or peaches need oil they may need application before apples. I�ve only had mites on European plums here and never need oil for other stone fruit.
All this is based on plum curculio being your primary insect problem which is the case most areas east of the Mis. River. These sprays will also absolutely control scab, CAR and Mildew as well as most of the crop fatal insects. Apple fly maggot is an exception, but I haven't had much of a problem with this pest in the orchards I manage. This pest can be controlled with a lot of fake apples smeared with tangle trap.
If you don't want to use synthetic chemicals try 4 applications of Surround about a week apart starting at petal fall. You may need to start on earlier flowering varieties as soon as they drop petals because Surround is a repellent and can�t kill eggs after they�ve been inserted into the fruit..
Stone fruit may require the addition of an application or 2 of Indar (Monterey Fungus Fighter is closest available chemical for home owners) starting 4 weeks before first peaches ripen. Apricots must be sprayed sooner if they are scab susceptible with same compound.
Because I manage so many orchards so far apart I have to resort to a spray schedule that is based on expectations rather than actual monitoring. You may be able to reduce insecticide sprays with monitoring but PC can enter an orchard over night and if your insecticide lacks kick-back (as is the case with Triazide), do a lot of damage in a couple of days..
Other problems may occur later in the season and you will in time learn to monitor and react to the pitfalls.
Good luck, Alan Haigh- The Home Orchard Co.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 8:51PM
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Allan, I just about dropped dead when I read your reply!!!!! You have been the most resourceful help I have ever gotten online. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Yes, we don't live far apart, although Greenwich and Stamford are about 1.5 hours away - even longer in the horrible traffic :)

I've heard about the book you recommended - about trimming the tree to weep. I'll definitely read through it before it's time to cut. I am super excited and, if need be, I will climb the tree myself this year :) I will also get all the supplies ahead of time so I can be ready when my tree is.

Thanks again for all the time and effort you have put into this. I truly appreciate it! One last thing, if you don't mind. I guess my apple tree is one of those that has a branch of another variety grafted onto it because there are no other apple trees around and I do get apples. How do I know which branch it is? Will I hurt the process if I accidentally cut one of the wrong branches off?

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:19PM
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alan haigh

It is unlikely there are no other apple trees in the area as crab apples are very popular and are excellent pollinators and also apples are often part of the wild flora. You may end up wanting to graft your large tree to several varieties anyway. Grafts are not difficult and you seem to have the makings of a true fruitnut. Welcome to the club.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:16AM
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alan haigh

If there are no pollinators nearby it might explain your inconsistent cropping- unless there were very few flowers to begin with.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:22AM
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Heh :) You got it - I got the "bug". We've been chopping all the trees to get more sun into the yard. I would love to grow more but need the sunlight for it. The unfortunate thing is that my backyard is facing the south but has a big hill sloping down toward the house, so even if the trees are now farther away, they are sooooo high on the hill that I still don't get the sun where I would like to have it.

I do think that I need to start spraying and improve my care for the tree. We did indeed have very few flowers last spring. Grafting myself, huh? Geez, I do need to learn a lot. I ordered the book you recommended - can't wait to learn a thing or two :)

Speaking of... you sound like you know lots on the topic and are willing to share your knowledge. Ever thought of writing a book? Just sayin' :)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 1:03PM
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alan haigh

Eve, I make a decent living doing and no one has offered me an advance to write a book. A few months back we had a discussion about a collaborative effort of knowledgable people on this forum to write a book about fruit gardening but the fact is writing takes time and time is money.

Thanks for the compliment though.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:03PM
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H-man I am an author of three books. You need a good writer? I'm your gal. Also, have an agent. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:11PM
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