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Epitaph for a Tree: A lesson in unintended consequences  RSS feed

Neal Foley
Posts: 49
Location: union Maine
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Several years ago I bought an old farm which was proclaimed a "Shangri-La of apples" by a local old-varieties expert. It had over 150 different type of seedling apples, some were spitters, but about 50 types were really excellent. Along the road there stood one old apple, which in a 1939 areal photo of the farm had a huge crown. I figured the tree must have been there since 1880.

Fast forward to 2010, the tree was hanging on by a thread..... It had some rot and just a few live branches way up high. I pruned it with an idea to getting some decent grafting whips the following year. It never happened. While clearing a fence line two years ago I dropped several trees on either side of the old apple.... it opened it up to the light.

This spring I was amazed to see the apple in a blaze of blooms. I had never seen so much growth on the old thing. I no longer live at the farm so I didn't check on it's progress that much.


Yesterday I drove by the farm and was horrified to see the old tree on the ground. I couldn't believe my eyes...... It must have come down in the last winds due to hurricane Arthur. It was LOADED with apples...... what a loss! Many trees this spring didn't pollinate due to a late frost, but this one had.

It seems my pruning and exposing to the light, and mulching and adding nutrients in the form of grazing animal deposits has boosted the old thing in to a fine shape..... all except the roots. When I looked at the roots I couldn't believe it.... There were hardly any. The tree had tipped up the root ball and it was tiny. Probably given the lack of broad-reaching branches. It just couldn't bear the weight of it's new crop and the sail-mass of all those leaves. The root zone didn't have time to catch up to the vitality the trunk wanted to provide.

In hind-sight I would have taken things a bit more slowly in order to preserve this ancient tree. Now I have to negotiate with the EX to see if I can harvest the massive trunk for lumber.......

Topher Belknap
Posts: 205
Location: Midcoast Maine (zone 5b)
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I learned this lesson a few years ago, wish I could have passed it on. When you prune an old apple, make sure that it doesn't over-produce that first spring.

Thank You Kindly,
Dale Hodgins
Posts: 6795
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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