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Crazy out of control apple trees...

 
Josh Smallwood
Posts: 10
Location: Southside VA foothills of the Blue Ridge 7a
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So I bought this property in May and wasn't sure what to do with these trees at the time so I figured I'd wait till fall. Well, it's here!!! I've got three mature apple trees that somebody did a butcher job on within the past three to four years and it's way out of control now. I'm very new to fruit trees but have been trying to do my research and I know that for fruit I need horizontal and downward, not vertical and more vertical. Where the heck do I even start though. My original plan was to thing from inside out, taking at least a third of the growth out this fall but can I just go ahead and thin this baby out big time? I've searched YouTube and the forum but can't find anything this bad and I don't just want to cut it down and start over. Other than these three trees I have no fruit that will be in production for at least 2-3 years and one of the three put on some great apples this year that we've canned and canned some more from. Picture below. It was taking late in the evening with night settings so it's the best I have at the moment.

 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
Posts: 684
Location: Richmond, Utah
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Josh, that's a great looking tree! There's nothing wrong with letting your tree grow into it's natural form. The apples that you can't get to will be for the flocks of birds that visit in the winter when other food is scarce. There are many reasons to prune, but they are all about you, not the tree or the myriad creatures that your tree provides for. Until you absolutely KNOW what to do, don't! Just let it be.
I would suggest that you plant some friends for your trees. Since fruit trees are typically a mid story species and need taller trees to provide shade for the tree tops, I like to plant Honey Locust, Mulberry and walnuts in the orchard with them. Once you get the land more healthy, the tree will become so laden with fruit, that the branches will bow down to you for easy picking.
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 632
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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I prune my fruit trees in the late winter because A) it is easier to see the structure of the limbs without the leaves, B) any ice/deer damage that occurs during the winter can be compensated for, and C) the pruning cuts heal faster when the trees are active as compared to when they are about to go dormant. Sometimes I also prune in the middle of the summer, but summer pruning is done mainly for size control while later winter pruning is more for designing the structure of the tree.
 
Will Holland
Posts: 300
Location: CT zone 5b
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I'm in a similar boat as the OP (bought property a few months ago, have shabby apple trees) except OP's tree photo looks WAY better, and my trees didn't produce this year. My trees also have a bunch of dead wood, and one of them is sick.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Personally I disagree with Bill's comment above - there is something to be said for letting a tree take it's natural form. However, in this case there is nothing natural about it's form - it has been badly butchered in the recent past, hence the huge growth of near vertical water shoots. A tree growing naturally from seed is highly unlikely to end up with a growth habit like this, short of a some catastrophic storm damage or the like.

I would also wait for winter, so you can see what is going on more clearly, then wade in there. Apple trees do well with plenty of light and air circulation, so I wouldn't be afraid of taking off a lot of material. Some of the stems, if they are smallish and well placed, could be bent and trained into a more horizontal/downwards position to encourage fruiting in subsequent years.
 
Patrick Mann
Posts: 302
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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That's a great looking tree. Given time, branches will naturally bend down due to the fruit weight. I would consider thinning it out a bit, but nothing drastic. Also, winter pruning can encourage more water sprouts.

Will, sounds like your trees need a bit of nurturing. Cut out dead wood and crossing branches; clean up under the tree and put down a couple of inches of compost. Then see how they do next yearl
 
Josh Smallwood
Posts: 10
Location: Southside VA foothills of the Blue Ridge 7a
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I appreciate all of the responses. I plan on waiting until all of the leaves are off to make a 100% determination as to what needs done. One of the three trees I think is on dwarf rootstock and isn't nearly as bad off as the other two. The one on dwarf gave me tons of apples while the other two produced nothing other than good looking flowers this spring. They also developed yellow spots all over the leaves which I need to do something about as well. I plan on doing a good coat of sheet mulching under each tree with some support species tucked in there. I may also do some black locust in the general area for nitrogen fixation but I have no intentions of turning my entire back yard in to a food forest due to my time and resources. Plus my wife is only on board for so much permaculture I will be doing a greenhouse this fall as well which will help me get some of this going for the spring.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1575
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Overcrowding of branches can contribute to fungal problems in fruit trees - poor air circulation i think.
 
Will Holland
Posts: 300
Location: CT zone 5b
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really sorry to Josh for hijacking your thread and making it about me.

the tree on the left of the photo below is totally dead, and the one next to it is not happy. its leaves had brown spots with what looked like little brown fungi sticking out of the brown spots even when the leaves were new in the spring.



these two trees are just crazy overgrown and have some dead branches. I want to prune them if it will make a difference.
 
Josh Smallwood
Posts: 10
Location: Southside VA foothills of the Blue Ridge 7a
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No need to apologize. It helps me to hear responses and see your pictures. If it wasn't somewhat on topic i may feel otherwise but I appreciate all of the feedback. I've been staying in the shadows for a while but have recently figured out that the forum is pretty accepting and is here to help!
 
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