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Reconditioning old apple trees

 
Kelly Mitchell
Posts: 30
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We just bought a property with about 50 apple trees. I'd like to get a few going again, rather than waiting for 10 years for a new tree to take hold.
The apples are pretty scabby, but some of the trees are fairly productive. None of them tasted great, but I assume they once tasted good since the original farm had so many trees. The old farm dates back 150 years, so the trees could be quite old They haven't been tended in at least 20-30 years, possibly longer.
Any tips to get me started? Is it mainly a soil issue?
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Kelly - it may be that you have an orchard of cider apples
 
Kelly Mitchell
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Cider apples? How would I know?
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Kelly Mitchell wrote:Cider apples? How would I know?

Well, the trees in most orchards have been grafted, meaning that the top is a known variety like granny smith or honeycrisp that someone stuck on top of the tree. People generally have a specific reason they graft a variety onto the tree (such as the apple tastes good eaten fresh). If the apples don't taste very good eaten raw, that suggests that the person who did the grafting many years ago was trying to achieve some other purpose, and making cider might have been that purpose. Many cider apples have a bitter/crab-apple type taste when eaten raw.

Of course, another possibility is that the original apple tree died, and you are eating the apples from the offspring. Are the apple trees evenly spaced and in a row? That is usually a good sign that the original trees are still alive.

Also, it wouldn't take 10 years to start getting fruit from a tree you order through the mail. A peach tree you order today would probably have a good sized crop in 2017.
 
Scot Schmidt
Posts: 9
Location: Middle of Idaho
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Kelly we are in the same boat as you. I put these trees on a three year megaprune, so to speak. We are in our second year of pruning and currently topping a third of the tree if needed (if one out of three leaders are longer than the apple picker, they get hacked) then the next leaders will get cut in years to come. Last winter I just cut the dead and some of the big canopy branches that covered up the lower branches I could pick and also got some crossing and or touching branches out of there. Next winter will be more of the same as this winter. If you just top a tree your will get to many watersprouts (suckers) and have more pruning to do. By the way last summer we had a megacrop of apples, some of the really overgrown trees were kinda like eating a mashed potato, still tasted good.
 
Mike Hamilton
Posts: 82
Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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I just finished up a tree that was planted by the original owners [30' tall].it took 3 years to do but finally its caught up.
last season we had a good size apple but few on the tree [several other trees were poor too]
looking forward to this season to see the results.

Mike
 
Mike Hamilton
Posts: 82
Location: north end of the Keweenaw Mi.
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Scot Schmidt wrote:Kelly we are in the same boat as you. I put these trees on a three year megaprune, so to speak. We are in our second year of pruning and currently topping a third of the tree if needed (if one out of three leaders are longer than the apple picker, they get hacked) then the next leaders will get cut in years to come. Last winter I just cut the dead and some of the big canopy branches that covered up the lower branches I could pick and also got some crossing and or touching branches out of there. Next winter will be more of the same as this winter. If you just top a tree your will get to many watersprouts (suckers) and have more pruning to do. By the way last summer we had a megacrop of apples, some of the really overgrown trees were kinda like eating a mashed potato, still tasted good.



I swapped my apple picking basket with the head of the pole saw so I have 20' of reach just with the pole
we also have many wild trees in the Keweenaw free for the picking on CFA land

Mike
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau, Kelly,
When remediating an old orchard there is an organized method to follow.
First you need to clean up the understory so that there is nothing hindering the roots of the apple trees.
Second is pruning out all dead wood and all crossing branches. Third is working compost and composted manures into the soil around each tree,
work from the trunk out to the drip line of each tree.
Don't dig deep, mostly just a surface scratch less than six inches deep will do and it won't harm the roots.
Leave a space from right next to the trunk, that is about 6" wide all the way around the trunk undisturbed.
Watch the trees over the growing season and remove any new growth that crosses other branches.
Pick the fruit back as it develops so that the branches are not strained by the weight of the fruit left on the tree (this prevents the tree from having to drop fruits, which it will do if branches are over loaded).
If these are Cider Apple Trees, you can tell by taste as already mentioned or you can take some ripe apples and process them into juice and see how they taste once the juice has sat a while in the fridge.
Or this is a link to the NACM (National Association of Cider Makers) which has lots of information on cider apples and how to identify them.
 
Kelly Mitchell
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Great info! thanks a lot.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Your welcome, If you have any other questions on orchard revival feel free to pm them to me, or ask here.
 
Kelly Mitchell
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I do have more questions. Our soil in these parts is acidic. I have heard of using lime for apple trees (and gardens). Is this a sensible approach? What about other minerals? What gets depleted that might make sense to add?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Ag. Lime needs to be used sparingly on fruit trees, a little at a time, mixed with a carrier such as compost or mulch, is better than one big shot directly on the soil.
Get a soil test done, the more individual samples you can afford the better since soil in any garden/orchard/farm plot can vary widely.
Fruit trees, while fairly tolerant pH wise, do have an optimum pH and they thrive when soil pH is closest to that optimum, so it is important to know, tree to tree, what the pH is.
Your county extension service can do a complete soil analysis but you have to ask for that along with trace minerals.
The completed report will give you good guidelines as to what needs to be added and how much needs to be added.

The eyeball method can work but you need to know how to read what the leaves are telling you in order to add the wrong thing or to much of the right thing.

what apple leaves are telling you is a great site to learn how to read apple tree leaves for deficiencies.


 
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