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Giant Leaves, no Fruit and Drooping Branches--What's wrong with my trees?!

 
Nicole Alderman
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I just can't seem to get a break this year with my fruit trees. My two large apple trees have some weird problems, neither having any fruit. One has giant leaves and sagging branches, and the other has tiny leaves that look dried out. I don't know how to fix them, and I don't want to make them worse!

Here's some pictures of the big-leafed, sagging tree. It's a gravenstine apple that we bought last year and made one apple last year. It didn't even make blossoms this year. I've mulched it with leaves, grass clippings, and duck bedding, but the grass and black medic don't seem to care. I've planted peas, strawberreis and walking onions around it, as well as daffodils. The deer munched on the tree quite a bit last year, thus the fence. We applied bone salve this year, and since it seems to be working at keeping the deer at bay, I'm willing to take the fence off, but I need to figure out what to do about the peas that are growing up it...

The big branch was doing great until just a week or two ago, whereupon it suddenly started sagging and the leaves started looking pretty flaccid, too. I don't' know if it was because it was rubbing against the fence's wires. I moved the branch and cut a bigger hole in the fencing so it wouldn't rub any more, but it's continued to sag more.

The little branch has always been rather saggy, and has started sagging more. It's never been in contact with fencing.

Does the tree have too much nitrogen? Did I prune it wrong (Not knowing it was a bad idea, I shortened the big branches, which might have lead to more leaf growth)? What can I do to make it better?
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Big-Leafed, Sagging Tree
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Big drooping branch that we finally resorted to propping up with a stick...
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This branch has been droopy for quite a while
 
Nicole Alderman
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Here's my other confusing tree. It's a Braeburn that we bought this year, bareroot, from a local nursery. It was full of nice happy blossums when we bought it. My husband picked it up in the morning on his way home from work (around 8:00am), and then left it in the car, on a hot day, with the root bag in the windsheild, for about two hours (when I woke up and asked him where the tree was). I rushed outside and poured water in the garbage bag that held the roots, and begun digging a hole at once. The tree perked back up with the addition of water, and seemed fine when planted. But, it's dropped all it's fruit (not surprising) and it's leaves are all kind of dry and curled up. I've been watering it almost daily in hopes that it was just transplant shock and so needs more water because it's root system is damaged. But, it doesn't seem to be helping. Any ideas?
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My dry (?) sad tree
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Happiest looking branch on the tree
 
John Wolfram
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You're expecting fruit off a second apple year tree?!! Stop it!!! Stop it NOW!

Seriously though, for an apple on semi-dwarfing rootstock you should hope for some apples in the 3rd or 4th year.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'm not really expecting it . It made an apple last year, so I understand it it's taking a year to build back up reserves. I mentioned it's lack of fruiting in case it was connected to it's giant leaves and drooping limbs. The drooping limbs are my main concern. I'm just listing every symptom I see, in case it helps someone identify what's wrong with it (if there is, indeed, anything wrong with it).
 
Dillon Nichols
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Hi Nicole,

Do you have a benchmark to compare the gravenstein leaves to, other than the sickly newcomer? They don't look all that giant to me, and the tree doesn't look bad, but it's kinda hard to tell from the picture. I can go measure the leaves on our Gravenstein tomorrow, for whatever good that does.

I'm not sure what to think about sagging limbs, though; if they are sagging now, they'll be in trouble when it decides to bear fruit! If it is only some branches, maybe they need to be removed... 'weak and drooping' is among the criteria for removal I've seen somewhere. Hopefully someone more informed comes along.

We would be pruning all those lower limbs off, with a goal of a single trunk until above deer height with a good margin, keeping in mind that the limbs will sag when fruiting, and deer will stand on their hind legs to pick apples. Of course if you intend to exclude the dastardly hoof-rats from the whole area you can prune a number of different ways...


The newer tree could be bad transplant shock after the unfortunate car adventure. How is the soil around these trees? Maybe some compost tea for a boost?

My favorite mulch to knock back grass is sheets of cardboard from the feed store recycling bin. I am verboten to apply this in the orchard, though... aesthetic reasons.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I realized after I posted the picture, that I really should have included a reference. I guess that's what I get for running outside to take the pictures while my toddler was sleeping. Guestimating from memory, though, the big leaves are about 5-6 inches long--they're easily twice as big as the leaves on the other trees. I'll measure them tomorrow! If I were to chop of the sagging branch would that affect the tree as to whether it puts more energy into leaves or fruit (I read somewhere that how you prune can encourage the tree to fruiting or leafing, and if you prune wrong, it can make the tree stop putting out fruit...)

As for the sad tree, it's growing in what had been a brush pile for about two years. I cleared the (mostly alder and elderberry) branches away and it left a nice mulch of crumbled trees. The soil was rather compacted, though, and hard to dig. I made a point to dig a big hole and to loosen the sides of the hole with my shovel so the roots could grow easily. I also put some fresh duck bedding from my ducklings, so that likely added some nitrogen. I didn't want to do too much, in case of nitrogen burn. Maybe I'll steal my husband's fish water an water the tree with that.... I can see about making some compost tea (we don't really have compost... the deer eat most everything we put in our pile...)
 
Dillon Nichols
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Ah yes, the hoof-rats are a menace in so many ways. Our place is the local deer-sanctuary since most of the invasive mansion-building city-folk fence their entire property to keep them out, and/or have dogs. We just have the garden and a small back yard fenced; if it was my call, I'd fence the orchard too. The deer density is even starting to be a an erosion problem on their favorite trails. Ridiculous.

Even just straight comfrey as a base for compost tea is worthwhile, though I admit I rarely get around to it. The deer don't seem interested in our comfrey, and it competes well with grass. Can be a menace though; we don't have the fancy sterile bocking-14 type, so we have to keep on top of it to prevent it going to seed.

You could try one of the enclosed plastic composters; I see them on usedvictoria for free pretty often. They are kinda lame since they're too small for proper hot-composting, but throw some red wrigglers in and it does work, just slower, and won't kill weed seeds. It's my dad's preferred method since it's kept the critter-problems down.


There are a variety of schools of thought on training apples trees... A fairly standard example is here. http://eap.mcgill.ca/CPTFP_7.htm

At the saltspring apple festival last year my favorite two orchards could not have been more different; Salt Spring Apple Co is a young orchard with extremely high density in rows, wire supported, on dwarfing rootstock, and he is following the french method of bending branches to control the tree, avoiding pruning whereever possible.

Meanwhile, Apple Luscious is a mixed 3-acre orchard of full-size trees, smothered in himalayan blackberry; pruning is minimal from what I could tell, possibly due to lack of time. I saw one hugely fruit-laden tree with the top freshly broken off.


Anyhow, back on topic: I took at look at our Gravenstein, and pictures are below. The Gravenstein leaf is on the left in both comparison shots; the others are just a couple of other apples I passed on the way back, to illustrate the size range.

These are all oldish trees, could be anywhere from 40 to 70+ years old; never fertilized, on poor soil, many with disease, and half requiring timber supports. They are irrigated in the summer with water from a peat-bottomed pond. We've no idea what rootstock they're on, probably a mix. The Gravenstein is one of the largest and healthiest of the 35-odd apples, but production isn't too impressive, presumably because it doesn't get a lot of sun. Hope that gives you some basis for comparison.

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Nicole Alderman
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Thank you so much for the comparison! I went and measured the leaves on the graventein, and the largest was 6.5 inches--so pretty much the same size as yours! I thought they looked huge because they're twice as big as my other trees' leaves, but it appears that it is normal! Whew!

I'll probably wait until next winter to prune off the drooping branches, just to be on the safe side. My husband really wants to keep our trees short enough to pick apples without needing ladders, so I can't prune them high enough that the deer can't get fruit. The deer do seem to stay mostly away from them now that the bone salve is on them, but I don't know if that will keep the deer from eating the apples...

As for the composter, we actually had one of those black plastic composters... some animal decided pretty quickly to just knock the thing apart to get inside (we have bears, raccoons, bobcats and coyotes here). So, we gave it to my brother, who lives in suberbia and doesn't have to deal with bears...

Ooooh, that's a good point about the comfrey. We have some growing around one of our trees that was gifted to us, and I don't know if we have the sterile kind, either. I better make sure it can't go to seed, just to be on the safe side! I guess I'll be chopping some down for compost tea! (The deer do like eating our comfery, but the thing is so vigorous that it grows back in no time at all).

Thank you so much for all your help! It's quite the relief to know my trees don't have anything seriously wrong with them!
 
Dillon Nichols
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No problem, glad it provides some peace of mind.

I can't imagine the composter holding up against a bear or coyotes... Bear are very, very scarce in my area, and no coyotes on the island. Our resident coon family could probably get in but for whatever reason they've left well enough alone for 20+ years... we don't compost meat or bread in it, so not as enticing as it might be.


I'd be interested to hear how the bone salve stands up when there's fruit on the trees; sounds pretty good so far.
 
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