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Apple trees not leafing out

 
Lori Ziemba
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Location: Northern California Mediterranean climate zone 10b
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Hi all,
I work in a community garden in San Francisco, CA, USA. We are zone 10b, very close to the ocean (maybe half a mile east), basically growing on sand dunes. About 3-4 years ago, we planted a lot of dwarf apple trees; I think most of them are Fuji. There are a few 4 in 1's. We also have one older apple tree.

The older tree looks good, but the younger trees are not leafing out well at all this year. Each tree has maybe 4-5 leaves on it. I don't see any signs of insects or disease, just no leaves. Some of us think that they aren't getting enough water, but I know that the one in my section gets watered deeply every week, and also has lots of mulch around it. A few inches below the surface, it's always nice and moist. Because it's sand, drainage is no problem. Our garden is organic, so no pesticides or herbacides have ever been used.

Personally, I think it was a mistake planting apples in our climate zone. I think they are not leafing out because the last 2 winters were incredibly warm, with no frost at all and very little rain (we are in a terrible drought here in California---4th year in a row).

I've attached a little drawing of what "my" tree looks like. I don't think it was pruned correctly, I think those long, skinny branches need to be cut way back.

So, I could use some ideas about pruning, and also about what's going on with the lack of leaves.
apple.jpg
[Thumbnail for apple.jpg]
tree structure
 
Lori Ziemba
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BTW, those bottom branches are about 4 feet long each.
 
Chris Knipstein
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Apple trees do require a good bit of cold. Is the older tree the same variety? Different varieties can require different amounts of cold. This publication might help.
http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5842/26069.pdf

You might also check the root flare of the trees. Is the first root(s) coming off the trunk right at the top of the ground? Can you see the trunk flare out before it goes into the ground? If not, carefully dig around the trunk and see how far down the first roots are. If the flare is buried even 2 or 3 inches it can affect the tree. The roots can do crazy things if the flare is buried, wrapping around the trunk, or each other strangling the main roots by girdling them or the main trunk. (Or if mulch has been piled up to deeply around the flare.) This is a really in depth publication on it, several pages in in talks more about the root flare being to deep.
http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/img/guide-stem-girdling-roots.pdf
 
Ann Torrence
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Kevin Hauser at Kuffle Creek Nursery is growing and propagating apples in Riverside, including Fuji, so it can be done in that climate, with careful varietal selection. Are the ones that are leafing out well different varieties than the ones that are slow?

Did you get a late freeze this year? That will definitely slow down a young tree. Check for girdling over the winter on the weak trees-animal gnawing around the base of the tree.


As for pruning, I think 4' is a bit much for those lower branches unless you support them on a trellis, which would be an entirely reasonable thing to do. Most dwarf trees will need support for their lifespan anyway, so you might as well live with it, taking corrective action probably isn't worth it.

Tree pruning is probably not best done by committee, LOL.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Chris Knipstein wrote:Apple trees do require a good bit of cold. Is the older tree the same variety? Different varieties can require different amounts of cold. This publication might help.
http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5842/26069.pdf

You might also check the root flare of the trees. Is the first root(s) coming off the trunk right at the top of the ground? Can you see the trunk flare out before it goes into the ground? If not, carefully dig around the trunk and see how far down the first roots are. If the flare is buried even 2 or 3 inches it can affect the tree. The roots can do crazy things if the flare is buried, wrapping around the trunk, or each other strangling the main roots by girdling them or the main trunk. (Or if mulch has been piled up to deeply around the flare.) This is a really in depth publication on it, several pages in in talks more about the root flare being to deep.
http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/img/guide-stem-girdling-roots.pdf


I don't remember being able to see any roots near the surface; I'll check the roots next time I go over there.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Ann Torrence wrote:Kevin Hauser at Kuffle Creek Nursery is growing and propagating apples in Riverside, including Fuji, so it can be done in that climate, with careful varietal selection. Are the ones that are leafing out well different varieties than the ones that are slow?

Did you get a late freeze this year? That will definitely slow down a young tree. Check for girdling over the winter on the weak trees-animal gnawing around the base of the tree.


As for pruning, I think 4' is a bit much for those lower branches unless you support them on a trellis, which would be an entirely reasonable thing to do. Most dwarf trees will need support for their lifespan anyway, so you might as well live with it, taking corrective action probably isn't worth it.

Tree pruning is probably not best done by committee, LOL.


Riverside is high desert, zone 9b. They actually get colder than we do here on the coast, zone 10b. We had NO frost at all this winter, let alone an actual freeze. I'll check around the trunck for girding, but since it is almost all our trees, I don't think that's the problem.

Yeah, committee...sigh. I have a nice living mulch going on around the blueberry, and the same guy who "pruned" the tree came along and ripped up my living mulch. :argh:
 
Lori Ziemba
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You guys have no idea what I have to deal with. The city actually dumps a load of mulch in front of our gate every few months, and we have people who complain about it!

"Oh, it's blocking the gate!"
"Oh. it looks unsightly!"

And my favorite, "Mulch is full of germs! I shoveld some and got pneumonia!"

Jesus wept.
 
Lori Ziemba
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OK, I found this: Fuji---Low chill? Those "blind" areas look a lot like what I'm seeing, altho we have almost no leaves at all.
 
Ann Torrence
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Fiesta Cranberry wrote:
Riverside is high desert, zone 9b. They actually get colder than we do here on the coast, zone 10b. We had NO frost at all this winter, let alone an actual freeze.

Kevin's also working with a group in Uganda, so I think 10B is not out of the range of possibilities. Jack Spirko did one of his better podcasts interviewing Kevin. If it were me, I'd shoot Kevin an email...he has done a lot of community garden type projects so he'll feel your pain.

 
Ann Torrence
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And if the variety is a problem, what an opportunity for a group project on grafting over to something that works. Not much to be lost if you still have viable rootstock. We hosted a grafting party at our house in March, about 75% of the grafts seem to have taken, most done by first-timers, which is pretty rewarding all around.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Ann Torrence wrote:And if the variety is a problem, what an opportunity for a group project on grafting over to something that works. Not much to be lost if you still have viable rootstock. We hosted a grafting party at our house in March, about 75% of the grafts seem to have taken, most done by first-timers, which is pretty rewarding all around.


We actually did do a group grafting project when we did this. I'm just thinking Fuji was a bad choice.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Ann Torrence wrote:
Fiesta Cranberry wrote:
Riverside is high desert, zone 9b. They actually get colder than we do here on the coast, zone 10b. We had NO frost at all this winter, let alone an actual freeze.

Kevin's also working with a group in Uganda, so I think 10B is not out of the range of possibilities. Jack Spirko did one of his better podcasts interviewing Kevin. If it were me, I'd shoot Kevin an email...he has done a lot of community garden type projects so he'll feel your pain.



Not a bad idea. I think Fuji was just a poor choice.
 
Patrick Mann
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Fiesta Cranberry wrote:And my favorite, "Mulch is full of germs! I shoveld some and got pneumonia!"


There's got to be a ton of fungal spores in wood chip mulch. I see mycelium forming after just a few days. Released spores could lead to breathing issues.
 
John Elliott
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Fiesta Cranberry wrote:
Ann Torrence wrote:
Fiesta Cranberry wrote:
Riverside is high desert, zone 9b. They actually get colder than we do here on the coast, zone 10b. We had NO frost at all this winter, let alone an actual freeze.

Kevin's also working with a group in Uganda, so I think 10B is not out of the range of possibilities. Jack Spirko did one of his better podcasts interviewing Kevin. If it were me, I'd shoot Kevin an email...he has done a lot of community garden type projects so he'll feel your pain.



Not a bad idea. I think Fuji was just a poor choice.


Could be a victim of climate change. California missed out on the chill hours this last winter by having one of the warmest winters ever. I have a Fuji, and it is doing fine here in Georgia, we got well over a thousand chill hours this last winter and I have apples on it this year. The low chill apple varieties are Anna, Golden Dorsett, and Ein Shemer, which can get by on a couple hundred chill hours (total hours in the winter that were below 45F). You may want to check with the county Agricultural Extension and find out how many chill hours you had.

If it is still waiting for winter chill hours, the tree may give up and leaf out late (well into the summer) and just punt on trying to make any blossoms and fruit.



 
Lori Ziemba
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John Elliott wrote:
Fiesta Cranberry wrote:
Ann Torrence wrote:
Fiesta Cranberry wrote:
Riverside is high desert, zone 9b. They actually get colder than we do here on the coast, zone 10b. We had NO frost at all this winter, let alone an actual freeze.

Kevin's also working with a group in Uganda, so I think 10B is not out of the range of possibilities. Jack Spirko did one of his better podcasts interviewing Kevin. If it were me, I'd shoot Kevin an email...he has done a lot of community garden type projects so he'll feel your pain.



Not a bad idea. I think Fuji was just a poor choice.


Could be a victim of climate change. California missed out on the chill hours this last winter by having one of the warmest winters ever. I have a Fuji, and it is doing fine here in Georgia, we got well over a thousand chill hours this last winter and I have apples on it this year. The low chill apple varieties are Anna, Golden Dorsett, and Ein Shemer, which can get by on a couple hundred chill hours (total hours in the winter that were below 45F). You may want to check with the county Agricultural Extension and find out how many chill hours you had.

If it is still waiting for winter chill hours, the tree may give up and leaf out late (well into the summer) and just punt on trying to make any blossoms and fruit.







Yup, I think it's climate change, too. We used to actually get winter here---very mild, but quite chilly. We would even get ice early in the morning sometimes. Not any more. No rain, no cold. I find it very frightening. The USDA quietly changed our zone from 9b to 10b.
 
Lori Ziemba
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I think I will try grafting some low chill scions onto the existing trees. Do you think having a middle stem of Fuji will affect the chilling hours needed? Or would it be better to chop the top off a but below the graft and just graft a new, low chill scion onto the stock?
 
Lori Ziemba
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I wrote to the apple guy in Riverside, and he said that lack of chill is not the problem, that Fuji actually needs 0 chill hours. So I dug around the stem of the tree to see what I could see. What I found was that that graft was about 4" below surface level. I also found a huge gopher hole leading right up to the tree. I didn't see any actual chewing of the trunck, tho. I left the hole excavated to expose the graft, and i blocked up the gopher hole with rocks. I'm still not sure if this is the cause of the tree not leafing out.
 
Chris Knipstein
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Lori Ziemba wrote: I wrote to the apple guy in Riverside, and he said that lack of chill is not the problem, that Fuji actually needs 0 chill hours. So I dug around the stem of the tree to see what I could see. What I found was that that graft was about 4" below surface level. I also found a huge gopher hole leading right up to the tree. I didn't see any actual chewing of the trunck, tho. I left the hole excavated to expose the graft, and i blocked up the gopher hole with rocks. I'm still not sure if this is the cause of the tree not leafing out.


With the graft being 4 inches below the surface, the root flare will be even deeper. The link I had above about it is a little long and talked more of the girdling roots caused by a buried root flare, this link might be better.

http://www.dirtdoctor.com/Root-Flare-Management_vq484.htm
 
Lori Ziemba
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Chris Knipstein wrote:
Lori Ziemba wrote: I wrote to the apple guy in Riverside, and he said that lack of chill is not the problem, that Fuji actually needs 0 chill hours. So I dug around the stem of the tree to see what I could see. What I found was that that graft was about 4" below surface level. I also found a huge gopher hole leading right up to the tree. I didn't see any actual chewing of the trunck, tho. I left the hole excavated to expose the graft, and i blocked up the gopher hole with rocks. I'm still not sure if this is the cause of the tree not leafing out.


With the graft being 4 inches below the surface, the root flare will be even deeper. The link I had above about it is a little long and talked more of the girdling roots caused by a buried root flare, this link might be better.

http://www.dirtdoctor.com/Root-Flare-Management_vq484.htm


I didn't want to dig any further because I didn't want to disturb the companion plants that are around the apple.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I suspect the lack of leaf out is due to the graft being so far below the surface. The proper depth for planting grafted trees leaves the graft around 2" above the soil surface. You will need to lift the tree this fall and then next year it will probably do better. Be sure to keep the soil dug out so the graft is not buried.

The gopher most likely is feasting on the tender roots not the trunk. It may be necessary to set a trap for that gopher.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:I suspect the lack of leaf out is due to the graft being so far below the surface. The proper depth for planting grafted trees leaves the graft around 2" above the soil surface. You will need to lift the tree this fall and then next year it will probably do better. Be sure to keep the soil dug out so the graft is not buried.

The gopher most likely is feasting on the tender roots not the trunk. It may be necessary to set a trap for that gopher.


Ugh. It would be a major job digging that tree up, and would wreck the whole companion planting I did around it. Personally, I'd rather let the stupid thing die. I'll keep the soil away from the graft, after that, it's on it's own. They went crazy planting these dopey apple trees all over the garden, and the few apples they produce just get stolen, anyway.
 
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