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"Weak-Growing" Tree (Honeycrisp)--Does it need a trellis?

 
Nicole Alderman
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My parents just bought me a honeycrisp apple tree (I've got awesome parents!). But upon reading about the variety, I found that they are "weak-growing." What does "weak-growing" mean? One website said that the trees had to be grown on a trellis (such as espalier style), which isn't something I'm really prepared or desiring to do. How can I best care for this tree so it grows big and strong and healthy?

Here's a not-so-good picture of the tree, taken in bad lighting. It actually only has one leader, not two like the picture seems to depict.
100_0389.JPG
[Thumbnail for 100_0389.JPG]
 
Kyrt Ryder
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It means the variety is a slow grower that doesn't bounce back super vigorously from pruning.

It also means that it's probably best off on Semi-dwarf rootstock, Standard Rootstock would probably outgrow it while dwarfing rootstock would further stunt its vigor.
 
Dan Boone
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I've got one that's had two seasons of growth in the ground since my friend bought it for me at a big-box store (no idea what rootstock it might be on). Despite some serious deer browse and rabbit bark-nibbling the first winter, it's currently about eight feet tall and looks quite sturdy. It flowered but did not fruit this past summer. I'm happy with its progress. But I had not heard about the ''weak-growing" characteristic.
 
Ann Torrence
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Trellising is more about holding the weight of fruit to keep the union from the scion and the rootstock from breaking in a dwarfing tree than anything else. What size tree does the package say it will be, dwarf or semi-dwarf?

 
Miles Flansburg
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Not sure if this is it but my tree would have loads of fruit and the branches would all go from being straight to curving to the ground. After a couple of years of this it looked more like an umbrella frame.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Ann Torrence wrote: What size tree does the package say it will be, dwarf or semi-dwarf?


It's on semi-dwarf root stock .


Miles Flansburg wrote:Not sure if this is it but my tree would have loads of fruit and the branches would all go from being straight to curving to the ground. After a couple of years of this it looked more like an umbrella frame.

Is there a way to prune or help the tree to get stronger limbs? I have another tree (Gravenstein) that also has pretty droopy branches, and I'd like to prevent that with this tree if I can!
 
John Wolfram
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Are you sure Honeycrisp is weak-growing? The University of Minnesota (who developed the tree) describe their tree as moderately vigorous.

This new variety is also characterized by a moderately vigorous tree with a slightly upright growth habit. Trees bear fruit annually and do not require chemical or hand thinning. The variety has been hardy in the field at the above-noted location at Excelsior, Minn. with trees showing little winter injury and bearing fruit annually. Laboratory freezing tests of 1-year old wood conducted in December 1986 and January 1988 compared Honeycrisp to other common varieties for cold hardiness (Chart B). Honeycrisp showed less freezing damage than regent, Honeygold and Haralson in the December 1986 test and in similar tests in January 1988 Honeycrisp showed less injury than McIntosh and Honeygold, but more injury than Regent and Harlson.

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/PP07197.html
 
Alice Tagloff
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Even fully grown, 30 year old apple trees sometimes need a trellis. Even if this trellis looks more like a support jack. We have apple trees around my hometown that are older than my grandparents, and in the recent years with the warmer weather, over produce to such an extent that the fruit threatens to snap the branches off the trees.
There's one particular tree in town that has support beams under all it's limbs, literally, 4x6's, and steel jack beams in the past few years. But these beams are only necessary when there is to much fruit on the tree, or so the owner goes about it. It's a dwarf, short tree, and one year he used a car jack to shore up the lowest limb.
The scary thing about the apple trees around my hometown is that none of them are grafted, back then, people around here took what they could get, and that was the local 'farmer' starting trees from seeds, or a bored house-wife trying to grow it for a lark. So -all- the branches on all the trees around here, flower and fruit. One of oddest trees in town is this yellow apple that just might be a honeycrisp, when the tree fruits, the apples are often grapefruit sized but extraordinarily soft, even letting it fall or grabbing it to hard will bruise it. All the other trees are some variant of crabbe apple for the most part.

As for an apple tree flowering and no fruit, a single tree is probably not a cultivar(self pollinating), you often need a second tree that's male, big box stores often have no idea what they're selling when it comes to fruit trees, and the nurseries that sell to them often don't care to have grafted branches from both trees onto the rootstock, which makes the trees more expensive. The ones you tend to get from big box stores often only have two or three branches that are grafted to bare fruit, meaning that if you want to get a full blown tree with fruit all around, you eventually have to do your own grafting. And even then, you have to get your pollinators drawn to the tree, especially if it's not 'common' in your area, they don't know what it is. My parents are now finally getting apples from their trees, and it took putting planters full of lupines between the trees to get the bees to even go near them.

What you should try to get to compliment your apple tree would be a Gage tree. Green Gage's are like a cross between a plum and a Damson. They are sweet, rich in vita-c, and heavily juicy, when you bite into a properly grown Gage, your not eating your first bite, your drinking it. Around here, there used to be some Gage's, but a tree blight resulted in almost all the Damson's and Gage's getting cut down, which is a crying shame. Gage trees originated from England, so they get to be quite frost hardy. Around here, we're about zone 3/4. Damson's are a small type of plum/grape, they're like sour-tangy prunes with large stones in them. There have been years where there's no apples because of the weather, and the Damson's -always- bear fruit. They're also frost hardy, and both types of trees lend to jam and jelly making, tho you can just bottle Gage's. Gage's and Damson's are cultivars, meaning they don't need a second tree, but all cultivars do well with something of the same type around, especially each other. The ones we had in our old homestead garden, were actually planted together(like someone had a bucket of the stone pits and just dumped them down a hole to see if they'd grow), and they grew up in a big pile of multiple trunks twined together, some years you couldn't tell one fruit from the other. Tho be warned, a well-growing Gage and Damson tree will get to around 30 feet, or something with a canopy like a Dogwood, so they need their eventual space, and they're often hard to find.
 
Russell Olson
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Mine are extremely weak growers, I planted 4 of various ages and from seperate sources. The first year was fine, even got one apple.
Since then they simply haven't grown, and get strange looking leaves about June. Hard, dark green, and leathery. They just don't put on new growth for me even after heavy pruning. I certainly hope this is a local soil thing and not indicative of the cultivar since it's a very popular one. I will be taking scions and grafting them onto other trees then ripping them out of the ground in favor of other varieties.
Good luck, they don't seem to me like they have any different strength to their wood, I don't think it would require a trellis or anything, just be aware they may have trouble putting on new growth.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Russell, are the leaves kind of folded over and kind of white and fuzzy in the fold. Spider mites are the only leaf insect problems. Fire blight is the main disease problem here.

Alice, that yellow apples sounds like a Lodi I had many years ago. Is it an early apple? I know there must be other kinds that fit that description, but it made me remember the Lodi instantly. They were really good for cooking before they're soft and ripe.
 
Russell Olson
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Ken W Wilson wrote:Russell, are the leaves kind of folded over and kind of white and fuzzy in the fold. Spider mites are the only leaf insect problems. Fire blight is the main disease problem here.

Alice, that yellow apples sounds like a Lodi I had many years ago. Is it an early apple? I know there must be other kinds that fit that description, but it made me remember the Lodi instantly. They were really good for cooking before they're soft and ripe.


No, I've found an explanation online before. It's actually a trait of the honey crisp in certain situations. Apparently is certain environments the tree will pump carbohydrates into the leaves causing clorosis and slowing growth, especially in trees with no fruit.
It's a delicious apple, and the star of the apple show here in Minnesota, but they've gotten beat in my orchard by trees several years younger than them, including a parent of the honey crisp the golden crisp. I tend to think this may be a poor choice for an organic or no spray orchard.
I'm going to do some grafting and see if it is possibly a rootstock issue for me, but this is it for these trees if they don't look better this year.
 
Ann Torrence
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Nicole Alderman wrote:
Is there a way to prune or help the tree to get stronger limbs? I have another tree (Gravenstein) that also has pretty droopy branches, and I'd like to prevent that with this tree if I can!

Droopy limbs can be a good thing. Stefan Sobkowiak in his video has the best explanation that I will attempt to paraphrase. Fruit hormones are triggered when branches are pulled toward the horizontal. So you get fruit faster that way. To strengthen the branches to support the weight, start training them early with spreaders or clothespin or weighted strings to bend the branches toward a 45-60 degree angle.

Some trees just droop. There's one in Capitol Reef National Park's Jackson orchard that looks like a weeping cherry when loaded with fruit. I don't know the look of a Honeycrisp or Gravenstein, not really grown here, but unless you want a classic tree form for landscape purposes, I'd be happy with droopy branches. This spring I'll be working toward achieving more of that here.
 
John Polk
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I find it hard to believe that the Honeycrisp (TM) is considered 'weak growth'.
The UMinn spent a lot of time developing that tree for their brutal winters.
Here in Washington, as older orchards are being upgraded, Honeycrisp is quite often the choice...
...they sell for at least 2X what other types do in the market here.

I cannot imagine that commercial orchards would waste their time (&$) on a weak growth tree.

I would be willing to bet that that reputation is based on the choice of rootstock.
Some root stocks do poorly on certain soils, or in certain weather situations.
This poor reputation is probably the result of people using the wrong rootstock for their site.

The Honeycrisp is my favorite eating apple - the perfect balance of Sweet/Tart, plus a wonderful crispness.
Fantastic apple in my opinion.
 
Nicole Alderman
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John Polk wrote:I find it hard to believe that the Honeycrisp (TM) is considered 'weak growth'.
The UMinn spent a lot of time developing that tree for their brutal winters.
Here in Washington, as older orchards are being upgraded, Honeycrisp is quite often the choice...
...they sell for at least 2X what other types do in the market here.

I cannot imagine that commercial orchards would waste their time (&$) on a weak growth tree.

I would be willing to bet that that reputation is based on the choice of rootstock.
Some root stocks do poorly on certain soils, or in certain weather situations.
This poor reputation is probably the result of people using the wrong rootstock for their site.

The Honeycrisp is my favorite eating apple - the perfect balance of Sweet/Tart, plus a wonderful crispness.
Fantastic apple in my opinion.


Here's some of the websites I saw talking about Honeycrips as "weak growth": http://extension.psu.edu/plants/tree-fruit/news/2012/strong-leader-growth-is-critical & http://extension.psu.edu/plants/tree-fruit/news/2015/defruiting-young-trees-of-weak-growing-varieties-like-honeycrisp & http://balconygardenweb.com/care-and-growing-honeycrisp-apples-how-to-grow-honeycrisp-apple-tree/ & http://woodtv.com/2014/10/10/why-honeycrisp-apples-are-so-expensive/ & http://www.goodfruit.com/race-to-the-top-honeycrisp-growing-pressures/. They pretty much all depict--and/or give instructions--for growing it on a trellis. When I tried to find out what "weak growth" meant in a tree, nearly all my results came up talking about Honeycrips, but I think that was just Google showing what it thought I wanted to see, as I'd just searched for Honeycrisp apples (when I did the same search in a different browser, I didn't get results about Honeycrips)

The Seattle Times Plant Society termed it "Weak Growing (T1)" http://www.seattletreefruitsociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2011-honeycrisp.pdf, and this page seems to go into more detail as to what "T1" means http://fruitsoxsandmore.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Intro-to-Tree-Vigor-for-Apple-Varieties.pdf. It appears that I don't want to let it fruit until it reaches around the height I want it at?
 
Ann Torrence
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I don't have time to study all the links, but the PSU and the Goodfruit ones are showing pictures of dwarf trees on commercial trellis systems. What they are talking about is keeping the very young trees on dwarfing and precocious rootstocks from fruiting so hard and fast they overwhelm the young tree's wood structure. Like it trying to make a full crop in the tree's second year. Look at those pictures carefully and imagine 40-50 lbs of fruit hanging off the limbs and you see the problem. You just aren't going to have that problem on a semi-dwarf rootstock.

Do know that the research you are finding is all targeted toward commercial growers with hundreds or thousands of acreswho are being advised to plant on dwarfing rootstock at extremely high density, trellis the heck out of everything, get ROI starting in the second or third year and replant in 20. They expect fashions in fruit to change (Red Delicious out, Honeycrisp in) by the time the dwarf trees wear themselves out. It's a business loan game, the investment of $10K + an acre for infrastructure only pays if you get fruit fast.

What they mean be weak growing is really the term low vigor. Relative to other scions on the same rootstock, that tree grows slower. Take a look at this article: http://www.goodfruit.com/choose-the-right-rootstock-for-honeycrisp/ So the commercial guys pack 'em tighter (this article suggests dwarf trees at 2' spacing!) or put it on a more vigorous rootstock. For the the backyard grower, you aren't getting the myriad of choices I do when I buy 100 or 500 trees. Yours is almost certainly on MM111 (about the same as the MM106 in the chart) and will have plenty of time to get established. It won't be a huge tree, which will be nice for managing it over its lifetime.

Now for something you can do something about: what are you going to pollinate this bad boy with? It looks like it's a midseason bloomer, which is nice. Anything nearby?

 
Nicole Alderman
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Thank you, Ann! That some great information. We currently have a Liberty, Jonagold, Gravenstein, Gala, and Braeburn which all flowered last year, as well as a random apple seedling my husband sprouted (only 3 feet tall and in it's third year) and an Antonovka we planted last year (about 6 feet tall). From what I was reading on Orange Pippen Fruit Tree website that the Braeburn and eventually the Antonovka should be good pollinators. All the apple trees are all within 100 feet or so of each other (two rows, spaced 15-18 feet apart). I'm hoping that should be good!
 
Ann Torrence
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Sounds like a nice selection of pollinators. Did you see my bloom chart thread? You might have fun tracking what blooms when with it.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Thank you! I'm glad you think they'll all pollinate each other. The first year we had apple trees, we only had the Liberty, Jonagold and Gravenstein. I kind of went in a panic when I realized none of them would pollinate each other, and I ended up getting a bouquet of apple flowers from my mother and using a paintbrush to pollinate. As it was, I barely made it in time because her apple trees were all two weeks ahead of mine due to climate!
 
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