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Jane Southall
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Location: Limestone, TN
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This is my second year on this property.  I have three apple trees which appear to be old.  Not in good health.  I have collected seeds of dandelion, red clover, and chickweed for under planting.  Yet, I feel they need a boost of something more immediate.  I have no funds, so I can't purchase products.  I make compost tea, yet is hard to recover an acre with compost tea.  And I want to give a little bit to everything on property.  Yet, need to find a way to give more to the apples.  Any input would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.
 
Todd Parr
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The first thing I would do is give them a good pruning.  If you prune off the branches that are growing up and down, and open a "chimney" by removing everything except the main branches for the first 6 inches from the trunk out, you will do the tree a lot of good.  Just opening it up will probably have a greater effect than any amendments you can add in the short-term.  If they haven't been pruned in a long time (or ever), you may have to do it in stages so that you don't remove too much at a time.  I understand that some people don't believe in pruning, but my own opinion is that pruning will do more to regenerate a tree most than anything else.  I would also put a nice thick layer of mulch around it for the first couple of feet out from the trunk and then plant your other seeds out further than that.
 
Jane Southall
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I have been researching the pruning.  I have no axe, yet need to find a neighbor to borrow from.  I have a hand saw, though.  One has been struck by lightning and hard it hit in a storm.  Still alive though. Also storms have pruned the other two a bit.  I wasn't certain if I should heavily mulch at the base.  I did start my under planting out a couple of feet from the tree.  One of the trees is in a very moist area.  I can tell by amount of smartweed.  We have not had our usual dry summer so have been uncertain about mulching the wet area.  Thank you so much for the input. 
 
Todd Parr
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Jane Southall wrote:I have been researching the pruning.  I have no axe, yet need to find a neighbor to borrow from.  I have a hand saw, though.  One has been struck by lightning and hard it hit in a storm.  Still alive though. Also storms have pruned the other two a bit.  I wasn't certain if I should heavily mulch at the base.  I did start my under planting out a couple of feet from the tree.  One of the trees is in a very moist area.  I can tell by amount of smartweed.  We have not had our usual dry summer so have been uncertain about mulching the wet area.  Thank you so much for the input. 


Your saw is a far better tool for pruning than an axe.  Axes only have one use with trees as far as I'm concerned  

I'm one of the people that believe mulching is always a good idea.  If you have problems with excess moisture, you may want to keep the mulch back away from the trunk a few inches.  If your area isn't excessively wet and your mulch is coarse, say heavy wood chips, then I would mulch right up to the tree.  People disagree on that, so it's your decision.
 
Jane Southall
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True on axe.  I guess I simply need to spend the time  with the saw!  I don't have wood chiips.  Just plant materials.  I will do the mulch and use my saw.  Thanks again. 
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Jane, Todd has given some on point advice.  Never use an axe to prune any tree, and axe is for trail blazing or felling trees.
Do prune those apple trees, take out all the dead wood first, then take out any branches that cross any other branch, then take out most of the inner facing branches. This method makes sure you are only removing what needs to be removed for good tree health.
Do Not cut a branch right next to the trunk, leave the collar in place (this is what the tree will use to seal the cut and then scab over so the bark remains intact and that reduces insect and disease infiltration).
Do take those trimmings and use them for something, I have a chipper so I take trimmed branches and turn them into wood chips for mulching.

Mulch will do so many wonderful things for your apple trees, but do leave an open to the soil ring of at least 6 inches from the trunk to the edge of the mulch, that gives the trunk the breathing room it needs and prevents voles from gnawing the bark.

Good luck, reviving apple trees is always worthwhile ( I did this to a Johnny Apple Seed planted orchard in Newburgh NY back in 1967 and even though that orchard had not produced any apples for years, The year after I started taking care of it, it produced 35 bushels of apples and as the years went by it kept on producing good quantities of apples.

Redhawk
 
Jane Southall
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Thank you, Redhawk.  Originally from Arkansas.  Encounter hawks human and otherwise, frequently.  Thank you, for advice.  I will be careful on the pruning and the mulching.  I have some Apple limbs in barn, from last year.  May use for hugel.  No chipper, but I always use everything for something.  I fully feel they will recover.  I have witnessed amazing recoveries, in my time.  Fruit trees are new to me.  Have a peach too.  Peach is faring a bit better.  Thank you.  Both of you.
 
Travis Johnson
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Here in Maine the standard pruning procedure is to wait until January to prune, then prune hard. When you think you have pruned too much, prune the tree again just as hard. As I said in an earlier post, you cannot kill an apple tree. The apples will come, just on less branches so you get a lot more of them.

If you ever can fertilize and do, remember to always fertilize whin the drip area. Apple trees have poor root systems and it is a waste to try and feed roots that are not there.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Indeed Travis, when the apple tree is pretty healthy you can even "Pollard" it, that is, cut all the branches off to form a Knob. I saw that done in France, the trees were in a very old (1700's established) orchard, the workers were standing on what looked like a mushroom cap, the result of many, many years of pollarding. The next spring new branches grew from this cap and each one was loaded with apples. I've never tried to do this to a tree, mostly because none of my customers wanted it done to their trees.



 
Jane Southall
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Thank you both so much.  So in Maine, January.  So Zone 7 maybe February or march.  I like the pollarding.  I view as a space conserved.  My kids view as no lower limbs to climb on.  Taking all this in consideration.  What do you think is the best handsaw, for pruning? 
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I prefer a pruning saw, the curved blade allows you to get in where you need to for a proper cut.

check this good article out pruning saw review

Redhawk

 
Shelah Horvitz
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I have the same problem — sick old apple trees on a property bought a few years ago. Their problem is round-headed apple borers. I've gone in numerous times with piano wire and knife to get the worms and always I think I've got it then a few weeks later, more frass. We planted about 25 young apple trees and they've infected about four of them so far. So I've gone in and attacked the borers on the young trees I think they might be OK so far but these old trees are serving as borer nurseries. I've painted all the trunks with different things — latex/joint compound, clay, Surround — and I find it does not protect the tree, it only makes the frass show up better. At first I was gingerly with the knife, just used the piano wire, but the damage is getting so extensive that this year I went and cut out everything the least bit soft and rotted, went in up and down to try to root out where the borers were hiding with the wire, and in the mother host tree, they're still there. I don't know what to do.

I pruned the trees pretty severely the first spring and that did them a world of good, but the borers threaten the whole orchard.
 
Jane Southall
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Redhawk, I found a machete type pruning saw.  Dual purpose.  Might try that.  Thanks.  Shelah, I looked up natural enemies of your borer.  You might not want woodpecker.  Have you tried attracting nuthatches?  Just a thought.  Good luck to you.  You have my sympathies.
 
Shelah Horvitz
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Jane Southall wrote:Shelah, I looked up natural enemies of your borer.  You might not want woodpecker.  Have you tried attracting nuthatches?  Just a thought.  Good luck to you.  You have my sympathies.


Nuthatches! Who knew! We are in the middle of a forest of white pine and balsam fir, American beech, red oaks — lots of nut trees — and we have already planted walnuts and chestnuts. I have not seen any nuthatches but didn't know (until just now) how to identify them, so we may have them. We have put out bird houses (for barn swallows, to eat the mosquitoes and black flies) — that have attracted only chickadees but that's the right size bird. We haven't put out bird feeders. So brilliant, we'll try black oil seed and see what that accomplishes. Either way, many of our wild trees in the forest are being attacked by various plagues and having birds around to keep the insect pests down could only be a good thing. Thanks for the tip!
 
Jane Southall
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I will put your problem in my notebook.  If I run across anything else, will let you know.  I love to research.  One can never have too many birds.  Or so I tell my cats when they kill one.  Which luckily is rare!  Thanks on mosquitos.  Need help there!
 
Jim Gardener
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I am very satisfied with the Corona pruning saw. It is just the right size to get in and around the branches, cuts fast, stays sharp and is comfortable to use. Check out the YouTube reviews.
 
Steve Sherman
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I'd be cautious about pruning any fruit tree in the summer, unless you need to remove broken branches from a storm (peach trees are a possible exception). Fire blight and other diseases can enter thru pruning cuts. That is one reason why most orchards prune in late winter.

You might better study the trees and decide which branches you want to remove, mark them with tape or paint, but do the pruning in Jan or Feb.

Also, if you suspect that any of these trees might be diseased (or even if not) it would be wise to wipe or dip your pruning tools with a disinfectant (alcohol or diluted Cl bleach) between cuts. That way you won't be spreading any diseases to new branches and trees.
 
Jane Southall
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I looked up the Corona.  7 inch diameter.  Nice.   I don't think there is disease, just lack of nutrients.  Bugs but that is to be expected, with sickness.  Yes, I will do Jan/Feb.  Thank you, both.
 
Steve Sherman
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Another possible pruning tool is a Saws-all, either a battery powered one or an AC one with enough extension cords. Probably not worth running out and buying one, but if you happen to already have it in your tool chest, all you need is a coarse wood blade for it to do pruning (they now make special pruning blades for it).

Pro orchardists are coming to use these quite a bit these days, as they work well with branches from about 3/4" to 4 or 5" in diameter.
 
Hans Quistorff
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A tip on pruning with a saw: Find the collar ridge in the bark around the limb then come out from it and cut underneath so at leas 1/3 of the diameter before cutting from the top  then the bark will not tear when the branch breaks off.  On a large branch come out a foot or more to be sure then cut it closer without the weight of the limb.

The tree borers in my area only eat rotten wood so hollow out trees that have had large limbs removed so that rain water sits in the exposed cut and starts rotting where the wood cracks. The most hollow ones are disposed to break with heavy snow or a heavy set of fruit. Do not fill holes wit cement it only makes the rotting worse and damages chainsaws when the tree hase to be cut up. A tarpaper roof worked good on one tree and made the hollow available for bees.
 
Jane Southall
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I don't have one in my toolbox.  My toobox  is sparse.  But I will check it out.  I like tools.  I am not sure I understand the hollowing out.  I will research it.  Have ptsd.  My brain doesn't work well, sometimes. Will read again in morning.  Will probably make sense then.  Thanks, all.
 
Faye Corbett
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When I moved to my current homestead 17 years ago, the apple trees were dead and dying from excessive fireblight, as well as the pear trees.  I put chicken tractors on them and it rejuvenated them (after pruning out the dead limbs and opening centers), more than any other single thing.  I also put out some minerals for the trees, in later years when I found out they needed that, gypsum, soft rock phosphate, a little wood ash.  Today I add more than that and use a little diatomaceous earth, azomite, kelp, boron and selenium, the last two of which are deficient on east coast soils where I live.  Getting wonderful, heavy crops now. 
 
Susanna Pitussi
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Just chiming in to echo the value of pruning. I've been working with 2 ~ thirty year old apple trees that hadn't been pruned in at least 15 years, maybe 20.

I was quite timid with the first pruning, 2 years ago, mostly taking out a lot of the small branches growing every which way throughout the centre. I didn't notice much of a difference after that round.

In early February this year I was a lot less timid and took out all the branches that were crosding and all the dead and less healthy branches. However, I only did one tree that day and didn't get back to the second one before the weather warmed up.

Now, I'm definitely seeing a difference between the two trees. The one I pruned twice is looking healthier, and the apples so far are bigger and less scabby. I can't wait to do the next round of pruning on both of them!

I also made the small orchard area into chicken pasture in July. They're starting to get a lot of the grass scratched up under the trees (I scatter cracked corn for them where I want the grass gone) and fertilizing the area and eating any bugs they can find. My next step is to dig up the comfrey my neighbors have offered and plant some of that under and around the trees for chopping and mulching, in addition to wood chips.

My biggest challenge is getting to the branches that I can't reach, even with a ladder. These trees are really tall and I'm going to have to get an arborist or a much longer saw!
 
David Livingston
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One thing I would suggest folks look out for in these older trees is suckering . This is not a problem as such as it means free apple trees just dig up the suckers in winter plant somewhere else and hey presto free apple trees you may have to graft on your favourate apple on to them but that's not a big issue .

David
 
Trevor Walker
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Has anyone mentioned pea gravel as mulch and larvae barrier around the trunks?

Some fantastic books by Michael Phillips, The Apple Grower, and The Holistic Orchard.
Specifically he mentioned the pea gravel as barrier against curculio larvae, which must climb from fallen fruit to the trunk, and up to new fruits.
 
Trevor Walker
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Also his suggestion, mulch with "ramial"(sp?) mulch.
The twigs, small branchs and such have concentrations of new, recently living wood. The mulch made of large branches, and of trunks is higher in tannins and lower in nutrients needed for growth/healing.
 
Trevor Walker
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@ Shella, etc al:
I would again recommend those books, or find his online resources for current info on your round headed borers.
(That is borers, not voters, silly autocorrect!)

In addition to birds, y'all can find a source for any number of predator insects sold specifically to help sort other insect problems. Research is a must, though.

One thing to consider is if it is not time to remove the infected tree root and branch.
If all else fails, save the orchard from the destructive bugs.
I can imagine a situation where a beautiful tree lasted decades in a prime spot, but through erosion and other factors the spot is no longer prime, or not for an old tree anyway. Wet feet, for instance.
And one might be better off planting new elsewhere, then using the former spot for what fits better.
 
David Gould
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If the tree is well established in the root & it's not a tree full of scab & canker ( too wet ground  ) an old apple tree can be rescued in a period of about six years . Which is often the time it takes for a newly purchased apple sapling to start producing reasonable fit crops  .

  This is done by taking cuttings about 18 inches long and grafting them in to the trunk at the height you desire up to about six foot off the ground .
Once the cuttings have taken  you might have saved enough for a reasonable pruning saw or met up with some one who'll lend you theirs    simply cut the branches off above where the cuttings are growing .

Apple wood when dried for a year or two makes excellent stove wood burning & if in a decent size can be used to make some astounding furnitures with fantastic colourings  .  .

Lightening strikes on trees tend to have a rather long lasting effect so cutting to a stump 2 foot high & grafting is about the only usefull way forward with the original root I can suggest .


Not having much money ... Brace yourselves ...
My dad suffered tremendously as a result of his experiences in WW2  He caught some very nasty tropical diseases whilst in India which mad him very sick for the rest of his life  .& as a result we mum , dad & four kids  lived a very very meagre existence in the middle of nowhere in a tumble down place that was about 140 years old .  Money was tighter than a ducks backside & they're are water tight  .

Dad used to cut the grass ( after taking out the perennial weeds by hand ) on our acre & a half garden with his scythe  . Then he & mum  turned it as for hay making  with long handled forks after he'd finished work two ot three times a week.
Till it started to show as well dried hay  .
Then they laid lay it in a 2 foot deep bed & used the the contents out of our " honey bucket " toilet mixed with a few buckets of well water & some chicken muck to get the hay rotting down to make the compost that our hard clay rarely dug garden sodesperately needed .

There was an old mess of a very sour cooking apple tree out the front that had cankers on the wood ( too wet or too acid soil )  & only produced badly scabbed apples .
Some of the " Honey Dew "  he made was poured into 2 foot deep holes he'd dug about six feet back from the trunk .. the next year we got apples without scabs .

Knowing that sugar rationing was going to end fairly soon he also started to grow damson plum trees from small rooted cuttings  so we could make plum jam for vitamins during winter .  All 18 of them survived with TLC , his composts & of course his " Honey Dew  " feeding

Once we got our own compost heaps going in that first year  things eased off considerably in the gardening for consequent years .

Once he'd cut off the worst of the canker & painted the wounds with a tar wash  the tree went on to serve us well till we left some 8 yrs later when we were rehoused after some of it fell apart .

Not having compost . look up " The Berkley 18 day hot composting method "   from the Cornell university .
Not only does it give the method ( which I can say works well every time as I've used if for the last 1 years ) it also gives you  pages & pages of suggestions as to what can be used to make your compost ..you will be really surprised if you have not looked into compost making I can tell you.
 
Susanna Pitussi
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Thanks so much David for what you mentioned about the compost and apples with scabs!

I'm in Nova Scotia and you can tell how wet and acidic our property is by how well the blueberries are doing just 12 feet from the apple trees.

I never realized it was the damp and acid soil causing the scab! I just dumped a load of almost finished compost under one tree for the chickens to spread and play in.

But I may also try composting into a couple of deeper holes like your Dad did. We're hard pressed to even get a fence post down 2 feet here without hitting granite or shale, but I can probably get a couple of narrow holes dug.
 
Jane Southall
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Thank you Faye, Susanna, Trevor, David and David.  Excited to have all this info.  Will work on the mineral.  Yes, comfrey.  Maybe stinging nettle.  I will check out the composting methods.  I honestly only make tea because it's fast.  And I need that, at present.  When a property has only been treated with conventional fertilizer and the ornamental plants and shrubs are about 60% heavy feeders.  Plus the annual garden.  Now I have very little lawn. Plenty of dynamic accumulators and soil detoxers.  Which is yielding me plenty of mulch materials.  Though it has taken two years, I feel like I can feed, the land without much external.  And good to know on the time the trees may take to recover.  I am interested in grafting.  I will take pics of apples themselves,  tomorrow.  Thank you, all.
 
David Gould
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Susanna Pitussi wrote:Thanks so much David for what you mentioned about the compost and apples with scabs!

I'm in Nova Scotia and you can tell how wet and acidic our property is by how well the blueberries are doing just 12 feet from the apple trees.

I never realized it was the damp and acid soil causing the scab! I just dumped a load of almost finished compost under one tree for the chickens to spread and play in.

But I may also try composting into a couple of deeper holes like your Dad did. We're hard pressed to even get a fence post down 2 feet here without hitting granite or shale, but I can probably get a couple of narrow holes dug.



Susanna , one thought I've just had after reading your post.

Can you make a raised wall out of rocks & stones say 18 to 24 inches deep by two foot thick and in a  10 foot radius round the tree trunk .  Then slowly but surely over the years fill it with a mix of scraped up soil & well made compost to get some worth while depth of nutritious soil over the roots for them to grow up into over the coming years .

In Africa ...
Urine , birth waste ,  menstrual blood & water from washing it out of clothing & towels  was poured into holes around the roots of a tree to get it to grow ..  The tree was often called  " *****'s tree " after the child's name & was never to be revealed to anyone other than the child concerned lest someone used Voodoo on the tree to hurt the child's soul .

By the way it's not just acidic soil that causes scab but also poor nutrient levels in the soil . I guess it is a case of the tree being a bit weak and it getting attacked by the scab that's spread by creepies , aphids & apple moths .   That's why it's considered sensible to use a tar wash spraying on the trees each late autumn to kill off any over wintering bugs & problems  .

I know it's not bio control but it works & if you want apples  it's a useful thing to do ...it must be done when the tree is dormant .

P.S.

FIL came from Newfoundland  ...North of Pegs Bay . When he was alive he told me of how hard it was to grow stuff for the family of seven  kid's .

If you can get hold of some garden lime or simple crushed white lime stone that helps to reduce too acidic soil
 
Susanna Pitussi
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Thanks so much for this David!

I do have limestone around, for use in the garden. It just never occurred to me to use it on the apple trees.

And creating raised beds around them is a great idea! I had resolved to start planting guilds around both of them. Having the chickens tearing up the grass and fertilizing was the pre-guild step. I can definitely create raised areas for the support plants.

And with 2 goats, and now chickens, I have access to lots of well composted bedding and manure to fill them with.

And hearing your story about the trees in Africa makes me think about how precious a tree actually is, and the great care people in other parts of the world provide them. We have an embarrasment of riches here, indeed.
It makes me want to up my level of care, for sure!
 
Marcus Billings
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Trevor Walker wrote:Has anyone mentioned pea gravel as mulch and larvae barrier around the trunks?

Some fantastic books by Michael Phillips, The Apple Grower, and The Holistic Orchard.
Specifically he mentioned the pea gravel as barrier against curculio larvae, which must climb from fallen fruit to the trunk, and up to new fruits.


Trevor is absolutely right, I have not found better written resources when dealing organically with fruit trees than these two books.  Much information learned the hard way! 
 
Travis Johnson
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Around here anyway, the organic apple orchards use a light clay slurry and spray their trees which keeps out the apple borers.
 
David Maxwell
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Actually, apple scab is not caused by acidic soil - it is due a specific fungus, Venturia inequalis, the spores of which are released from leaf litter in the spring, after "wetting events" (rain for a specific period of time) .  There is, however a grain of truth in this - trees actually have highly sophisticated immune systems, and are able to protect themselves against attack if they are healthy.  Apples do best in slightly acidic soils (pH 6.5 or so), and so liming excessively acidic soils does improve them.  (The "ideal" pH actually is more a factor of the solubility of some mineral salts at different pHs that the tree itself.  And the tree is wholly dependent on mycorrhizal fungi to mobilize these nutrients and transfer them into the rootlets.  Again, the pH need has more to do with fostering these fungi than the apple tree itself.
Regarding Round Headed Apple Borer, Sapurda candida, (if that is what you are referring to), Michael Philips advocates painting  neat Neem oil on the lower trunk.  The neem seeps into the wood, and remains more-or-less effective for years.  I have done this and seem to have completely eliminated borers in my orchard, (but I have also undertaken a number of other control measures, and cannot accurately identify which one did the trick.)
 
David Gould
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Thanks for th extra info David Maxwell .

I never knew it was a fungus I was told it was the cold wet blue clay soil that caused it  .

Strangely there was no leaf litter to speak of or anything round the trees bole , just some spent ashes from the old open coal fire . I guess they were so acidic they were hurting the tree enough for any brought in or air borne disease to have an easy life .
 
Nicole Alderman
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Another thing I've been doing, that doesn't cost any money, is to bury my meat scraps a few feet from a tree. We had a duck die last year, and chose to bury it next to our mulberry tree (your can read more here: https://permies.com/t/58181/ungarbage/bury-duck-fruit-tree-deep). That tree within a month started showing amazing improvement. Since then, I keep a bucket in our freezer to put in random meat scraps (as we didn't have cat or dog to feed them to), rotten eggs we discover around our property, expired dairy, rats that die in our traps, etc. Once the bucket is full, I dig a hole at least two feet down, dump in the scraps, fill the hole back up, and than cover that with woodchips. So far nothing has unearthed any of these scraps. I put the scraps next to a different tree each time. The trees don't seem to improve as much the mulberry did, but they all do seem healthier--AND those meat scraps are going to use, rather than sitting in a landfill!
 
david fischer
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Dig up all foliage around the tree out to the drip line. Roll out blank newspaper from the end rolls you got from your local newspaper company, water down, spread composted soil over the top of wet newspaper and let the worms and bacteria do the work for you.

Before pruning, ask yourself, do you want the tree to be a tree or a fruit factory? One is a balanced living being, the other is a junkie, gobbling up all the food in the soil because it's freaking out about survival....how many apples do you need?

A tree knows what to do better than we do.

Fix the soil first, prune out deadwood and tidy up broken or diseased limbs first. Step back and look. There will be branches and suckers that will be shiny for removal. In pruning a tree, less is always best.
 
Rez Zircon
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See this wretched looking tree? it's been neglected for decades and mauled by bears. (It appears to be own-root, not grafted. It doesn't sucker.)



All I've done is chop out the deadwood I could reach from the ground. And this year we had a lot of spring rain. Look what it did -- these are all on one branch (out of reach without a ladder, so I didn't do anything with 'em):



They're not the best apples, but goes to show what a death-warmed-over tree is still capable of.

One up the way that two years ago looked totally dead from being covered with vines -- took two years to recover but this year has about a dozen apples on it and is looking much better.

 
David Gould
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Rez Zircon wrote:See this wretched looking tree? it's been neglected for decades and mauled by bears. (It appears to be own-root, not grafted. It doesn't sucker.)



All I've done is chop out the deadwood I could reach from the ground. And this year we had a lot of spring rain. Look what it did -- these are all on one branch (out of reach without a ladder, so I didn't do anything with 'em):



They're not the best apples, but goes to show what a death-warmed-over tree is still capable of.

One up the way that two years ago looked totally dead from being covered with vines -- took two years to recover but this year has about a dozen apples on it and is looking much better.





Over this side of the pond the orchard farmers try to limit the number of apples on each tree ... too many apples will never produce the optimum fruit . I've seen one or two actually knocking blossom off with long bamboo poles if a large percentage has been pollenated & started to turn brown .  Where I live  a late May frost or strong winds  solve the problem for me ......I 'm lucky to get a decent crop most years  .
 
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