I have a field where I plan on starting a small orchard with about 30 fruittrees. There is some light brush that I will clear beforehand, but there are a few very old apples trees in the area. They are past the point of being productive and don't appear too healthy. Is it ok to leave them and they can help pollinate my other trees and I can perhaps make use of the shade to plant some paw-paws? Or would they be a magnet for disease and attract pests and spread fungal infections to my new saplings. Should I chop them down or leave them? Thanks for the advice
If it were me, I'd watch them for a few seasons. They might surprise you and be productive. If you start pruning them next winter and begin mulching and taking care of them they may come back into production. If they're old and still there I'd say they're probably disease resistant, or they likely wouldn't have made it that long without human intervention. If you're lucky they may even be old timey apples. A friend of mine identified an apple on her property and it was a variety thought to be extinct! Because she didn't cut it down right away people were able to graft new trees and the variety was saved.
See the picture and caption on the wikipedia page for "Fruit tree pruning." It shows an example of old trees being revitalized.
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.
Hi Fred, can you share some pictures of these trees? Are there areas on the bark that lead you to believe they are not healthy? Sometimes, old forgotten fruit trees can be brought back to life with some pruning and care and in a few short years be fruiting abundantly. Often what happens to old forgotten trees is they get so big, it takes so much energy to bear fruit it exhausts them, and it can takes two years to recover, so they are often found to be blossoming and fruiting once every three years.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
There are a few dried up apples still hanging on the branches so its got some life in it. I only acquired the property in December after it shed all its leaves, but google maps shows that most of the crown was dead. I will prune it and see how it goes. Thanks all.
That tree is in need of a severe pruning to bring it back. I would find the main branches that are good and get rid of everything else.
By doing that you will start with all new growth on those main branches and the tree should rejuvenate nicely.
It appears to be less than 60 years old by the trunk so it has plenty of life time left in it, the overcrowding branches are the problem.
I ask this as you may still be able to prune this tree this year. I wouldn't make any major cuts. I think I'd cut the two highest limbs in the center. You may be able to pick out the dead stuff now, but it's my opinion that you can cut dead limbs anytime of the year. You don't want to make major cuts in anyone year, so doing a little this year gives you a years head start.
I'm of the school of thought that the best time to prune is when you have ambition, and a sharp saw in the garden at the same time. If you can tell, without leaves on the tree, which wood is dead, and which is still living, then I recommend taking the dead wood out as soon as you'd like. Then lower the height of the tree, cutting back to a major limb. In the lower part of the tree, where the branches are super crowded, might as well thin them out, cutting the lower twig when two are growing in essentially the same area. Cutting out about 1/3 of the lower wood this spring. Then follow up with an early-summer pruning to remove the water-shoots that will grow profusely from any major cut.
I've attached a photo showing approximately what cuts I would make. That center area is hard to see in a 2-D photo, so the yellow cut is a guess. And what that might look like after pruning.
In my opinion as a professional Arborist. I wouldn't prune more then 25-30% per year in restoration. I would do 15% maximum in height reduction, and 15% maximum in cantilever weight reduction on outer limbs per year. Those are your 2 major factors for restoration beside the 3 Ds and your crossers. Start with the most sever, and work your way to the less needy parts of the tree. Deadwood doesn't count tward the %, but before you do any live wood, you better do damaged, diseased, and crossing branches, because they do count against the total 30%. The full restoration will take at least 3 years, but you'll have a nice tree that will most likely produce biannually, without to much yearly pruning or at least proper friut thinning annually. Personally unless you like climbing and working on big apple trees every year. I would take some live wood from it for scion grafts, and gradft it to a nice disease resistant dwarf or semidwarf root stock. Once your new grafts are good to go, you can without concern, cut down that tree. Those old trees are often vectors for disease, and aren't usually very disease resistant compared to many newer varieties breed to combine the disease resistance of the older hardy varieties. Then you have preserved the tree for potential genetic diversity, if its rare. You can use it as a manageable pollinator, if the flower cycles are congruent with your new trees, and can do the grafts yourself if you're up to it. You'll know all those factors before the grafts are done, and can give them or trade them away, if they are of no use to you.
I always remove all deadwood first. As advised by others above , prune heavily.
Would be interesting to see what old varieties they are, you may have some gems there. Too many are being chopped down and lost. At the very least you can use some of them as a gene pool and graft them onto newer rootstock.
I have alot of old appletrees and am always interested in how different they are. Some are summer apples(early) others fall apples( good after frost) big, small, sweet, tart. Old Gems !
You will know better by the end of the summer., hard to assess them fully in winter. First notes to take are the blossoms, likely just around the corner now !
I agree with R. Steele, pruning more than that suggested percentage could really shock it. Do it in phases each year. It really does help to live with the property and the plants on it for at least year, preferably two to understand the way things grow there. Like everybody said, come spring and summer, with a little care it might surprise you.
Don't fall for the My-Place-Is-Special, It-Won't-Happen-Here Syndrome.
Strange I said to prune hard when I don't really prune mine at all, as per the photo of "unkempt apple" my point was observe and learn, as mentioned by Christo and R . Steele... Don' t do any drastic cutting, apart from deadwood removal. Usually enough to keep one busy !