This August I was lucky enough to move into a house that has well-established Granny Smith, Melrose, Gravenstein, and Yellow Transparent appletrees (30+ years old, I'm guessing). There was also a much younger Honeycrisp, I'm guessing no more than five years old, but I'm not exactly sure. It was wrapped up in some fencing to protect it from deer, but had outgrown its confines and was pretty covered in weeds. A few weeks ago I unwrapped it, pulled all the weeds out, and added a couple of inches of compost.
Unfortunately, said baby Honeycrisp clearly needs a prune, and probably an aggressive one. There are three stems coming out essentially at ground level. One is clearly growing from the root stock, and actually comes out almost below ground level (on the left in the picture below). I'm guessing this branch must go. Of the other two, I can't tell which one is the graft and which is the root stock. From what I understand if encouraging strong, vigorous fruit tree growth, only one of these stems can remain. But which one?
The Honeycrisp had fruit on it this year, and it was tasty; so its not a major loss if I end up pruning away the graft. But I'd like to make a stab at preserving the graft, since I do like Honeycrisp apples.
So, which branches do I prune? And when (I was planning on February)? And what else should I do to promote the health of this somewhat-neglected baby tree?
I'd prune only the branches that don't produce Honeycrisp apples. If a branch produces Honeycrisp then it's above the graft. If I wasn't sure now or late this winter, I'd let it grow till I knew what it was.
As soon as we get a few dry days, cut the lower two trunks close to the main trunk. Getting one solid shoot above the graft up over the 6-7 ft browse line for deer will be the best long term for the tree.
Eric Thompson wrote:As soon as we get a few dry days, cut the lower two trunks close to the main trunk. Getting one solid shoot above the graft up over the 6-7 ft browse line for deer will be the best long term for the tree.
You could also put some additional soil and and mulch up above the black spot right above the soil line.
This article doesn't really deal with the pruning issue, but it talks about air grafting apple trees, and how this black section will naturally grow a lot of roots. I think it would increase the health and vigor of the tree, if you are ok with growing it on its own roots above the graft. I don't have any personal experience with growing honeycrisp on its own roots, and I know it is a low vigor apple tree, but I think it could help the tree be more healthy and the soil more well drained.