An Apple Tree Returns to Its Former Glory

| 2/26/2013 4:30:08 PM

A neglected, overgrown, old apple tree does have charm, its gnarled, elbowed branches seemingly ready to reach out for a hug. The fruits, unfortunately, more often than not are too small, too pest-ridden, and too high in the tree. My fear of heights makes the last deficiency most important to me. Large, clean fruits are for nought if I can’t bring myself to climb a ladder or the branches for harvest.

My old neighbor, knowing my love for fruits (50+ fruit plants staring back at him just over the low privet hedge dividing our properties) told me to feel free to adopt his big, old apple tree, which he was tired of caring for. Despite its deficiencies, the tree -- like any neglected, old apple tree -- could be returned to its former glory by "renovation," as corrective pruning of an old tree is called.

neighbors apple tree 

(Before picking up any pruning tool, if you have such a tree, ask yourself whether your efforts will be justified. Is the tree of a particularly good variety? Do you really want a tree where that tree stands? Would one or more dwarf trees, which can be cared for with feet on terra firma, make more practical sense? Always consider the option, before beginning renovation, of "pruning" the tree to ground level.)

None of that applied to me and “my” new tree; after all, it was still my neighbor’s tree and on his property. But I was going to prune it, and the first cuts were drastic, done with my chain saw, lopping back the top of the tree down to lower side branches. If the tree had suffered greater neglect and were more overgrown, I would have come back the next year for some more large, low cuts. (Too many in one year shocks a tree.) Drastic cuts quickly lower the tree and open up what remains to light and air. Letting in more light provides nourishment for fruit buds and, along with better air circulation, reduces disease problems by hastening drying of leaves and fruits. (It may be wise to hire a professional to do these first cuts, depending on how drastic they are.) And lowering the tree, in my case, made harvest less of an aerial adventure.

Ideally, any large cuts would be to well-placed side branches. But I didn’t worry too much about that, because new sprouts, the tree's future limbs, would grow pruning apple treesfrom dormant buds near the cuts.

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