Apple tree rehab
May 6, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

We recently bought a house with neglected apple trees and I would like to learn how to care for them.

We bought a house in Columbia County, New York which has eight or so very neglected apple trees. The previous owners left pictures of the house from the 1930s where it is called "The Orchard" so I feel a little responsibility to try and take care of the apple trees and to replace them if mine are too far gone.

My main question is how to care for these trees to get them bare fruit.

I would love to be the beneficiary of hard-won MeFi advice, but I am hoping for some outside resources too. I would love a class on fruit tree care, someplace between New York and Albany. Second best would be a book or comprehensive resource. Third best would be a YouTube link.
posted by shothotbot to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I would start with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County (or wherever you are,) first.
posted by SMPA at 8:02 PM on May 6, 2013

Oh look, here's the one that's in the county you said you actually live in, right there in the first paragraph.
posted by SMPA at 8:03 PM on May 6, 2013

I'm guessing that they're orchard-style trees, so on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock. It's probably too late to get a professional in to give them a trim.

stephenhayesuk has been putting out orchard care videos for years, and I've learned a fair bit from them. Here's one of his first series on pruning, but if you look through his archive, you'll find ones that are very specifically about dealing with neglected trees.
posted by holgate at 8:57 PM on May 6, 2013

One thing that trips people up with apple trees is that they require pollen from different strains of apple trees in order to fruit. Braeburns can't pollinate other Braeburns, etc, because all Braeburn trees are generated from cuttings of the original Braeburn. They're all clones of one another, in a manner of speaking.

If you want fruit, figure out what kind of tree you have now and plant something else next to it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:52 PM on May 6, 2013

Fedco is a reputable seed and plant company in Maine - they sell fruit trees and offer good advice. Renovating old apple trees is a cooperative extension brochure they offer on their website which might give you some initial ideas. You can browse around their site for other good info about growing fruit and caring for the trees.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:16 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

A great tree recovery story from my friend will actually be helpful to you! So my friend and his wife buys a condo in Brooklyn on the first floor. They had rights to the yard that was completely ignored for years. They cleaned up the yard and purchased soil for the tree. They dug up a little of the old soil out and put the new soil in its place. They watered it, pruned the tree a little (they have no knowledge of gardening, let alone bringing back a tree that was abandoned and dying) and hoped for the best. They didn't even know it was an apple tree until it flowered and borne fruit that first year. They moved to California after that first year but are still friends with the people in the building. They said there is so much fruit every year that they don't know what to do with it. The tree is now big and happy! So, try to give it some new medium (soil, dirt), a little manure and mulch, a little haircut if it needs it and see what happens! Good luck. I am sure there are people who would provide any help you need at Blue Seal Feeds & Needs (a nursery in Chatham.)

Just another quick story, I purchased a small apple tree (two feet tall) for $1 because it was deemed possible garbage. It grew to over six feet the first year that I planted and I actually got about five apples!

They seem to be hearty! Good luck!
posted by Yellow at 5:17 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh look, here's the one that's in the county you said you actually live in, right there in the first paragraph.

That would be great, but I have a handful of ten year old girls to wrangle that day.

If you want fruit, figure out what kind of tree you have now and plant something else next to it.

The trees are scattered around the property in groups of two or three - I hope the original planters thought of the pollination issue.
posted by shothotbot at 5:38 AM on May 7, 2013

Just to clarify my earlier post, the best time in the season to prune plants is very early spring, before the blossoms appear and the tree switches from winter dormancy to growth mode. Your best bet right now would be to clear out dead branches, which should be obvious if your trees are leafing, then go after water shoots and suckers in the summer, along with a little bit of trimming of crossing branches.

That will get you a long way while you learn more.
posted by holgate at 6:41 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a short audio segment w/CCE horticulturist Amy Ivy on pruning apple trees.

Even better is "Ask the Apple Grower", particularly the section "How does one rejuvenate an old tree?".
posted by cog_nate at 7:50 AM on May 7, 2013

On a slight tangent: Do you know what kind of apples they are? If they are of the old world sort, then consider getting in touch with John Bunker.
posted by oceano at 10:54 AM on May 7, 2013

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