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Fruit Trees | Rejuvenating
old apple trees
new property owners find themselves in possession of fruit
trees that have been neglected, and wish to rejuvenate these
to a healthy, fruit-producing state. The following
is designed to assist them in this process.
When fruit trees
are neglected, they grow in a natural, unchecked manner,
which is not conducive to the production of quality fruit.
When their growth is unchecked by pruning, fruit trees tend
to become tall and excessively "bushy." This leads
to the inner portions of the tree becoming shaded; eventually,
it will also lead to weak or dead wood.
There is one
further problem that neglected apple trees suffer from:
disease. Apple trees that grow in the wild usually
have some degree of resistance to diseases and insects because
they are the product of a natural selection process that
allows them to survive in nature without assistance.
Unless the neglected cultivated trees in question are an
insect- and/or disease-resistant cultivar, they will usually
fall prey to insects and/or diseases when neglected, so
growers will have to use extra vigilance in the control
of insects and diseases in such trees.
There are three
main things that growers can do to return neglected trees
to a healthy state: pruning, increasing tree fertility,
and controlling diseases and damaging insects.
should be pruned in late winter/early spring, i.e. before
growth starts. However, even if the trees in question
have been severely neglected, growers should not remove
more than 25 to 33 percent of the tree canopy in any one
year, as this may cause the tree to expend its growing energy
in an undesirable fashion by producing "suckers"
rather then the desired limb growth.
prune neglected trees by first removing broken, dead and
diseased wood. After such limbs are removed, the trees
can be pruned for proper shape and size.
To achieve the
proper shape, limbs both large and small should
be removed in such a way that the remaining limbs generally
radiate outward from the centre of the tree. This
will allow sunlight to reach all parts of the tree canopy
(and the fruit). Horizontal limbs should be cut back
to the point where they will not hang down under the weight
of fruit into the row, on to the ground, or on to lower
trees may have become taller than is desirable, and they
should be pruned to a more manageable height.
If trees have
been neglected for a long period of time, it is not usually
possible to return them to their proper size and shape in
a single pruning season because the amount of wood that
has to be removed is excessive. In these cases, the
pruning process should be extended over two or more years,
depending on the amount of pruning required, after which
only a light annual pruning will be required.
fruit trees have been neglected for enough time, they tend
to lapse into a state of low "vigour," meaning
the trees are no longer growing new shoots. This is
due in part to the fact that the trees can no longer obtain
enough necessary nutrients from the soil. The nutrient
that is usually most lacking is nitrogen. Applying
a fertilizer with a good level of nitrogen is appropriate.
Fertilizer should be applied prior to mid-June. However,
growers should be careful to avoid heavy pruning and heavy
nitrogen fertilizer application in the same year, as trees
usually respond to this combination by growing at a greater
rate then is desirable, i.e. producing too much growth in
the wrong places.
Owners will sometimes
find themselves with younger and smaller neglected trees
(less that 5-6 feet tall). With these it is important
to remove competing grass and weeds from underneath them
by cultivation or mulch.
Some insects and diseases affect the growth of apple trees
themselves, while other insects and diseases attack the
fruit. Owners will usually find that neglected trees
are affected to a greater or lesser degree by these problems.
A full account of insect and disease control is beyond the
scope of this page, so growers should consult a complete
reference source to educate themselves so as to make correct
plans and decisions. Control methods may be biological,
mechanical or chemical depending on grower preference and
Growers should not worry if neglected trees do not bloom
in their first year of proper care. It may take a
year of growth before trees produce flower buds that will
yield fruit. Rejuvenating neglected trees is not an
immediate process, but usually it can be done effectively
over a period of a 2 - 3 years.