A young orchard, including apple trees, is pleasing to the eye and warms the soul, but as the years go by, our apple trees get old. An old apple tree will not yield the same harvest, its branches are more brittle and you can often see bundles of wretchedness the vertically growing shoots that only suck up nutrients but do not produce fruit and the tree slowly dies.
Many gardeners simply grind out the old apple trees and plant saplings of new varieties, forgetting that such a miracle, for example, an authentic variety of apple trees, now gets exactly that, fragrant, baked in the oven, lying, preserved all winter, almost unreal.
Today we will explain in as much detail as possible how to rejuvenate an old apple tree, describe the methods of rejuvenation, and show you when and how to do it correctly. Then, most likely, the apple tree will come back to life again and please you with a harvest of your favorite apples for many more years.
The main actions designed to rejuvenate old apple trees are those related to pruning. It is important to equip yourself with tools and patience, as rejuvenating an aging apple tree in just one season can be physically difficult and sometimes dangerous.
Rather than rejuvenating an apple tree, it is better to waste a lot of strength and energy by simply “pricking” the tree, which is likely to just die. By the way, does your apple tree need to be rejuvenated now, or is now not the right time?
SIGNS THAT INDICATE YOU NEED TO REJUVENATE YOUR APPLE TREE
Few people know that an apple tree can grow for up to thirty years without rejuvenating. Of course, this does not mean that sanitary pruning is not necessary; it is necessary and should be done annually, mainly down to removing dry shoots, broken, frozen and those that have grown deep into the canopy, which will certainly cause them to thicken.
But the aging of apple trees also manifests itself in other ways. For example, a clear sign of aging is the exposure of the branches that form the skeleton, which, in turn, lose their fruiting shoots and are exposed from the beginning of the canopy to the periphery, and, of course, yield declines strongly.
One of the signs of senescence is low growth, which becomes extremely small, or the growth of the apple stops completely. The fruiting shoots die in large numbers, wilt and wither. Even during this period, it is clear to everyone that the tree must be rejuvenated urgently, but it can still produce flowers and fruits, but the taste of these fruits, is very different from before.
Most importantly, look at the very top of your old apple tree: if the top is almost completely dry, then the tree needs to be rejuvenated.
HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR APPLE TREE TO LOOK?
Yes, this is the question every grower should ask himself before using a cutting tool. What do you want to see as a result, which limbs and skeletal branches of the apple tree do you intend to leave behind; and with what, more precisely – what, vertically growing branches, can you replace the already dry tops?
It may seem complicated, but it’s a trivial work plan that should be kept in your mind as well as on paper. Just a few strokes, even for someone who has trouble drawing, can help you cut out exactly the right branch because you can’t bring back what you sawed wrong.
We’ll help you a little. So keep in mind that ideally, an apple tree should always have a fairly strong central commander, which is a clear leader that carries all the load – both from the vegetation itself and from the harvest load.
This leader should grow as vertically as possible, preferably in the very center of the apple tree, and the shoots should branch off radially from it, the more angles these shoots have with the central commander, the better.
Another thing to remember is that when rejuvenating an old apple tree, try to keep the upper branches a little shorter than the lower ones (herringbone effect) so that the upper layer does not shade the lower one so much, and it is good if the branches can be positioned radially, i.e. not under each other, but in the free space between the branches.
In order to go from an old apple tree to a young, beautiful apple tree, it takes not just one or two years, but three. This is ideal for an apple tree so that it can accept moderate damage and recover from pruning.
WHEN SHOULD I START PRUNING MY APPLE TREES?
Of course, during the dormant period of the apple tree, this can be in late autumn, when the leaves have finished but there is no heavy frost yet, or in the season before spring, such as at the end of February. The main thing is that the temperature outside should not exceed 14°F (-10°C) and that the apple tree is not in a vegetative state.
Spring pruning is best done before the buds swell; the swelling of the buds indicates that the apple root system has started working and nutrients are beginning to flow from the roots up into the canopy; pruning during this time can lead to a loss of nutrient sap, which will flow out like blood from a human wound, weakening or even killing the plant.
Remember also that apples need rehydration and watering during the rejuvenation process; so be sure to loosen the roots, remove weeds, fertilize in the spring, water more often, and don’t let the soil dry out; apply a dressing of potassium and phosphorus in the fall and water to rejuvenate.
Let’s go one step further and let’s talk about the pruning tools that must be stocked.
TOOLS NEEDED FOR PRUNING
It is necessary to have at least two pruning shears, take one with small teeth and the other – large, in quantity also with seconds – take two, the sharper is more expensive, otherwise on the first second branch seconds mediocre will break, this has been tested over and over again in practice. Now the price of a good chainsaw starts from $40-$50, if it is not a fake, it is a good chainsaw.
You can also buy gloves, which can be a simple garden, but preferably with leather inserted in the palm of your hand so that the risk of hand injury is minimized. Of course, if your tree is a real giant, you will have to buy a ladder or step ladder and spend money on a safety belt – and believe me, there are times when you can mentally paddle it a hundred times and thank God for tying it (the belt) to the branch.
If you have two or three or more old apple trees, it is better to have smart and skilled trained helpers or electric pruning shears, remember, they are a dangerous thing, they can cut your fingers or hurt your hands, but working with them you will not get tired, and if you do everything step by step and systematically, choosing a sunny day without snow and rain, then there should be no trouble.
Usually, such pruning shears are mounted on long poles from which they (from pruning shears) are wired and have something like a remote control that will be able to cut the shoots directly from the ground.
Never save money on tools, if you do decide to start gardening, then save up for quality saws, hacksaws, pruning shears, gardening knives, sturdy ladders, ladders, and good gloves. Gardening is easier and more fun when everything is at hand. Even a simple shovel can bend, give a lot of negativity, and can be bought for 4-5 times the price, last for decades, and simply be passed down from father to son. Among other things, low-quality gardening tools quickly become dull and can ruin trees without constant and exhausting grinding and trimming. Such tools can only be used to make broken cuts, which take a long time to heal even if they are isolated afterward with garden paint or garden varnish, and negatively affect the overall condition of the tree, as any infection can sneak freely into the tree through a poorly healed cut, just like through a half-opened gate.
In addition, during the process of moving from one tree to another, do not forget to clean the working organs of the tools with bleach at a rate of 12% in water or wipe them with a rag soaked in alcohol, so that the risk of transmission from a diseased tree to a healthy one can be completely eliminated or minimized.
Let’s start describing the rejuvenation process itself, describing the simplest but extremely effective three-year pruning program.
THE FIRST SEASON AND FALL PRUNING OF APPLE TREES
So, in front of you is an old apple tree. All the signs described at the very beginning of the material are present, and you have all the tools. Do not forget that without losing the tree, we can remove about a third of the entire above-ground part of the tree in one step.
So, the first thing to do, of course, is to cut off all dead branches with bark, those that are severely damaged or completely dry and barkless (obligatory isolation saw kerf or cut with garden paint or garden varnish) in the ring (obligatory isolation saw kerf or with garden varnish).
Next, take a good look at the canopy of the apple tree, and if the removed branches are not yet used up (one third), it is worth removing all branches with variations in the bark, such as black spots or other colored spots, branches with very wrinkled bark, those with bark that is really falling off in pieces, branches that expose the dead tissue of the limbs, and branches located near bare limbs.
Very careful cuts were made through these areas, leaving only healthy tissue, so that the cuts were as smooth as possible, without leaving even small stumps. A stump, even if isolated with garden varnish, or covered with garden paint, will still start to rot later, and in patches – this is actually the slow death of the plant.
Another point I would like to make is about sawing off large branches. Some people put ladders near the trunks and have people saw from above, only to have the branches break off, climb down, and tear the bark off almost to the bottom of the apple tree. This is a real trouble, and it will be very difficult to heal such bark scratches, and probably easier to saw the whole apple tree off.
The large branch should be sawed off in parts – first by reducing its weight as much as possible, i.e. by sawing off all the upper shoots, thus reducing its weight considerably, then by sawing off a third of its thickness, 0.4inch (1cm), from the trunk, and only afterward by sawing from below to the tree ring. This sawing is best done by two people – one person holds the branch while the other saws it down.
After cutting off the major pests, dry and just dubious branches of the apple tree, you need to identify a new dominant branch, because we can see that the old one is dead or nearly dead, i.e., its life potential is exhausted. There is nothing difficult here, just find a vertical opponent to shoot and cut down the old one, thus replacing it.
If the apple tree has not been touched with a saw or saw teeth for a long time, and there may be several such “leaders” – branches, then choose the most successful position and remove one also in the first year, but the least successful position, and do not forget the rule of removing one-third of the above-ground part and do not cut off all competitors at once.
In general, massive, large skeletal limbs can be cut no more than three pieces in this season, in fact, this will be the third part, and removing such a number of shoots should not harm the tree.
When most of the work is done in the first fall, check the results of your work and assess the height of the tree. From my own experience, I can say that in the future trees higher than five meters will be more difficult to “serve”, so if there is still a choice between conductors, then leave the shorter one.
PRUNING APPLE TREES IN THE SECOND SEASON, THE FIRST SEMESTER – THE END OF FEBRUARY
In the so-called winter velvet season, when the sun has warmed up, the days are quite long and can work longer in the garden, and the temperature rarely falls below 50 ° F (10 ° C) frost lays.
What should I pay attention to first of all during this period? Our advice is wolfsbane, long and thick vertical shoots.
Yes, they are useless, but only if they are upright, it is worth bending them and giving them a sloping position, because they can start to bear fruit.
Therefore, on each of the most developed branches of the apple tree, you can leave one also the most developed cob, remove all the others with a “circular” cut and bend one shoot (cob) gently and strongly backward from the center of the trunk at an angle close to 90 degrees, if possible.
Usually, a strong wire is used to bend back the spike, less often twine, as it (twine) can still be damaged by the sun and may break even before it achieves the desired effect of permanently changing the direction of the spike’s growth.
By the way, if you are a beginner in unraveling wavy ends, then first achieve the desired effect, i.e. unravel one wavy end, fix it, and then remove all the rest.
There is no need to leave one and, after breaking it, blame them for not being very skilled hands, so you will have to try a lot, they say, in order to gain experience. In principle, you can call it a day before the arrival of spring and wait for the fall.
SEASON 2 – FALL WORK TO REJUVENATE APPLE TREES
Here, you can continue pruning, which is usually done to reduce its growth (if necessary, of course). For dwarf apple trees, you can shorten the shoots on the skeleton so that those limbs located under it get the most light. It’s best to shorten them by a third, not more. Here, you can basically call it a day and let the apple tree sleep peacefully through the winter. By doing this, we have cut two-thirds of the “unnecessary” shoots.
SEASON 3 – PRE-SPRING WORK ON OLD APPLE TREES
It’s the end of February again and we can now return to our rejuvenated apple trees. Here you can already safely proceed to remove the third part of the shoots that are holding us back, that is, cut the other third, the last part, which is usually the huge wolf pack we don’t have bent over, as well as the vertical shoot competitors.
By the way, it is possible to remove them in the fall, but not always a tree has time to come in a fairly short period of time, also known as itself, but if you “feed and water” it well, you can try to remove two-thirds of the shoots last fall, now carry out a similar sanitary pruning, recheck the new wolves, deal with their bends, finish the operation of the apple tree on this basis, and in cut off the remaining unnoticed small part of the old wood in the fall.
FINALLY, THERE IS THE THIRD SEASON – AUTUMN.
Remnants of old branches, pests, diseases, dryness, etc. can be safely removed. Before you should see the result of the plan, which was set aside in your mind or drawn on paper, the apple tree rejuvenated and ready to bestow you with a new harvest for a long time.
Finally, we want to show you another way of “apple tree rejuvenation” by pruning the branches, fruit trees.
How is it possible, angry reader, because the fruit tree – the most important branch – takes two years to grow a branch, which forms the fruit and the first fruit? But do not be afraid, this pruning helps to increase the number of fruit buds.
How can we stimulate the formation of new fruits? That’s right! By removing the buds above the annual branches. In the first season, lateral buds will appear, and in the second year buds will be formed on them, so there will be fruits too – in summer or autumn.
A few years pass and such a branch is simply going to grow full of fruit, and so on for five or six years, after which the fruiting link is to be completely removed without hesitation, transferred to any branch that can replace the one that was removed, and so on until infinity.
That’s all we want to tell you about the rejuvenation of apple trees. In this article, we tried to convey everything as easy to understand as possible. But if there are still questions, please feel free to write them in the comments and we will be happy to answer.