Unexpected Clean Up: pruning apple tree losses

Yesterday, I heard some odd meowing noises out my window, so I went to check it out.

I walked right by one of the apple trees by the old kitchen garden, completely missing it was the source of the meowing!

The base of this tree is one of the cats’ favorite rolling-in-the-dirt places. When I first spotted them, though, he was mostly hidden behind the tree. It was his Aunty Beep Beep that had me laughing. It looked like a pair of eyes was watching me from the ground!

Then she rolled around some more; the epitome of grace. Not. 😀

Since I was there anyhow, I stopped to take a good look at this apple tree.

You can see one branch is hanging quite low, weighted down by apples as they get bitter.

Much if it, however, did not survive the winter. It wasn’t doing well last year, and I guess that polar vortex that kept hitting us was too much for parts of it.

As you can see from its base, it has been cut back a few times. I don’t think there’s anything left of the original graft. The two main trunks that you see in the above picture seemed to be dead. With living and dead branches so entwined together, it was really hard to tell where one branch started another began. I couldn’t tell if they were completely dead, or if they still had a live branch or two on them.

Either way, down they came.

Not a living thing on either of them.

I cut them at about 3 feet above ground, with the intention of cutting the remains, further down. Instead, I decided to make use of them.

I took the branch that was hanging down the most and braced it against one of the remaining trunks. It had a secondary branch that immediately began leaning over in the other direction, so I used rope and the remaining trunk pieces to support them. If they survive, with this support, they will continue to grow stronger, upwards.

This is not a healthy tree, however, so we shall see.

This is how it looks now.

It’s hard to tell, with the maple grove in the background, and with the dead wood gone, there’s surprisingly little left. Basically, they’re just suckers that have survived while the rest of the tree has slowly died.

After finishing with this one, I turned to another apple tree next to it.

This tree had quite a bit pruned away, but also had signs of a fungal disease.

The branches that had the most signs of disease seem to have died.

Once again, with how twisted the branches were around each other, it was hard to see how much of any particular main branch was dead.

I ended up taking out three major branches.

One of them did have a still-living off shoot, but…

The part of it closest to the main branch is blackened. It almost looked burned.

One of the dead branches I cut out was so intertwined with others, it was really hard to pull out of the tree, with several dead branches breaking off and staying stuck among the living.

After cleaning it out, one of the living branches ended up hanging down almost to the ground. It turns out to have been supported by one of the dead sections. I could have mucked about to give it support, but in the end decided it would be better for the tree to take that weight off completely.

There was a third apple tree, growing between the plums, with a dead piece I cut off as well, though I neglected to take photos of that one.

I haven’t done much beyond maintaining what I did in this area last year, trying to focus on the East yard and the spruce grove, instead. Even so, I can see how the trees that seemed the weakest last year are either struggling even more this year, or have died outright. The row of apple trees to the north of the spruce grove is no exception. I don’t think we’ll be getting many apples this year. Not just in quantity, but they bloomed so late, it’s unlikely they’ll have time to ripen before the cold sets in. One that had been pruned back the summer before we arrived had started to recover fairly well, but not enough to survive this past winter. Others in that row have lost quite a few branches. Those, I think I’ll leave pruning back until next spring or so.

Something we will have to keep in mind as we plant more food trees: either they will be varieties hardy enough for our bitter winters, or we will have to ensure they get extra protection wrapped around them in the fall.

The Re-Farmer

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