How To Rejuvenate An Old Apple Tree?

Young orchards, including apple trees, delight the eye, warm the soul, but years pass and our apple trees grow old. The old apple-tree will not give the same harvest, its branches are more fragile, often you can see the bunch of wolves - that is growing vertically shoots that only draw nutrients, but do not give fruit, and the tree slowly dying. Very many gardeners simply uproot the old apple tree and plant new varieties of saplings on the plot, forgetting about such a miracle, for example, as the real Antonovka, which is now, to get exactly that, aromatic, which was baked in the oven, which was lying, preserved all winter, almost unreal.

How to rejuvenate an old apple tree?
Old apple tree. © Carol Duke

Today we will attempt to explain in as much detail as possible how to rejuvenate an aged apple tree, describing methods of rejuvenation and telling you when and how to do it correctly. And then, it is quite possible that the apple tree will revive again and for many more years will please you with harvests of favorite apples.

The main actions that will be aimed at rejuvenating the old apple tree are actions related to pruning. Here it is important to stock up on tools and patience, because in one season it will be not only physically difficult, but sometimes dangerous for the tree itself, to restore the former youth of a fairly aged apple tree. Instead of rejuvenating the apple tree, you will waste a lot of strength and energy and simply "cut" the tree, it will most likely just die.

Signs, indications to start rejuvenating your apple tree

Few people know that an apple tree can grow without rejuvenation for up to three decades. Of course, this does not mean that there is no need for sanitary pruning, it is necessary and should be annual and boils down primarily to the removal of dry shoots, broken, frosty and those that grow deep into the crown, which will certainly lead to its thickening. But apple tree aging manifests itself in other signs. For example, a clear sign of aging is the exposure of skeleton-forming twigs, which, in turn, trivially lose fruiting shoots, and there is exposure, from the beginning of the crown to its periphery, naturally, the yield is greatly reduced.

One of the signs of aging is small growth, it becomes minimal or apple growth stops at all. Shoots of fouling and fruiting die off en masse, withering and dying off. Even during this period, when it is already clear to everyone that the tree must be urgently rejuvenated, it can still bear fruit, but the taste of these fruits is very different from what it was before.

Anyways, look at the very top of your old apple tree: The tree needs rejuvenation if the top is almost completely dry out.

What would you like your apple tree to look like?

Yes, that's exactly the question every grower should ask himself before taking up the cutting tool. What would you eventually like to see, what limbs and skeletal branches of the apple tree you plan to leave; with what, or rather - what, vertically growing shoots can you replace the already dry top? It seems complicated, but it's just a trivial work plan, and you need to keep it in your head as well as on paper. Just a couple of strokes even to the one who is difficult to draw will help to saw off exactly the right branch, because you can't bring back what was sawed off wrongly.

We will help you a little bit. So, remember that ideally an apple tree should always have a fairly strong central conductor, it is a clear leader that bears all the load - both from the vegetative mass itself and the load from the harvest. This leader should grow as vertically as possible, placed preferably in the very center of the apple tree, and shoots should diverge from it radially, and the more the angles of these shoots with the central conductor, the better.

And remember one more thing, when rejuvenating an old apple tree, try to make the upper shoots shorter than those below(herringbone effect), then the upper layer will not shade the lower layer so much, and even if you manage to place the branches radially shifted, that is not under each other, but in free places between the branches, it will be just fine.

It takes not one but three years to turn an old apple-tree into a younger, more beautiful-looking one. This is ideal for the apple tree, this is how it will receive moderate damage and be able to recover from pruning.

When to start pruning an apple tree?

Certainly, in the apple tree dormancy period, this can be late fall, when the leaves have finished but there is not yet heavy frost, or the pre-spring time, such as late February. The main thing is that it should not be more than ten degrees of frost outside the window, and that the apple tree is not in a state of vegetation.

It is highly desirable to complete pruning in spring before the period when buds swell, their swelling indicates that the apple's root system is already engaged and nutrients begin to flow from the roots up into the crown, pruning in this period will entail loss of nutrient juice and it will flow out, like blood from a wound on human body, weakening or even killing the plant.

Remember also that during rejuvenation apple-tree will need nutrition and watering, so always loosen out the root zone, remove weeds, apply complex mineral fertilizer in spring, water the plant more often, not allowing the soil to dry out, and in autumn apply potassium and phosphorus fertilizer and conduct watering for moisture.

Then let's talk about pruning tools, which must be stocked.

Tools necessary for pruning

There must be at least two hacksaws, take one having fine teeth, and the other - large, also do with secateurs in terms of their number - take two, sharper yes more expensive, otherwise the first-two twigs secateurs banal break, which has already been repeatedly tested in practice. The price for a good secateurs now starts from 3000 rubles, and if it is not fake, it is certainly a good secateurs.

Obranch also gloves, you can have simple garden, but better with leather inserts on the palms, so the risk to hurt your hands on twigs will be minimized. And of course if your trees are real giants, you have to buy a ladder or a step-ladder and to loose money on the safety belt - believe me, there are times when you can cross your heart a hundred times and thank the God for putting it (the belt) on and tying it to the branch.

In case there are two or three or more old apple-trees on a plot it is advisable to get either clever and skillful well-trained assistants or an electric pruner, remember it is a dangerous thing, it can cut off your finger or strongly hurt your hand, but working with it you do not feel tired and if you do everything step by step and systematically, choosing a sunny day without snow and rain, then no trouble should happen. Often such pruning shears are fixed on long poles, from them (from pruning shears) go wires and there is something like a remote control, and directly from the ground you can cut shoots.

It is important! Never save on tools, really if you decide to engage in gardening, then save up money for quality saws, hacksaw, pruning shears, garden knives, sturdy ladders, stepladders and good gloves. It's when everything is at hand that gardening is easier and more fun. Even a simple shovel can bend, giving a lot of negative emotions, and can, bought 4-5 times more expensive, last for decades, literally passing from father to son. Among other things, a low-quality garden tool blunts very quickly and will ruin trees without constant exhausting sharpening and dressing. With such a tool it is possible to make only ragged cuts, which even if isolated later with garden paint or garden varnish, will heal for a long period, which may negatively affect the general condition of the tree, because through poorly healed cuts, as through a half-open gate, any infection can freely get into the tree.

In addition, do not forget, when moving from tree to tree, to wash the working organs of the tools with 12% bleach or to wipe them with a rag moistened in alcohol, so the risk of transmission of infection from a sick tree to a healthy one will be either eliminated at all or minimized.

Let's proceed to describe the rejuvenation process itself, describing a simple but extremely effective three-year pruning scheme.

How to rejuvenate an old apple tree?
Apple tree before rejuvenation pruning. © Maureen Sexsmith-West
How to rejuvenate an old apple tree?
Apple tree after rejuvenation pruning. © Maureen Sexsmith-West

First season and fall pruning of the apple tree

So you have an old apple tree in front of you. All the signs described at the beginning of the material are present, and you have all the tools. Do not forget that without the risk of losing the tree we can in one step remove approximately one third of the entire above-ground mass of the tree. So, the first thing, of course, we cut out all dead shoots with bark, those that are badly damaged or completely dry and barkless (with the obligatory isolation of the cut or saw cut with garden paint or garden varnish) on the ring.

Further, take a good look at the apple tree crown and if the limit of removed shoots has not yet been exhausted (one third), it is worth removing all shoots that have bark alterations, such as black spots or spots of a different color, shoots with very wrinkled areas of bark, those from which bark is literally falling off in flaps, exposing dead tissue of limbs, and shoots located near bare limbs.

Cut such areas very carefully, cutting only to healthy tissue and making cuts as smooth as possible, never leaving even small stumps. A stump, even isolated with garden varnish or covered with garden paint, will later begin to rot, and pockets of rotting are actually the slow death of the plant.

I want to say separately about sawing off large branches. Some people put a ladder and let's saw from above near the trunk, as a result the branch breaks, crawls down, ripping off the bark almost to the base of the apple tree. This is the real trouble and it will be very difficult to heal such bark scoring, it is probably easier to saw down the whole apple tree.

Big branch should be sawed by partsfirstly making it as light as possible, i.e. having cut all shoots on it, thereby having sharply reduced its weight, and then saw off one third of its thickness from above, moving from trunk on centimeter, and only after that saw it on ring from below. Such sawing is better carried out by two persons - one holds the branch and the other saws it.

After the main mass of sick, dry and simply suspicious branches of an apple tree is cut down, you need to determine the new leading branch, because the old one, as we can see, has already dried up or is close to it, that is, it has exhausted its life potential. There is nothing difficult here, it is enough just to find one vertical branch-competitor, and to saw out the old one, thus replacing them.

In case apple-tree has not been touched by saw or secateurs for a long time, and there can be several such "leaders"-branches, then choose one most successfully located, and the first year remove also one, but most unsuccessfully located, do not forget about the rule of removing one third of the aboveground mass, do not cut out all competitors at once.

In general, massive, large skeletal limbs for the season can be cut no more than three pieces, in fact, this will be the third part, the removal of this number of shoots should not harm the tree.

When the bulk of the work first fall is done, inspect the results of your work, assess the height of the tree. From my own experience I can say that the trees above five meters in the future "service" will be more difficult, so if you still have a choice between conductors, then leave the one that is shorter.

The second season of pruning apple trees, the first term - late February

The so-called velvet winter season, when the sun is warm and the day is quite long, you can work in the garden longer, and the temperature rarely drops below ten degrees below the frost. What to pay attention to first of all in this period? We would advise on wolves - long and thick vertical shoots.

Yes, they are of no use, but only when they are vertical, it is necessary to bend them and give them a slanting position, and they can begin to bring benefit in the form of fruit. Therefore, on each most well-developed branch of an apple tree, you can leave one spike, also as well developed as possible, removing all the rest with a cut "on the ring" and bend the shoot (spike) as carefully and strongly as possible away from the center of the trunk at an angle close to 90°.

The strong steel wire is used more often for bending a spike, but twine is less often, because it (twine) is destroyed by the sun and can break even before the necessary effect in the form of constantly changed direction of spike growth. By the way, if you are new to bending spikes, achieve the necessary result first, i.e. bend a spike, fasten it, and then remove all the rest. There is no need to leave one and, having broken it, blame your not very skillful hands, but this way you will have a lot of attempts, they say, in order to gain experience. In principle, on this you can end pre-spring work in the orchard and wait for autumn.

The second season - autumn work on the rejuvenation of the apple tree

There you can continue pruning, which is often aimed at reducing its growth (if it is necessary, of course). In low apple trees, you can shorten the skeletal shoots, so that those limbs that are underneath them get maximum light. It is desirable to shorten by a third, not more. This is basically where you can end the pruning and let the apple tree sleep peacefully through the winter. Thus we have already cut two-thirds of "unnecessary" shoots.

The third season - pre-spring work with the old apple tree

It is the end of February again, and you can return to our apple tree, which we rejuvenate. Here we can already safely proceed to the removal of the third part of the shoots that hinder us, that is, the cutting of another third, the final part, which are usually massive wolfs that we did not bend, as well as vertical rival shoots.

Remove them, by the way, you could also in the autumn, but not always the tree has time for quite a short period, what is called, to come to itself, but if you well "fed and watered" it, you can try to remove two thirds of shoots last autumn, and now conduct something like sanitary pruning and re-inspect new wolves and do their bending, on this and finish operations with the apple tree, and in autumn cut out the remaining unnoticed small parts of old wood.

How to rejuvenate an old apple tree?
The old apple tree after rejuvenating pruning. © wocogaga

And finally the third season - autumn

The remains of old branches, sick, dry and the like can be safely removed. You should see the result of the plan, which was put down in your head or was drawn on paper, the apple tree rejuvenated and ready to give you a new harvest for a long time.

In conclusion we would like to speak about one more variant of "rejuvenation of apple-tree" - by pruning branches-fruit-trees.

How could the reader be indignant, because the fruit-tree is the most important branch; the twig needs two whole years to grow, that fruit-trees were formed on it and the first fruits appeared? But do not be frightened, such pruning will allow even more fruittrees.

How can we stimulate the formation of new fruittrees? That's right! By removing the buds on the top of the annual shoots. In the first season side shoots will appear, and in the second year buds with flowers will form on them, hence with fruits - in summer or autumn. Years will go by and such branches will literally turn into fruit sprouts, and so it will be for five or six years, after which the fruit links, without hesitation, should be completely removed, transferring to any shoot, capable to replace the removed and so on to infinity.

This is all that we wanted to tell about rejuvenation of apple trees. In this article we have tried to convey everything as accessible and understandable as possible. But if there are still questions - feel free to write about them in the comments, we will be happy to answer!

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