You can see old apple trees across the country in abandoned fields and meadows and around older homes, reminders of a past life and era. Homeowners might inherit an old apple tree in the yard of their new home and wonder if it’s worth saving. These trees may have been planted by previous owners or may have grown naturally from seedlings years ago. Sometimes these trees are worth saving and enjoying, but sometimes they are not. Here are some tips on what to do with your old apple tree:
Type of Apple: Sometimes you’ll know what variety of apple is growing. Perhaps a previous owner left notes or you know a local apple expert who can identify it for you. However, often you won’t know the variety or it will be a seedling tree with variable genetics. Regardless of the variety, pick some of the fruits, give them a taste, and cook them up. If you don’t like the flavor, that’s a good reason to use the old tree for firewood.
Pruning: Once you decide the tree is worth saving, it may need some drastic pruning. If it hasn’t been cared for in many years, the tree could be a tangled mess. The first step is to remove dead, diseased, and broken branches. Remove root suckers and water sprouts (branches growing straight up from a main horizontal branch). This time of year (late winter), you can also do some structural pruning. Remove large limbs that are crowding the center of the tree, shading other limbs, or rubbing and intersecting more desirable branches. Never remove more than one-third of the branches in one season or the tree may be shocked.
Fertilizer and Lime: Do a soil test to determine the soil pH and nutrient needs. Fertilize and add lime in spring to adjust the soil fertility. Sprinkle these products around the drip line of the tree, where the feeder roots live.
Mulch: Create a mulch ring around the base of the tree to reduce weed competition and help the tree thrive. Add a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of bark mulch on the ring.