Proper pruning out of control apple trees


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The property I bought in North Carolina has several apple trees. Most of them are tall and spindly. Some are 12 to 14 feet tall with few branches. I want to prune them since there were almost no descent apples this fall. My questions are, can I cut the tree back half way and in zone 7b what is the best time to do the pruning?
 
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The property I bought in North Carolina has several apple trees. Most of them are tall and spindly. Some are 12 to 14 feet tall with few branches. I want to prune them since there were almost no descent apples this fall. My questions are, can I cut the tree back half way and in zone 7b what is the best time to do the pruning?
Pictures would be a big help
 
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Chuck, this is one of the worst.View attachment 28328
About how old are these trees? They look to be young. If they are young trees it will take awhile for them to start to produce heavily, probably around 7 years old. Apple trees can be topped but not all at once. A foot or two maximum per year and in late winter, mid Feb. or so. I would wait a couple of years before doing anything.
Another thing is that I cannot see the base of the tree to see if it is planted too deep. The root flare must be exposed or the tree will be weak and develop diseases and die a premature death.
 
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I'm sorry Chuck but I don't know the age of the trees. The previous owner had passed away before I purchased the house. I will cut 2 feet off the tops of the 3 worst looking trees next February and then compare the yield to untrimmed trees. The couple of apples that these trees did produce were deformed and wormy but were very sweet. If next year is as dry as this year I will irrigate to see if that helps.
 
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I'm sorry Chuck but I don't know the age of the trees. The previous owner had passed away before I purchased the house. I will cut 2 feet off the tops of the 3 worst looking trees next February and then compare the yield to untrimmed trees. The couple of apples that these trees did produce were deformed and wormy but were very sweet. If next year is as dry as this year I will irrigate to see if that helps.
You will probably have to spray to avoid insect and worm damage. Use a spinosad based product. And make sure you can see the root flare. Also, were there a lot of blooms that fell off or just a few?
And while you are pruning cut off any horizontal or crossing rubbing limbs.
 
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From TV programmes:

1) prune the inner cross branches to they don't go crisscrossing one another to prevent their rubbing against one another and causing wounds, as pointed out by Chuck!

2) Prune it so that a pigeon can fly in and out easily amongst the branches. This lets in light and air flow and prevents diseases.

3) remove anything that is broken.

4) when pruning, keep a sloping cut to allow rainwater drain off quickly. Do not prune or saw too close to the mother branch. Leave a bit of a collar.
 
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Thanks alp and Chuck. I am taking notes from you and will use them in early spring. I have found over 20 trees planted on my 26 acres so far. Some of them are being shaded by Sycamore trees and Oak trees that are too close. Those trees will come down soon and go on the firewood pile. Right now I am pulling the accumulated leaves and mulch away from the base of the trees to be sure the graft isn't buried. I have found 2 trees that have large suckers coming out of the base and they have large thorns on them. The suckers ar almost half the size of the trees. I assume they are from the rootstock. I truly appreciate the help I am receiving here. These are well established trees and if I can save them I will be several years ahead of planting new stock.
 
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Thanks alp and Chuck. I am taking notes from you and will use them in early spring. I have found over 20 trees planted on my 26 acres so far. Some of them are being shaded by Sycamore trees and Oak trees that are too close. Those trees will come down soon and go on the firewood pile. Right now I am pulling the accumulated leaves and mulch away from the base of the trees to be sure the graft isn't buried. I have found 2 trees that have large suckers coming out of the base and they have large thorns on them. The suckers ar almost half the size of the trees. I assume they are from the rootstock. I truly appreciate the help I am receiving here. These are well established trees and if I can save them I will be several years ahead of planting new stock.
Grafts are usually about 3 or 4 inches above the root flare. MAKE SURE that the root flare is exposed. I have never heard of thorns on an apple rootstock, but, whatever it is cut them off.
 
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Grafts are usually about 3 or 4 inches above the root flare. MAKE SURE that the root flare is exposed. I have never heard of thorns on an apple rootstock, but, whatever it is cut them off.
Chuck, here are a couple of picture of my sucker. #1 shows one of the thorns. #2 shows the base of the tree. I think I have a real problem with the height of the soil and debris around the base..
 
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Chuck, here are a couple of picture of my sucker. #1 shows one of the thorns. #2 shows the base of the tree. I think I have a real problem with the height of the soil and debris around the base..
I think you have a real problem with the depth of the tree. The base is already loosing bark. Rake away all of that grass and send a photo of the results. I can tell if the tree is too deep.
 
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alp

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Could be quince rather than apple?
 
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I think you have a real problem with the depth of the tree. The base is already loosing bark. Rake away all of that grass and send a photo of the results. I can tell if the tree is too deep.
Chuck, here are a few pics after I raked the build up away from the base. I hope this will show you enough detail. As you can see, the two large suckers and two smaller ones have been trimmed.
 
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Chuck, here are a few pics after I raked the build up away from the base. I hope this will show you enough detail. As you can see, the two large suckers and two smaller ones have been trimmed.
From what I can see it appears that the tree is planted at or slightly above the beginning of the graft. I would guesstimate that the tree is planted about 4-6 inches too deep, possibly deeper. Google root flare pictures. There are a lot of pictures showing what trees should look like.
 
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From what I can see it appears that the tree is planted at or slightly above the beginning of the graft. I would guesstimate that the tree is planted about 4-6 inches too deep, possibly deeper. Google root flare pictures. There are a lot of pictures showing what trees should look like.
Is it worth digging around the trees to try and save them or is it a lost cause?
 
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Is it worth digging around the trees to try and save them or is it a lost cause?
If the foliage is still good and not diseased dig out all the dirt for at least a 3 foot diameter as deep as the root flare. Then fill up with mulch but keep the mulch away from the flare.
It would be better to dig out the dirt to a slightly larger diameter than the drip line of the tree. Also in late winter fertilize with a good organic fertilizer. The digging out of the excess soil, mulching and fertilizing should give you a good idea of what you have plus adding years to the longevity of the tree. I wouldn't prune the tops for a couple of years. Give the tree a chance to regain its health before stressing it.
 
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