Apple Tree Water Sprouts

Discussion in 'Fruit and Nut Trees' started by awithrow, Feb 18, 2024.

  1. awithrow

    awithrow New Member Maple Society

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    Hi everyone, this is my first post at UBC so please let me know if I'm doing anything wrong.

    I'm hoping to get a bit of help/advice with a couple of my apple trees. Both are growing a lot of water sprouts and have put out very few flowers/apples in general. The first one I don't know the name of. It was a backyard rescue and though it is still pretty small it is over 15 years old, and has been in this location for 7 years. I'm at a loss of what to do, because I know it needs pruning, but I don't want to encourage more sprouts, I would like fruit.

    The second one I believe is a Hollow Log apple tree. It is generally healthy and reasonably vigorous. This tree is less than 10 years old and has been in this location for 5 or 6 years. Lots of vertical water sprouts and not many flowers in the spring.

    Some info that might help:
    I live in the Piedmont area of NC
    My soil is mostly red clay. I've been adding hardwood mulch for 5-6 years now so have decent topsoil, worm activity, etc, and I let it go to a "meadow" in the growing season outside of the dripline of the trees.
    I lightly fertilize in the spring with organic fertilizer
    Summers are hot and humid and can be dry (lack of rain). I don't often water them in dry spells but haven't seen obvious signs of lack of water.

    Any advice anyone can give I'd appreciate, but looking for two things in particular for both of these trees:
    1. Strategy to deal with water sprouts
    2. Any advice on how to encourage more flower/fruiting spurs.

    Thanks for any help!!
     

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  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Do a web search using phrases like "pruning and training apple trees" for relevant instructions with illustrations.
     
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  3. awithrow

    awithrow New Member Maple Society

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    I appreciate the pointer, but I'll say that I have spent tens of hours researching this over the years. I'm not a complete newbie in terms of studying this topic, I'm simply not having much success. I'll outline a bit more to head off the more straightforward responses like this.

    I understand the difference between a heading cut and a thinning cut. I have a mix of modified central leader and open center structures in my trees. I've been engaging in trial and error for years now, with little success. I've done countless web searches to try to find answers to my question, favoring the resources from university agriculture programs. The best I can find on the water sprouts is to remove 1/2 at a time, or remove some with a heading cut and some with a thinning cut so as not to prune too hard to only encourage them to grow more.

    I haven't come up with any good answers for why I don't get many flowers, nor why the fruit when it does start to set doesn't hang on for the season to ripen. I joined this forum hoping someone here might have a recommendation because my trial and error has been leaving me with no fruit. But rest assured that I have done many web searches and read several books and haven't yet found any good answers. I'm on the verge of simply giving up, so my frustration is with my situation not with the response. Basically it's a call for help.
     
  4. vitog

    vitog Contributor 10 Years

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    First of all, have you tasted ripe fruits from the first tree and are they tasty enough to be worth saving? If not, my advice would be to cut that tree down and replace it with a variety that you will appreciate. It might be a seedling tree that doesn't produce good fruit.

    If the fruit is worth saving, the problem might be that you are fertilizing too much. Over-fertilized trees will produce lots of leaves and water sprouts but little fruit. Another possibility is that these trees are on rootstocks for full-sized trees, and you are trying to prune them to a smaller size. You might have to let them grow larger or replace them with dwarf or semi-dwarf trees.

    If you don't want to replace the trees, you could try girdling them in the spring at around blossoming time. This should reduce their vigor and encourage blossom buds for next year. I've done this with a large apple tree that had the same problem as your trees after I pruned it severely to reduce its size. The girdling was quite effective. Detailed instructions are available on the Web. There are several ways to do it; my method was to remove a strip of cambium in a complete circle all around the main trunk. The strip needs to be 1/8 inch wide or more, depending on the size of the tree. The cambium layer within the strip must be removed completely, or the girdling will not be effective.
     
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  5. awithrow

    awithrow New Member Maple Society

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    Thank you for the reply. As far as replacing the trees, I appreciate that response and I'm seriously considering it. The major wrench in that path is that I'm not doing this alone. It is in fact the brainchild of my wife and she has strong thoughts about all of this, so while I might be able to convince her to replace some she's not there yet. Which leads me to my other point: I have planted 8 different varieties of apple trees, all on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock that have all been in the ground for 5+ years and none of them are producing flowers or fruit as I would expect. So I'm wondering if it's the site or the soil that might be the problem. We get plenty of cold hours, the site gets full sun, it is primarily red clay but I've been mulching with hardwood mulch for years and the soil looks healthy (to me as a layman). I have done a soil test and the pH is a touch high, but I've been working on bringing it down.

    I'm interested in trying the girdling technique. I'm concerned about killing the tree though. Won't a full girdle just kill it? Do you think I can start by girdling a few branches and see if that helps produce flowers/fruit on those?

    On the fertilization piece, it's possible the soil to too fertile but I highly doubt it. I've only used organic fertilizer and only in the spring and it doesn't seem like that's the issue, but I'm open to it.

    Thanks so much for the reply and helping me try to troubleshoot the issue. I'm going to try girdling a few branches, but if there are any other thoughts or guessing as to the issue I'd love to hear it!
     
  6. vitog

    vitog Contributor 10 Years

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    Awithrow, I also was wary about girdling when I first read about it; so, I started by just girdling a few branches. It didn't take long to discover that the girdled space grows over in just a couple of months, and it's a lot less work to girdle the main trunk, which I've been doing for over 30 years. I must admit that I've only occasionaly done it on fruit trees, but every year I girdle all of my grapevines because it results in larger grapes.

    If you girdle only some of the branches on a tree, I think that it would be a good idea to select upper branches or the main leader. The branches that are not girdled will grow much more vigorously than the girdled ones and would tend to shade them too much.

    Girdling fruit trees should not be considered a long term solution to your problems, but it might increase productivity quickly while you research a long term solution.
     

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