Who hasn't been frustrated or down right baffled by that apple tree in the backyard. It may have
been there for decades, or was bought at the local nursery several years ago with the promise
it would "Produce apples in just two years!"
Five years into it you're mowing over a dozen gnarly little orbs that the birds don't even want.
Well, fruit trees are like kids, you gotta feed them, trim their nails, dig the wax out their
ears and brush their teeth to keep 'em healthy. Apple trees are no different.
I'll come out look over the problem child, impart some wisdom... at no charge. Once we decide a
course of action, we'll work up a fair price, and let me have at it. The catch is that you (or your
wife) must agree not to look at that tree until the following spring growth is well underway!
Unattended apple trees become unwieldy in just a few years, again just like kids! 'Suckers' sprout of the main branches, growing straight up. These block out sunlight, sapping the tree of energy and often causing the main branches to die. But all is not lost. Once freed of the offending extra wood,
trees will usually spring back to life.
The trees I tackled around my mom's house had stubborn grape vines woven into the canopy, usually tying multiple trees together. What a mess! Forget going to the gym. Wrestle those vines for an afternoon and sleeping that night is not a problem.
Last April, I rescued 30 trees from the mess you see above. I cut out the vines, most of the suckers and all the dead limbs. Some trees didn't have much left. But miraculously they blossomed mid-May and grew beautiful apples in September. No one was more astounded then me. It didn't happen
without plenty of TLC all summer. This is not to say I guarantee apples on every tree in
one year.... As they say on TV..."Results may vary."
One of my least favorite things to do when I worked on the farm was pruning. Maybe it was the
10, 20, 30+ acres of trees ahead of me that curbed my enthusiasm. Now, with only a 100 trees, only eight to 10 feet tall, I enjoy it! I treat each and every tree as an individual project.
My mom is the consummate gardener. She says to me often during the summer "Plants love to
be abused". Now that sounds cruel, but it's true. Pruning twice annually is vital for several
reasons. It opens the tree canopy for sunlight to penetrate throughout the tree. It
encourages new grow which begets fruit production. It allows spray applications
to cover all the leaf surfaces which reduces disease and pest pressure. Plus,
it just makes for a much more attractive tree.
Safe to say it's worth doing. And if you don't want to get out there on a cold day in January, I'm
up for it! Let me put my 45+ years of pomological knowledge to work for you. Again, don't
be shocked at the result. Rule of thumb, "If you can't throw cat through it, it's too dense!"
Tree Care & Consulting
As we've learned, pruning yearly is critical for keeping your tree vigorous and healthy. But most
soils also need an annual dose of micro-nutrients. It's a great idea to get your soil tested by
the University of Maine Cooperative Extension folks. This provides the information
needed to apply the right mix to make for happy productive trees.
Pesticides may be an evil word to you, but using the correct ones as part of an "integrated
pest management" plan will maximize your trees' potential. If you are vehemently
opposed to pesticides, no worries, there are pest traps and other
applications that can be effective in many situations.
At Hazel Hill Orchards growing 'organic' apples would be nearly impossible because of the
proximity of untended disease-ridden trees. Pests and fungal infections that typically
afflict these trees are just poised to invade my trees given the slightest
window of opportunity. I've worked too hard to let that happen.