Should I salvage apple trees?

Asked November 20, 2015, 3:10 PM EST

I planted 3 apple trees. They were only in the ground for two years when we got a hard freeze (Nov. 2014). None of trees bloomed in Spring 2015. One tree had minimal damage, while the other 2 lost most of their wood. I cut out most of the dead wood Apr/May 2015, but was afraid to cut the dead centers out. Their structure is completely altered so that the new main branches are growing from a sharp angle from the bottom (4-6 inches from the ground). Pictures show trees a full year after damage occurred. Should I scrap the two trees or try to salvage?

Adams County Colorado trees and shrubs

2 Responses

There are a couple of things to consider in making the decision on whether or not to keep the trees.

Frist, it looks like all the growth is coming from the grafted apple variety and not from the root stock. This is a positive thing because it means that the apples that develop on this growth will be the variety you planted not whatever (often not tasty) variety the root stock is. If I'm not seeing the pictures correctly and the new growth is below the graft then the trees are likely not worth saving as they are not going to produce a desirable apple.

Second, as you mention the branch structures of the trees have been altered due to the dieback. This is something you can manage depending on how comfortable you are with pruning. Your basic goals would be to establish a new leader and to suppress (for a number of years) and then remove the lower branches. To train a new leader you can use a bamboo stake to train one of the upward going branches to be vertical. Attach the stake to the tree's trunk then pull the lateral branch you want to replace the leader up to the stake and attach it to the stake as well. Once you establish a leader you can follow standard pruning practices which can be found here:

Really it is a personal decision. If the new growth is above the graft and you feel comfortable with pruning it would be reasonable to try and salvage the trees. However, given their age and the damage they suffered replacing them would not be unreasonable.

I hope this helps, please let me know if you have any other questions.

Thanks Eric. The pruning link looks very helpful in determining how to salvage.