Dying Apple Trees

Asked July 11, 2016, 3:39 PM EDT

Hello, When we bought our home 4 years ago, it had 3 apple trees. Two have died already and the last one seems to be showing signs of the same thing. The bark splits open vertically on the trunk, which has happened this year with our final tree. The other trees did this. I believe both dead trees had one or two years of small dwindling crops, which is what tipped us off to them not being healthy. And then after a winter, they just didn't come back. My husband literally pulled them over and out of the ground by hand, so it seemed as though there was rot or decay on the top of the root ball. It would snap off right at or below ground level. One of the two trees' root systems is now shooting up new shoots, so apparently the whole root system was not killed. That tree died two years ago. Do you have any idea what this is and if there is any way to fight it? The last remaining apple tree is our best producer, and I would be sad to lose it. The damage that you can see on the base of the tree is from rabbits last winter (thus the wire around it) and is unrelated to the problem. The split on the trunk is our only current indicator of a problem. As of now, the base of the trunk is still very strong and firmly rooted in the ground. We also have a lot of ants on our property. I don't know that they are harmful, but thought I'd throw it out there in case they have anything to do with this. Thank you!

Wright County Minnesota

1 Response

I disagree that the damage around the base of the tree is unrelated. In fact, I think that it IS the problem. You've said rabbits caused it, but this is only the first year that you've fenced it. The rabbits have had access to the tree for years before. And I'm not convinced that rabbits caused that damage. Rabbits usually prefer younger, more tender plants.

But another thing that would cause damage like that is a lawn mower. I see no mowing strip around the tree, no mulch around the tree, but the grass blades near the tree are neatly trimmed.

Each individual blow may not seem like much, but repeated abuse of the trunk of a tree will eventually kill it. I suspect that is what has happened here - either a critter (rabbit) or a lawn mower (or weed whip) has gashed the trunk over the years. The cuts in the trunk have given access to decay organisms. And I suspect this damage began long before you moved into your home. My guess is that your surviving tree may not last long. But if you want to give it a chance, keep it watered, mulch about 2 inches deep, starting 6 inches away from the trunk, out to the dripline, and leave the rabbit fence up.

The vertical crack (sunscald) is a common malady of apple trees. It does not appear to be a serious issue with your tree.

Here are some references. Please read them.
https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/fnr/fnr-492-w.pdf
http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/wildlife/rabbits-and-trees-and-shrubs/
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advi...

If you think I'm wrong, you should contact a certified arborist to give you a professional opinion:
http://www.isa-arbor.com/findanarborist/arboristsearch.aspx