Can we fix an "Apple Bush"?

Asked May 30, 2017, 10:56 AM EDT

We have an apple tree butchered by one of our renters, and now it grows like a bush. Is there any chance of saving it? It is growing like crazy, but taking up a large portion of the yard. All of the nurseries around recommended I just kill it at the root and start over, but I have to believe there is a way I can prune/mold it into a healthy tree again.

Oakland County Michigan fruit trees

1 Response

Do you know what the variety and rootstock is? If you have a vigorous rootstock this might explain why the tree is so vigorous.

Fruit trees are almost always composted of two parts: the scion (fruit variety) budded on the rootstock (see picture). If the tree is on a non-dwarf rootstock, it will want to grow to be large.

Or, if the tree was planted too low in the ground so that the scion (top) is partially buried in the ground, the scion sends down roots and bypasses the dwarfing effect of the rootstock. see attached picture. if you do not see the bulge of the graft union, it is probably buried in the ground (scion rooted). Also the variety can make a difference. Some varieties can be very vigorous growers. Also if the tree has not been fruiting the tree will put its energy into growing limbs.

It is hard to tame a scion rooted tree.

Typically, you want 3 to 4 limbs attached to the central leader for every 3 to 4 feet of the central leader. You can prune out the excess with thinning cuts, some this summer, some next year in the February to April dormant pruning window.

See the last two photos to see what a thinning cut looks like, and what the limb spacing should look like.