Attempting to ID and grow some unknown apple varieties

Asked January 3, 2019, 4:46 PM EST

My neighbor has 7 apple trees on his property. Three are near the house and the other 4 are back further. The 3 near the house grow pretty well, as he doesn't take care of them. Of the 4 back from the house, 1 grows beautiful leaves, but only a handful of apples and the other 3 are in varies stages of dying. One produces a few apple way, way up, but the other two grow none and very minimal foliage. I would love to try and save the three dying trees by cutting or maybe grafting, but I am unsure how or when to do it. The three trees near the house I would love to correctly ID at some point. It's become a couple year long mystery I'm trying to solve, but my only source of help has been a gentleman in NC who searches for rare apple varieties only. He has given me some good advice, but sadly, has not gotten me closer to any IDs. I don't know who or where to get proper information on the cutting or grafting of the dying trees or someway to correctly ID the apples that do grow well. There is a local orchard that's been there since the early 1900s and I did contact them for help, but got not reply. I live in rural Jackson county and do have my neighbor's permission to do whatever with his trees. Any help or a point in a good direction would be greatly appreciated!

Clinton County Michigan home apple production fruit trees apple trees

4 Responses

Sorry, identifying old apple varieties is a lost art. The ID is usually done on apples themselves and the person must be someone who is familiar with the old varieties. The very real possibility exists that the trees outside the yard are seedlings of maybe even rootstocks of trees where the old scion has died but the rootstock lives on. There are literally hundreds of old named apple varieties which are no longer propagated and only exist as isolated trees or in a germ repository if they have been saved. Seedling trees do not bear true to the parent so each apple tree is different and many seedlings were never named. Once you have fruit then you can start to look for someone to identify the tree.

Apples of New York is an excellent reference for apple varieties come in the early 1900s.

Your best bet is to try and graft these trees onto a new rootstock or on to an existing tree. There is a risk that these old trees have viruses in them and when you graft them into a new tree that will spread the virus to the new tree.

You can do grafting this spring is the trees have not already started growth. You need cuttings from last year's wood. These need to be cut as soon as possible and stored in a cold place. Not the freezer or in a refrigerator with fruit like apples. If the buds on trees you have, have already started growth (look for bud swelling) you will need to do budding during the summer.

I suggest you look at some YouTube videos on grafting and budding to get a handle on what is required. You can graft into existing apple or crabapple trees or plant a new tree and graft or bud onto it. The crabapples probably have viruses in them but an apple would be certified virus free if purchased from a nursery.

That is the best I can do for you let me know if you need any other information or if I can help you.

Thank you for clarifying when to take the cuttings. I have read fall/early winter & spring too many times online to know which is correct!
I do know I need apples for ID purposes, so fall, I am going to be more aggressive about it. I didn't want to be a pain in the butt during apple season to apple growers, but this year, I will!
There is a strong possibility that the partially dead trees are back to root stock. I will definitely be watching as many YouTube videos as I can!
Thank you for the New York Apple site too!
I appreciate you taking the time to respond! Thanks so much! If I learn anything interesting about these trees, I'll update you.

Thank you for clarifying when to take the cuttings. I have read fall/early winter & spring too many times online to know which is correct!
I do know I need apples for ID purposes, so fall, I am going to be more aggressive about it. I didn't want to be a pain in the butt during apple season to apple growers, but this year, I will!
There is a strong possibility that the partially dead trees are back to root stock. I will definitely be watching as many YouTube videos as I can!
Thank you for the New York Apple site too!
I appreciate you taking the time to respond! Thanks so much! If I learn anything interesting about these trees, I'll update you.

'Apples of New York' is a big old book published just after 1900. There were a lot of them out there and you might find one in a Library or get access to one. Many have been cut up so the color plates can be mounted as botanical prints. I am going to retire soon so I gave my office copy to a new hire for his use. You could also chill some apple seeds from some store bought apples and plant them growing your own seedling rootstocks. You could also search the internet for apple rootstock nurseries. The used to be a small one in North Carolina which sold common rootstocks. It might be a good connect for you in your search. You might also look for North American Fruit Explores on the internet. They are a group of grafting enthusiasts who collect plants and graft them