No Apple Honeycrisp

Asked February 1, 2020, 10:25 AM EST

Need some help. I have a 10+ year old honeycrisp apple tree that does not produce fruit consistently. 8-9 years ago rabbits girdled the tree during the winter, about 12 inches above the graft. the tree didn't die, but rather sent new shoots above the graft. Two of them were about the same size, so I trimmed the rest and combined the two, eventually growing together (see attached picture.) In 2017 the tree produced a dozen blossoms, resulting in 5 really terrific apples (size of softballs!) The next two years, no blossoms at all. I prune in February, but do not touch the spurs or old growth. The tree is very robust in the summer, but no blossoms. I do have a lawn service. Can you recommend how to prune, fertilize etc. so it can produce fruit? Thank you!! Duane Willms us218991@yahoo.com

Washington County Minnesota

3 Responses

Hello. I'm glad you've turned to AaEx.

Wow! I suspect that the two tree stems are from the rootstock rather than the original Honeycrisp scion because that was what was girdled and didn't survive. I can't tell what rootstock was used for your tree but some will sucker especially when subjected to stress like when the roots are not supported by photosynthesizing leaves.

It sounds like your two sucker stems took a few years to mature before producing apples which is to be expected. I can't say for sure what is happening now but my guess is that the tree may not produce flowers and then apples every year. Maybe this is the year it'll do it again.

Another potential pollination glitch is whether there is an apple or crab that is flowering at the same time yours does. If that doesn't happen, then the flowers on your tree will not be pollinated. Weather can sometimes interfere with this process as well. If it is too cold for pollinators to venture out when the tree blooms, all can be lost as well.

What I'm saying is that there probably isn't much you can do to encourage your tree to bloom and then produce apples but I see a few issues with your tree. First, take the tree protector off. The tree's girth is pushing it out but eventually, it may cut into the bark or even compress that portion of the trunk which is really not good for the tree.

Another issue is that by combining the two suckers and allowing them to grow together like that, there is now a section of the tree that has bark that can remain moist making it a good candidate for fungal infections. There really isn't much to do about that because cutting off one trunk will stress the remaining tree and a big open wound that results takes time to heal. Time enough for disease to develop. We don't recommend any sort of cover on tree wounds like paint because they often create a better environment for fungal infections than the open wound. It may be many years before that included bark causes the demise of the tree. The tree can weaken while looking fairly good but a wind storm could cause one of the trunks to topple.

Lastly, putting a ring of mulch around the tree will certainly protect the trunk from weed wackers and mechanical damage. We recommend that you pull the mulch away from the trunk, though. When mulch is allowed to touch the trunk, the bark remains moist all the time and that can introduce fungi and decay. Additionally, I would clear more of the grass and spread mulch much farther out to at least the drip line of the tree and even farther out if you can because the tree's roots have spread far beyond the drip line of the tree. This will keep mowers from compacting the soil where there are tree roots.

Here's some incidental information about apple tree grafting that may be of interest. https://extension.psu.edu/apple-rootstocks-capabilities-and-limitations

I hope this information helps.

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly!

the two shoots came out 6” to 8” above the graft and the tree did produce apples (few) that were delicious honey crisp apples. When I joined the two shoots, I scraped off the bark between them so they are now fully fused, and both are robust specimens, with good growth every year.


The problem is no blossoms. When I did get the few in 2017, they pollinated nicely and resulted in terrific apples.

Any ideas on what generates (or prevents) blossoms from forming? Pruning do’s & don’ts?

I will do the other things you noted. Thanks again for your help!

Hello,

I did neglect the pruning and fertilizing advice and I apologize for that.

Your tree looks really good. Sometimes in a residential situation where the lawn is fertilized, apple trees will inadvertently be over fertilized. If there is too much nitrogen fertilizer, plants will produce lots of greenery and growth at the expense of flower growth. Maybe it would help by extending the mulch circle and talking with your lawn service about how they fertilize the lawn. Penn State's recommendation is to avoid lawn fertilization as far out as 5 feet outside the perimeter of the drip line of your tree.

The best thing to do to clear up all doubts is to have your soil tested. I recommend that you take samples even as far as beyond the drip line of the tree when collecting your sample because there are tree roots there even if there is grass. Below is a link to the U of MN Extension soil test page where you'll learn about their service, price and how to collect and submit a sample. The report you get back should give you information on any fertilization needed for your tree. Also, the best time to fertilize is just after the ground has softened when trees go into their most vigorous growth period of the year. The roots will easily take up those nutrients you provide based on your test results.

http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/

Here is more information on the lack of fruit on trees from Penn State that may be enlightening: https://extension.psu.edu/home-orchards-why-is-there-no-fruit-on-my-tree

Pruning: again, over pruning can also stimulate foliage growth to the detriment of blossoms so the recommendation is to take no more than 25% of the canopy in any one year when pruning. Here is a link to pruning that I find to be an excellent resource: https://extension.umn.edu/planting-and-growing-guides/pruning-trees-and-shrubs. It includes a couple of videos on pruning apple trees.

I hope this information helps.