Apple tree leaves suddenly turned brown

Asked September 4, 2020, 5:17 PM EDT

Over the last week and a half, my apple tree's leaves rapidly turned brown, except for on one young branch toward the base of the tree. The tree is around 5 years old and in a spot that receives partial sunlight. I watered the tree on a biweekly basis earlier in the summer, but lately I have largely stopped watering it, so it only receives rain water. Our backyard soil contains a lot of clay. I've attached a picture of the typical browning on the leaves, as well as a picture of the healthy young branch at the bottom. I've also attached a picture so you can see the general placement and size of the tree. Do you have any idea why the leaves turned brown, and is there anything I can do to fix this problem in the future? Should I cut the top of the tree off and just let it grow from the base?

Prince George's County Maryland

1 Response

Hi- sorry to hear about your tree. We don't see signs or symptoms of pest insect or disease issues. The rapid browning and collapse of leaves suggests severe environmental stress, possibly from multiple factors:
1. apple requires full sun- at least 8 hours of direct sun
2. August was 4th wettest on record, tree is in a low spot, soil is clayey, and drainage pipe discharges at tree. Not unlikely that excess water in soil deprived tree roots of oxygen and may have even killed roots or facilitated a root disease.

Depending on the extent of injury to the tree it may not leaf out well next year due to inadequate bud development. If it does leaf out well, don't be surprised if leaves start to collapse and drop due to inability of root system to support the tree. It's not in a good location and will probably continue to decline. We would not recommend moving it.