Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Restoring a problematic apple tree to health

We received an enquiry from a reader who has an apple tree with a double trunk. This is how she described the problem.

Apple tree requiring treatment

“I inherited a badly pruned apple tree that has been left with two equal large trunks. I have reduced its size over a four year period, but now I am stuck with one trunk that has only two fruiting branches above ladder height. I would like to remove that trunk and would be left with a more graceful single trunk with multiple fruiting branches. Would it be so detrimental to remove the less producing trunk which be probably reducing its size by 4-45%?”


Dan Neuteboom’s first answer:

1) Remove the second trunk. Timing is important! Remove it during the 2nd or 3rd week of August and not before.
2) Seal the wound with Arbrex or Heal and Seal , obtainable on line or from a good garden centre.
3) The trunk which is left with the good branches should not be pruned in winter 2017. The tree will then be resettled.

The owner provided further information:

“I would like to ask your father for further clarification. The tree and the others have experienced the stress of reduction of size (no more than a third each year for four years) plus a recent drought and one season of a severe infestation of tent caterpillars. This tree is unfortunately placed in front of my house, so the appearance is a priority with this specific tree.

“Second, I need to be able to prune these trees myself, and am trying to take this tree permanently lower over all by about 12-18 inches. I could reach the top then with less risk that I will fall off the ladder. Another reason the tree is oddly shaped is because the deer raid this tree from both levels.

“Your suggestions make good sense to me, but I would like to ask if because the tree has been stressed four years in a row, would it be less traumatic if I took off only part of the selected trunk, plus one top branch of the preferred trunk this year, and then remove the full selected trunk (as instructed by your father) one year later?” This possible gentler approach is shown in the diagram below.


Dan Neuteboom replies:

Certainly the gentler approach is fine. However now I have seen the state of the tree, I am quite sure the tree is suffering of malnutrition! Ideally it would need, on a 2 square metre area around the trunk, the application of quality manure, ideally organic chicken manure (such as Super Dug), dried and stabilized. This will feed the tree over a 6-month period. Secondly WATER on a weekly basis as soon as rain fall is lacking. Extra feeding without watering is useless!! Finally the lower part of the trunk looks in a poor state. The vascular system has been damaged. To help the tree to overcome this problem, it will need to make new cambium cells in the outer layers of the trunk. Wrapping the lower part of the trunk with a wide enough black plastic “waste bag” will do the trick.



3 responses to “Restoring a problematic apple tree to health

  1. Joanne January 28, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Thank you for your detailed answers. I will follow your instructions. Please explain further where to wrap the black plastic bag around the trunk, and how long should it stay there. What changes should I expect to see, if it is successful.
    Your information is greatly appreciated!

    • realenglishfruit January 31, 2016 at 7:10 am

      The tree wrap needs to be placed around that part of the trunk which has been damaged. It should be applied by the end of March and stay in position until the end of October. It will only work if the tree this coming season is not at any time put under stress due to lack of water, particularly when the weather conditions are hot and dry.
      Do not over-water, just enough to keep the top 40cm of the soil moist for the feeding roots to repair and renew themselves.

      • Joanne Licsko September 27, 2017 at 6:28 pm

        Follow up on the tree: I followed your suggestions on pruning, and waited until August of this year to do some summer pruning. The goal of which was to balance the shape of the tree, and to encourage more fruiting spurs. Now, late September, the tree looks healthy and has started to bloom again. I am concerned that the tree will loose to much energy if the fruiting spurs are allowed to produce fruit that will never ripen, thereby affecting the overall health of the tree, and it’s fruiting potential for next spring. Thank you for any advice.

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