Questions on: Apple

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I have an apple tree that I planted three or four years ago. Last year it was full of apples containing one or two small, white dots and a brown point in the middle, which looked like an entrance for a small worm. None of the apples were good. There are fewer apples this year and I noticed that they are oily on the surface and definitely not healthy. I pruned the tree in the spring in the belief that it grew too fast. Could you give me any hint about what is wrong with it and what I can do? (e-mail reference)

A: Apple trees often are a high-maintenance item. They need dormant spraying with lime- sulfur followed up by a general orchard spray that is a combination insecticide/fungicide (an Ortho product) when the tree is in full bloom, but not while the bees are active. The trees need to be sprayed again about 10 days after petal drop. Pruning should be done on an annual basis so that too much is not removed at one time. Fast or excessive growth is often the result of overpruning. Avoid fertilization with a high-nitrogen material. If the need is there for fertilization because a soil test indicates deficiencies, use a basic 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 fertilizer or go by the soil test recommendations.


Q: We have two Beverly Hills apple trees. They have been doing fine up until last year. At that time, the apples began falling from the trees, leaving little, if any, fruit. The same thing has started this year. We got lots of blossoms and young apples, only to have the young apples fall. Do you have any ideas? (Carlsbad, Calif.)

A: Some apple drop is normal in mid spring to stabilize the energy demands of fruit production. This balance can be disrupted by improper pruning or a gradual decline in vigor of the tree. It also could be tied to the lack of adequate pollination. The honeybee population in the U.S. has declined tremendously in recent years, so the lack of their activity could be a major contribution to premature apple drop. Another cause is the use of the carbaryl insecticide Sevin to control insects as the flowers mature.


Q: I have a Haroldson apple tree that produces lots of apples. However, every year the apples are full of dents that look like small bugs of some sort. I never have had any good, clean apples from the tree. I did spray the tree last year, but it didn't make any difference. I waited until the apples had formed because I was afraid to spray while the tree was flowering. Was that wrong? Please help me. I love these apples and eat them anyway, but sure would like to have some clean, beautiful apples. (e-mail reference)

A: Spray the three with Sevin when the apple blossoms are just starting to fall and the bees are not active. Repeat the application about a week later. Pick up all the fallen apples from last year if you haven't done so.


Q: I am looking at purchasing two apple trees to put on our farm. Should we get the same trees (Haroldson) or get two different varieties? How far apart should they be? I do not have a green thumb. Thanks for your advice. (e-mail reference)

A: Planting two different types of apple trees is always better. How far apart you want to plant the trees is up to you. Bees will find the trees and do the work (I hope). The bees can do their pollinating work within a couple of hundred yards.


Q: I've really enjoyed reading all your great information on apple trees. Thanks for all the great advice! I live in Rhode Island and have four apple trees that I planted last year. I have a Granny Smith (which produced two yummy apples last year), a Macintosh, a red delicious and a 5-in-1. I've been hard at work training, spraying and doing what I can to keep the deer away. I came across a series of videos at http://homegarden.expertvillage.com/videos/fruit-tree-planting.htm. In the video, she recommends picking the flowers to promote better fruit production. Do you recommend this? If so, when do I pick them? Should I do it as soon as the petals are out? As for keeping the deer away, do I only need to spray the Liquid Fence on the new growth? I've been spraying the whole tree. Is there any danger to the buds? It says to apply once a month, but I'm afraid that might not be enough. If I use a bar of Irish Spring, is there any chance that it can do any damage to the tree as it dissolves? Thanks so much for the great site! (e-mail reference)

A: Try to get ahold of Plantskydd, which is a better, nonsmelly repellent that has longer durability than Liquid Fence. Repeat applications of either product will not hurt the trees. Removing some of the secondary flowers will prevent overbearing, help to even out alternate bearing years and result in larger apples. It is an easy task while the trees are small. When you get all four trees blooming and bearing at once in a few years, the task can become daunting. The first buds (terminal buds) to open on a branch are termed the "king buds," which have the potential to produce the largest apples. Picking off the secondary buds will ensure that this happens. It is often done as the flower petals begin dropping, so it doesn't interfere with the pollinating activity of our dwindling honeybees.


Q: I have two apple seedlings I got from planting apple seeds. Both have 10 to11 large leaves. Up to the ninth leaf, everything looked OK, but then both started to get brown, rusty edges on the older leaves. The new leaves have been coming out nice and green. I must tell you that I have been watering with added fertilizer. I use tap water if the plants need more watering during the week. Could I be using too much fertilizer? (e-mail reference)

A: You guessed it! Too much fertilizer is causing the firing of the foliage. Use tap water and forget fertilizing until you plant them outdoors and are at least a year or two old.


Q: I discovered a sprouted seed in an apple. I planted the seed in a pot at work and two weeks later, to my surprise, I can see a tiny stem and three leaves. I would like to grow this tree. When and how should I plant it in the ground? How deep should I plant? Should it be in a sunny or shady spot? How often should I water it? (e-mail reference)

A: Allow it to grow in the present pot for about two more months. Give it plenty of sun and water. Then carefully knock it out of the pot and plant it in a sunny location at the same depth. Do not remove the soil from the roots. By the time you do this, the roots should have grown to the outer edge of the pot and should hold together quite well. Good luck!


Q: I've read your articles for a long time. I live in Fargo and I am wondering if it is too late to prune my apple trees? Also, some of my apples last year had what looked like a worm trail through the apple, but no visible hole on the outside. Is it a blossom fly/maggot and how do I treat my trees? I have golden delicious, Macintosh and Haralson apple trees. The Macintosh did not seem to have any infestation. The problem occurred in a few of the apples, not all of them. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Thanks for being a faithful reader of the column! It is not too late to prune your apple trees. In fact, now is a perfect time. Pruning anytime before the tree leafs out is good. The insect damage probably was caused by an apple maggot. Eggs are laid by female flies in the developing fruit through holes they puncture in the skin. The larvae that hatch from the eggs then make their way through the flesh of the apple, leaving the trails you saw. To control this pest, there are a couple of options, such as using pheromone traps or sticky fake apples, or spraying with Sevin insecticide around Memorial Day weekend and about every 10 days thereafter. Be sure to pick up any dropped apples because that is where the pests emerge and pupate in the soil until spring growth begins. I would suggest going with the nonchemical methods this year to see how effective they can be. I'm not a big fan of using a lot of sprays on backyard produce, unless there is no other effective alternative.


Q: I just bought a new home with a pear and apple tree in the backyard. The trees were starting to produce apples and pears when we moved in. Unfortunately, I’ve never taken care of such trees, so I did nothing. As you can imagine, everything became rotten and bug infested. I ended up picking up all the fruit that fell to the ground and wasn't able to eat any of it. What are the basics that I need to start doing in order to keep these trees healthy? I know that I need to prune and spray them, but that's all I have been told. I don't know what to spray or how to prune them. I'm afraid that I will end up cutting off good branches. (Kieler, Wis. )

A: You did the first right thing, which was picking up the fallen fruit. As spring approaches, dormant pruning will be necessary. It is impossible to verbally describe to you how to prune the trees because pruning is an art and a science. I suggest that you ask around to see if there are any college graduates who majored in horticulture. Another avenue may be finding someone who is a master gardener. Mistakes at this stage could be a disaster for the trees. While the trees are in the dormant stage, a general spray program is needed. This can be done with lime sulfur and dormant oil. The lime sulfur helps eliminate the re-establishment of disease pathogens. The dormant oil wipes out overwintering insects. After the leaves emerge and as the blossoms fall, an all-purpose fruit tree spray (insecticide/fungicide) needs to be applied and repeated about two weeks later. You obviously have two very fruitful tree species. With a little proper care, you should be able to enjoy a bounty of insect- and disease-free, healthy fruit.


Q: I have about six different kinds of apple trees. Starting in mid-August or so, all the apples on the trees had big blotch spots. The size of the spots were about that of a 50-cent coin or a little bigger. The color was dark brown or black. Each apple had one or two spots. The blotch spots did not penetrate the white core on the inside. Were the apples still edible? We had a dry summer. Do you have any idea what this was and what caused it? Was it preventable? Will this happen again in the future? (St. Cloud, Minn.)

A: The apples were edible, just not pretty looking and wouldn't win a prize at a county fair. This could be some kind of scab fungus that affects just the surface of the fruit. It often occurs at the point of injury through winds, insect bites or hail earlier in the season. It probably won’t happen this season. If you want to be on the safe side, you can spray the tree with lime sulfur this spring, but do it while the tree is dormant. Spray again with an all-purpose fungicide after the leaves have fully opened and the blossoms dropped.


Q: I'd be interested to know if someone in southeastern North Dakota has a wodarz apple tree to harvest some scion wood. (e-mail reference)

A: I have no idea. Perhaps some readers will respond. If they do, I'll link you up with them and you can go from there.


Q: We planted a honey crisp apple tree about six years ago. We had a few apples last year and a ton this year. However, many of the apples have what appears to be bug or worm damage. What a disappointment after waiting all these years for the tree to bear fruit. I overheard someone in a grocery store say that honey crisp apples cost more because they are hard to grow. I would be interested in hearing your views and whether others have had the same problems with their apples. Honey crisp apples are the best tasting apples we have raised. Do we need to spray next spring to avoid the problem? Also, we have two Hazen trees that we are thinking of taking out. They are heavy bearing, but the apples don't keep and actually get soft while on the tree. What would be a good replacement? Thanks. (Fessenden, N.D.)

A: Honey crisp apples are popular with the apple-consuming public, so demand is challenging supply, which is good old-fashioned American business. Good sanitation, trapping devices using pheromones and sticky traps will keep the apple maggots at bay. As a last resort, use sprays, but try the other nontoxic methods first. Hazen apples taste good, but do not keep well. I would suggest that you select another cultivar, such as Haralson, haralred, fireside, honeygold or Lodi.


Q: I read with interest your reply to the wodarz apple question. I would like to get some trees, so I would appreciate the name of a good nursery. I live in Scranton, which is 50 miles south of Dickinson. Russell Wodarz was a relative of mine. My grandmother and Russell were cousins and were both into apples. Grandma grafted a lot and had one tree with 33 varieties on it. I now live on the same place. Unfortunately, during the last 32 years since she passed away, the trees are all gone. I can remember Russell coming out to the farm when I was young. Grandma talked about him a lot. We had a family reunion years ago on his farm near Wyndmere and had a chance to see all of his trees. Adelide, Patricia and Jerard Wodarz were living there at the time. Adelide mentioned the wodarz apple, but I never followed up on getting any. Thank you very much for your help. Your column is much appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: I did a quick Google search and came up with a source. The Urban Farmer has it listed on its Web site at www.theurbanfarmer.ca/products_services.html#plants. Apparently the company grows everything organically, so the stock should be stout.


Q: Do apple seeds need any special conditioning, such as a cold treatment, prior to planting? Also, is chelone lyonii (turtle head) supposed to die to the ground? (Mt. Vernon, S.D.)

A: Plant the seeds now and see what happens next spring. They do need a cold treatment, which South Dakota winters will more than adequately provide. I would assume they would die back with the arrival of hard frosts and cold weather, and regrow the following spring.


Q: I have a Haralson apple tree. I usually wait until after a light frost to pick the apples. Now I hear from some people that you should not wait that long. When should I pick the apples? (e-mail reference)

A: Pick them when they taste good to you. Waiting for a frost is not necessary.


Q: I have a Hazen apple tree, which I think was developed at NDSU. It was loaded with apples, but when they were about half the size they should get, they started falling off the tree. I have been picking up a 5-quart pail of apples every few days from July until now. Next to it is a honey crisp and the neighbor has a Harrelson and another variety, but not a lot of his apples fell off. Is this a characteristic of a Hazen apple tree? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: This is not characteristic of the Hazen. Obviously it hasn't happened to you in past years, so it isn't a normal characteristic of your tree. It sounds like the tree is dying. Of what, I don't know. Whenever a tree is loaded with fruit that is undersized and falls early, it’s a good indication of a tree that is declining. It likely will be dead by spring. At this stage, nothing can be done - sorry!


Q: I have an apple tree in my yard that has been producing apples for about 10 years. This year, I noticed some leaves were turning black. After the leaves get infected, the whole branch (leaves and branches) turn black and look rotten. I've cut a few branches off to try to stop this unknown problem, but to no avail. I have another apple tree in my yard that’s doing fine. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks. (e-mail reference)

A: This is probably sooty mold that is the result of aphids or mites feeding on the leaves and new growth. Their honeydew causes a saprophyte to form under certain conditions. This causes the disgusting, sticky and sometimes smelly mold on the leaves and branches. Treat the insect or mite and the mold will disappear. Left unchecked, the mold will cause the tree to decline and eventually die from insufficient photosynthetic activity.


Q: I have two apple trees. One tree is eight to 10 years old. It has produced apples every other year for the past three or four years. I planted another tree within 75 feet of the first. I thought the new tree would help in the polarization process (both are honey crisp trees). Do I need to spray these trees with any chemical? If so, with what and how often? (Fergus Falls, Minn.)

A: If both are of the same apple species, you shot yourself in the foot. A different species, such as a sweet sixteen, would have been better. Also, I am against spraying unless it is needed. I never spray my apple trees.


Q: We have an old apple tree that we built a deck around. There is sawdust all over the deck on a daily basis. Yellow leaves are dropping and the main trunk and branches have bark that is curling and peeling off. We haven't done much to the tree in the eight years we’ve lived here. We love the tree and will do anything to save it. (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds like borer or bark beetle activity that is slowly killing the tree. It should be evident where the sawdust is coming from. Once they invade the tree, they are very difficult to control. If the borer or bark beetle activity can be located and the branches that are infested removed, that is the best immediate control. After that, spray the rest of the tree with an insecticide known as Lindane. It is toxic to borers who try to reinfest the tree and has long residual activity. If you do spray, do not eat the apples from the tree this year.


Q: We planted a Cortland apple tree several years ago. Although it has flourished, this year is the first time it has blossomed, but only a few of the blossoms have set. Should we also have other apple species growing nearby to assure pollination? I would appreciate your comments. (Dent, Minn.)

A: Some apples, such as the Cortland, are self-fruiting, but will set fruit better if there is another tree nearby. Any species will do or plant a crabapple.


Q: We received two honeycrisp apples as replacements for a tree taken out during a road construction project. The trees were delivered in pots this week. Will they do OK if we plant them now? I believe you are supposed to prune them by a third when planting, but now is a bad time of year to prune. The trees are full of blossoms. Do we remove the blossoms? We do not have other apple trees, but there is a flowering crab about a block away. Do we need to plant a pollinator or is the crab close enough? (e-mail reference)

A: Plant them now and don't prune them during the first year. If you don't know how to plant a containerized tree, hire a landscaper to do it for you. These are very good apples for eating, making pies or storing. You can plant another apple tree species or hope that the crabapple a block away will do the trick, which it probably will. You will get much better fruit set if there is a closer tree. I assume that is something you want!


Q: I want to say that I enjoy reading your column. You seem to be helpful to a lot of people. I have a small orchard with 12 apple trees and a separate stand of four trees. I was careful to make sure I purchased the correct varieties in order to properly cross-pollinate. I fertilize the trees in spring and fall. I water them on a regular basis and prune every spring as needed. Some of these trees are as old as 12 and some as young as five. I have dwarf and standard trees. My problem is that none of these trees has ever blossomed. I tried stressing them, but that didn’t work. The trees are planted in very sandy soil in northern Wisconsin. I mixed some rich topsoil and compost with the sand when I planted them and occasionally put lime around the trees. Can you tell me why my trees aren't blossoming? I have crab apples and other wild fruit trees nearby that blossom every year. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the nice comments. The apple trees may not be hardy for your zone. Flower blossoms have a lower hardiness level than vegetative buds. You may have overfertilized with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. The trees may be too young to blossom, but that wouldn’t hold true with the older trees. Other than that, I'm at a loss as to why they wouldn't at least bloom for you!


Q: My family purchased two honeycrisp apple trees for me on Mother's Day. We have not planted them. Where is the best place in the yard to plant them? We have no trees in the backyard. Can we plant two honeycrisp or do we need a different variety for pollination? Our neighbor has two apple trees of a different variety. How far apart can trees be planted and still be able to pollinate each other? We have a crab tree in the front yard. Is that too far away from the honeycrisp? Do you have any suggestions on how to prepare the soil? (e-mail reference)

A: Plant the trees where they will get full sunshine. With the neighbors having different cultivars of apples, you can plant as many honeycrisp apples as you want. Dig the hole wider than deep. Don't plant too deeply, just get the crown covered. Water the trees in well and keep the soil moist through the summer.


Q: We planted two honeycrisp apple trees last year. Both trees are blossoming this year. Should we allow them to bear fruit (assuming these blossoms turn into apples) or should we remove the apples when they form? (e-mail reference)

A: Let nature take its course. Most likely, the trees will bear only a few apples. Generally, trees that overproduce will self-abort the embryonic fruit that is about pea size after the flower petals drop. If by chance they come on heavy, then certainly pick off most of them because that much weight can be physically and physiologically damaging.


Q: Until two years ago, my apple tree was my pride and joy, but now I get many cotton-type buds along the branches. I can blow them off, but they keep returning. Some of the apples go bad and fall off. (e-mail reference)

A: The tree has a cottony cushion scale or spittlebug problem. Either way, horticultural oil will take care of them. Just follow the directions on the label.


Q: I have two dwarf apple trees (not sure of the type) that are a few years old. Last summer they had some sort of fungus. The leaves had almost all fallen off by the time I found a spray to use. This spring the trees started to bud and then stopped. The buds are dark and now there seems to be a gray, dusty film on the trees. The trees appear to be dead. I scraped the bark with my fingernail and found a light brown coloring underneath, but with a little bit of green. Is there a way to tell if these trees are completely gone or worth trying to save? If I do try new trees, what are some hardier varieties? (Sioux Falls, S.D.)

A: The trees are toast. Make your purchases from a local garden center, not a national chain. The local garden center will have cultivars that are suitable for your location.


Q: We have some apple trees that are 40 or more years old. I’m sorry, but I don't remember the brand name of the apples. The apples used to be white all the way through, but the past few years the inside of the apples are red. They were good pie apples, but with the red color they no longer are apples to eat. Any suggestions? (Valley City, N.D.)

A: Sorry, I don't have any answers. I have not heard of this happening, so I don't know the cause. If it impacts the taste, certainly don't eat the apples.


Q: I have an individual who is getting rid of some trees. Is there a way to prevent the trees from growing back? I was told by the homeowner that he has to go through this process every two or three years. I also have an individual with honeycrisp apple trees who is having problems with rabbits. On one tree, the rabbits ate a quarter of the bark around the tree. On the other tree, there only is a sliver of bark still connecting the top and bottom of the tree. It appears there is enough bark for the tree to survive, but I’m not sure. The tree is budding. Is that a good sign or is it still too early to tell? Is there anything we can do to help the trees? (Lisbon, N.D.)

A: Tell the individual to wait until the trees have fully leafed. This process burns up a substantial level of the carbohydrates stored from last fall, resulting in a minimum of regrowth. It is too soon to tell, but I'd be surprised if the tree survived. Very little can be done unless the individual wants to attempt bridge grafting, which requires experience, skill and luck.


Q: A friend of mine has an apple tree that is 8 to 9 inches in diameter. It has been pruned regularly and it produces tons of blossoms, but no fruit. Can you give me any suggestions? (e-mail reference)

A: Plant another apple tree nearby that is a different species. It could be there are late-spring frosts that are killing the blossoms at their most vulnerable point, no pollinating insects active at flowering time or it is too windy and rainy at that time. These are the basic reasons for a tree to not bear fruit, even though the tree is healthy.


Q: I’m a third-generation fruit grower. I grow a lot of pink lady apples. Normally in Western Australia, we start picking the apples about the first week of May. There is one grower who starts picking about the first or second week of April. I’ve spoken to many other growers and no one knows what he is doing to be able to pick so early. Obviously, he is spraying the trees with something or giving them some fertilizer so the apples ripen earlier. He makes huge money because he finishes before anyone else starts picking apples. Do you have any ideas on what he may be doing? (e-mail reference)

A: He is probably using Alar, a chemical that accelerates ripening and fruit coloration. It has been banned for use in the U.S. since 1989 because of a probable increase in the incidence of cancer. If you have a regulating agency in Australia, you might ask the agency to check into what he is using. If it is illegal, it needs to stop or at least his shipments to America should cease. The pink lady is a popular apple over here, but we don't need apples that may have been treated with a potential carcinogen.


Q: Is there is a spray that will stop apple trees from bearing fruit? I have two apple trees that are old and diseased. They produce a lot of apples, but aren't in very good shape. The trees look nice, but make such a mess every year. (e-mail reference)

A: There are several sprays that can be used, but have varying rates of success. B-Nine, Cycocel and Ethrel are the most common sprays. None will be 100 percent effective and results vary depending on the variety, so don't be discouraged.


Q: I have an apple tree (honey crisp) that is seven to eight years old. The first year it produced fruit was two years ago. Last summer it did not flower, but I was told that apple trees only produce every other year. Is this correct? I am wondering if I should plant another apple tree in the yard. If so, what kind? Last year I had a severe infestation of grub worms. In fact, the worms destroyed about 25 percent of my yard. Last fall I had the bare spots rototilled to a depth of about 4 inches and then planted grass seed. Should I apply some type of chemical on these spots or was this infestation a one-time thing? None of my neighbors had worm problems. Why me? Also, I have a green ash tree. For the past few years, it has developed what look like clusters of grapes on the branches. I thought when it froze they would die and fall off. Instead, the grapelike clusters stay on the tree and turn black. The problem does not seem to have hurt the tree. What should I do? (e-mail reference)

A: You can plant any apple or crabapple tree you want. The cross-pollination will work. Alternate bearing is something that usually takes place if there is a particularly heavy fruit set one year, which is followed by a lighter one the following season. Have a lawn company come in this spring and apply a soil insecticide. There are many types of lawn grubs, depending on what the adult beetle species was, that could lead to a year or two cycle of grub feeding. The grubs then emerge as adults, feed on the surrounding foliage and lay eggs in the soil. Your problem with the ash tree is ash flower gall. It is caused by the feeding of a mite on the flower clusters. The damage is cosmetic and will not hurt the tree. Sprays can control the mites, but the timing is extremely critical. Spraying is not worth the frustration of trying to get the timing right along with the expense and environmental impact. If you can reach the clusters with a pole pruner without climbing a ladder, you might be able to cut them out.


Q: My father-in-law has an apple tree more than 100 years old on his farm in northeastern North Dakota. If possible, he would like to preserve it using roots, but is not sure how. He and a neighbor attempted some grafts, but were not successful. Shoots emerge from the base of the tree in the spring. Can the shoots be used to grow a new tree? (e-mail reference)

A: There is a propagation technique called "stooling" that would work very nicely on those sucker sprouts. Here is a description of how to do it from a plant propagation reference. Notch the base of each stem and then mound soil around the base of the plant so that the notches are well covered. Wait a year or two before severing the rooted stems from the parent plant (blueberries, currants, gooseberries, hazelnut shrubs, Juneberries). It also can be done on apple stems that arise around the base of the tree. I would encourage using a mixture of 50/50 sand/peat moss for optimal root formation. Keep the mixture damp. Once roots form, which is usually by the end of the growing season, cut the stems off and plant them where you want. It couldn't be easier.


Q: I want to plant a few new apple varieties out at the family farm this spring. The local Extension Service agent has recommended Haralson, Sweet Sixteen and possibly Honeycrisp, but what has intrigued my imagination are two older varieties, the Wolf River because of its size and the Duchess of Oldenburg because of its reputed hardiness. However, the Extension Service agents in two counties can’t give me much information about these two varieties. What can you tell me about their qualities? Also, I have a little extra protected space at the farm and I am inclined to plant a couple of mulberry trees for the heck of it. I have observed that one species of mulberry grows like a weed in Minneapolis. Does any type of mulberry grow well in central McLean county? What are their cultural requirements? (Turtle Lake, N.D.)

A: I’ll answer your last question first. Forget about growing mulberry trees because they are not hardy and even if they were, you very likely would not want them because they are very disease prone and one of the messiest trees on earth! The Wolf River apple cultivar is of unknown parentage and was discovered in Wisconsin about 1881. It is the largest apple grown in that state. The skin is pale yellow, mottled and blushed with pink to red color. It is best known as a cooking apple and is considered prime for use as dried apple slices or apple butter. In Wisconsin, the fruit is harvested between Sept. 25 and Oct. 5. The Duchess of Oldenburg is a Russian apple that was imported to America from England about 1835. It ripens very early in August or September and does not store well. The skin is a pale yellow, striped with red. The flesh is tart and crisp, which makes it suitable for pies and sauces. It is intermediate in resistance to cedar-apple rust. The red Duchess is a color strain with similar characteristics. The source of my information on apples comes from “Growing Fruit in the upper Midwest” by Don Gordon, UMN Press, 1991.


Q: I am moving to a new home and would like to take my 30-year-old Harrison apple tree with me. Is it possible to dig it out and transplant it at my new place? Would it work to have a tree mover move it? Would it be better to move it in the spring or fall? (Kulm, N.D.)

A: For a tree that old, get a professional tree mover to do the job. If possible, have the mover come this spring, before the tree leafs out. Prune the roots with his tree spade. Then, come back this fall, before the soil freezes, and have it moved. This will give the tree a chance to generate some new roots behind the cuts that the spade made, which may increase the chance of the tree’s survival.


Q: Thanks for your help on my stunted apple problem. I spelled the name of the apple tree wrong. The tree is a macoun, not a macaun. I see that the honeycrisp parentage is macoun and honeygold. There is a new variety, liberty, whose parentage is macoun and perdue 54-12. A few years ago, I got my orchard labeling mixed up, so I thought this could be a mantet, but I am 95 percent certain it’s a macoun. Your e-mail encouraged me to go back into my records to be sure I have the varieties straight. It was fun and interesting because I've been keeping records since 1971. They have grown from a single paragraph when I started gardening to five pages in 2004! Thanks for your opinion. I will contact the nursery. I did have another thought. Aren't most apples grafted onto a Siberian crab rootstock? Is it possible for the rootstock to affect the size/type of the apple? I wouldn't think so, unless the tree comes up from below the graft, but I don't know that much about it. This tree has borne a couple dozen apples and they have the same appearance and color as macouns. I'll let you know what I find out. Thanks again for your help! (e-mail reference)

A: Apples can be grafted on either Siberian or dolgo rootstock to impart hardiness. The dolgo has a brick-red fruit about golf-ball size, so if the scion wood died and the rootstock was dolgo, that would explain the different size in the apples and the high number of them. I took a dolgo out this past summer after almost 20 years because I got tired of all the apple drops in the fall that had to be raked up.


Q: I never miss your informative and helpful column. It has helped me greatly! I have 10 apple trees in my little orchard. Most of the trees are doing very well. I don't spray the trees. I do keep things cleaned up, prune as needed, but don't fertilize or water. The trees are growing in a former pasture and get southern exposure. The trees were planted in a low area, but they never stand in water. I've never had fire blight, other diseases or pests.

One of the trees, a macaun, has borne well the past few years, but the apples are stunted. It replaced a macaun I had previously at that location. The apples from that tree were wonderful. They are a large, dark-red apple, sweet/tart and so crisp they snap when bitten into. It is our favorite apple tree. On this tree, the apples are about the size of a golf ball or even smaller. It has never borne a full-sized apple, which is very disappointing! Do you have any thoughts on why this might be? We live on a farm, so I thought of spray drift, but wouldn't that affect all the trees? Other than that problem, I haven't a clue what is wrong. I hope there is something I can do to get this tree to bear properly. I'm not getting any younger and hate to wait another 10 years for another macaun to mature! (Lake Park, Minn.)

A: Thank you for being a faithful reader of the column! My first thought is that the nursery sent you the wrong tree. I would call the nursery to find out. My other thought is that the tree is bearing too many apples at once. The tree may benefit from a fruit-thinning spray. This is something the nursery can help you with better than I can. You also have tweaked my curiosity. I never have heard of this apple, so I’ve never tasted one. Sorry I couldn't give you a "magic answer" to your question.


Q: My children and I would like to grow an apple tree. We saved some apple seeds and dried them out, but after reading some articles, I'm not sure what variety of apple tree to plant. We like to eat apples and do a lot of baking using apples. I saw an article on putting the seeds in the refrigerator for 60 to 70 days or until the last of April. (e-mail reference)

A: Why not just do what Johnny Appleseed (Jonathan Chapman) did? He didn't have a refrigerator to store the seeds. Instead, he planted the seeds in nurseries around the Midwest and encouraged settlers to grow apples as a staple food. Remember, there was no interstate shipping back then! Most of his planting took place in the fall of the year using seed he obtained from cider presses. To make things a little more interesting, my advice is to plant the seeds in a well-prepared bed of soil that is freshly turned over and see what comes forth next spring! Otherwise, store them in a crisper in the refrigerator and plant them next spring. You'll have better luck than attempting to grow and transplant them from pots that were started indoors.


Q: I am wondering if you could help me with my apple tree. My Hazen tree has been producing for about seven years, including more than 200 hundred apples each of the last two years. This year, the tree blossomed, but only two apples grew. It looks healthy. Any ideas would be helpful. (e-mail reference)

A: Cold, windy and rainy weather at the time of flowering could be the problem. This inhibits the pollinating insects from doing their job or the tree has simply “exhausted itself” trying to please you with abundant fruit. Be patient, next year the fruit likely will return by the bushel.


Q: We have a dwarf Haroldson apple tree that has produced very nice apples every other year. Last year it was loaded, so this year we didn’t think it would have any, but it is loaded again. Is it OK to have apples two years in a row? If not, what do we do? (e-mail reference)

A: Enjoy them. As long as the tree is healthy, don’t worry about it! Next year, if the production is scant, you will know that this was the heavy year and the tree needs to recover.


Q: Some of the leaves on my linden tree are curled and shrunken. When you peel the leaves, there is a white substance near where the leaf is attached to the stem. Can you identify the problem and what can be done to fix it? My next question is about my apple tree. I think it is being “nailed” by a woodpecker. It is full of holes that look like they were made by someone pounding a nail into the tree trunk. They follow the circumference of the tree in a nice even line. Also, where I had previously cut a branch off the tree (and sprayed the area with the black spray paint to seal tree wounds), something has hollowed out a nice little cave. Is it a woodpecker that is having its way with my tree? I heard woodpeckers attack trees when they are infested with bugs. I lost a pussy willow tree a few years ago. It had the same type of holes in the trunk that are now on my apple tree. When I cut the pussy willow down, the trunk had live worms or larva inside of it. (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: The linden looks like it could be showing the results of leafhopper damage or herbicide drift from lawn applications to control dandelions and other broadleaf weeds. The apple tree is being nailed by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which are in the woodpecker family. They are doing it because it is a smorgasbord of insect larvae for them to feed on. Your apple tree is likely doomed, but I can say exactly when. As to what is going to deliver the fatal blow, my bet would be with the disease problems the tree appears to have. The sapsucker is doing only what comes naturally.


Q: I love reading all of the letters people send you and the answers you have for them. I have a rather small front yard with an apple tree in it. The tree seems to attract all of the bees in the neighborhood. Is there a way to stop the tree from bearing fruit? We love the tree and don’t want to cut it down, but we don’t like the mess or the bees. (e-mail reference)

A: Amidthin (NAD), Fruitone-N (NAA), Sevin, and Sevin + NAA are listed for thinning apple fruit set. Try to locate one on the market where you live and be sure to follow the label directions carefully. You will not get a 100 percent reduction in fruit, and it varies as to the cultivar of apple. Also, bees are one of nature’s most precious assets for the human race. Without bees, humans could not survive in the numbers we do, so do not spray when bee activity is going on. This means that the spraying should take place during the early morning hours or during twilight at the end of the day. Bees are very sensitive to Sevin (carbaryl) products. Pollinating bees should not concern you because they have but one mission in mind, which is to find nectar and pollen in the flowers and then move on! Thank you for your very nice comments about the column! They are appreciated. I hope what I have provided for you answers your question as well!


Q: I have two apple trees in my backyard. The cultivars are Haralson and haralred. I planted the trees nine years ago. As of last year, I have yet to have any blossoms. What am I doing wrong? (e-mail reference)

A: A delay in fruit set on apple trees that are known to be hardy in our area could be the result of overfertilization. Rainy, windy or cold weather at the time of pollination could be the problem as well as improper pruning, the two trees not being different enough to do effective cross-pollination or the lack of sufficient numbers of pollinating insects, especially honeybees. In your case, the two apple cultivars are too similar to get an effective fruit set. You might want to plant another tree that is different, such as a summer crisp, to get the pollen mixture.


Q: We have an old apple tree in the middle of our lawn. In the last few years, it has developed something that looks like dried mushrooms on its bark. The bark is peeling off and I have had to remove some large limbs. Is there a way we can save this tree? I also should mention that it was originally a grafted tree. I was able to graft a third variety from it. I spray and prune regularly. Can you help? (e-mail reference)

A: When decay has progressed to the point you describe, the tree has its days numbered. It may survive for a couple of years, but it will continue to decline. There is really nothing you can do except to harvest some apples this year, sow some seed and see what comes up. Use as a rootstock for grafting or budding on scionwood from the present tree. This will be a clone of the current tree and should last for many years.

For information on budding/grafting techniques, go to
www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/landscap/h1257w.htm. This is a home propagation publication that goes through the basic steps.


Q: Any ideas what would make apples drop off the tree before they are ripe? In the past, the tree has been loaded with apples, but they start to drop off around mid-July. Most are on the ground by September. Thinning through the summer doesn’t seem to slow the drop. (e-mail reference)

A: Several critters out there are known to cause premature apple drop. All feed beneath the skin of the apple and cause the apples to drop in July. You can control the pest by using traps, which are available in most garden outlets. Sprays also are available. Spraying should start at the beginning of the apple blossom pink stage and continue every two weeks until three applications have been applied.


Q: I would like to plant a honeycrisp apple tree. Can I plant it alone or do I need another apple tree with it? I do have Sweet Sixteens and Haroldsons. (McHenry, N.D.)

A: Plant the honeycrisp with the other varieties in your yard. The tree should bear a ton of fruit in a few years!


Q: My husband and I are worried about an apple tree on our property. It has a large hole between the two largest branches. The hole has standing water in it about a foot deep. The wood inside looks like it is rotting. The tree produces apples, but they aren’t very good. It does give us nice shade, so we don’t want to cut it down. What are your thoughts? (e-mail reference)

A: I’ve seen many an apple tree in similar shape! The tree won’t win a beauty prize or a prize for good-tasting fruit, but the shade it provides and the birds it attracts make it worth keeping. Get an assessment from an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist. The cavity can be cleaned out and modified in such a way that it won’t be a mosquito-breeding site. The main branches can be braced or cabled professionally to keep the tree from splitting.


Q: My father-in-law insists he used to start new apple trees by cutting off a branch and sticking it in the ground. We doubted his story until we were looking at our children’s question-and-answer book. It says sour apples come from trees started from seeds and sweet apples come from trees started from limbs. Now we are very curious. Do you have any information on starting new trees from limbs? Is there any truth to the sweet/sour story? (Brookings, S.D.)

A: Your father-in-law has a “Smith” sense of humor, just like my dad. Apple trees can be propagated from softwood cuttings or seed. Trees rooted from stems are clones (asexual propagation). No one can root a branch from a tree that produces sour apples if they want sweet apples! Seedling stock (sexual propagation) will produce offspring that are widely variable in fruit quality and taste. Some will be sweet, some tart, some large and some small. In general, commercially available apples trees are usually bud or cleft grafted to take advantage of a hardy rootstock. Go to my Web site on home propagation techniques at www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/landscap/h1257w.htm for more information. You may then want to explore our fruit tree publication at www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/hortcrop/h327w.htm. Near the end of the publication is an explanation of the various budding and grafting techniques.


Q: I have heard you say that the best time to prune an apple tree is early spring before it leafs out. Unfortunately, we are not always in the state at that time. Is there another time that would be appropriate and not open the tree to disease? (Valley City, N.D.)

A: Yes, after it has shut down for the winter. Being a hardy tree, I hope, pruning should not hurt it.


Q: A friend of mine has newly planted grafted apple trees in her yard that aren’t doing well. Her son planted them for her and she is concerned they aren’t planted properly. She would like to know if the graft should be below the soil level, at soil level or above. (e-mail reference)

A: Generally, grafted apple trees should be planted at graft level.


Q: I have two apple trees that are 5 to 6 years old. They have never produced apples, but are large enough now to do so. This year I had two blossoms on one tree and none on the other. The blossoms did not produce fruit. One is a Sweet Sixteen and I don’t recall what the other is. (Perham, Minn.)

A: Something is happening that is causing the trees not to be “motivated” into entering their reproductive cycle. I should say that you also need a little patience. Try the old “traumatic stimulation” trick. Take a straight-edged spade and drive it into the ground in about a half-dozen places just outside the drip line. This will cut some of the roots and may stimulate it into fruit production next year.


Q: I want to know if it is possible to grow a tree from apple seeds. (e-mail reference)

A: From a seed, a tree will grow! Sow the seeds in the fall where you want them to grow and you should have a flock of seedlings come up next spring. Select and thin for the best ones.


Q: We moved into a house a few years ago that has two apple trees. One is very round, thick and full of apples. The other tree is much smaller. It has nice large apples on it, but there are very few branches. The branches it does have are long and droopy. Is there something wrong with it? Can you give me some information on pruning the trees? I know absolutely nothing about apple trees. (e-mail reference)

A: Note the limbs that are in bad shape and prune them back next spring while the tree is still dormant. Cut it back to a side branch or to just outside the collar on the main trunk. Don’t leave a stub and don’t cut into the bark of the main trunk.


Q: I have a flowering crab and an apple tree that are losing their leaves. The leaves turn yellow and then fall off. Both trees blossomed last spring and have new growth. I sprayed with a broad spectrum fungicide thinking it could be scab or rust. (Tioga, N.D.)

A: It sounds like a bad invasion of apple scab. Once the leaves are contaminated and showing symptoms, there is nothing that can be done, but I doubt you will lose the trees from this one event. Completely clean up under and around the trees this fall. Next spring, spray the trees with lime sulfur. When they bud, spray with Captan, Mancozeb, or Benomyl. Also spray after every rain. Do not fall in love with a particular fungicide because resistant strains may evolve if you do. Alternate between at least two fungicides and introduce a new one the following year.


Q: We have a 5-in-1 apple tree. It is three years old and about a foot tall. It had quite a few blossoms on it this spring and formed apples the size of marbles. Now they have all fallen off. What is the problem? (Wessington Springs, S.D.)

A: If the dropped apples are sound and there is no evidence of insect or disease activity, then the drop was likely normal. The tree simply was not ready for apple production. It may also have been caused by wide fluctuations in temperatures or availability of water.


Q: My apple trees have not produced fruit for 10 years other than a berry-type apple for the birds to feast on. Now I have severe mold coming out of the leaves and sprouts. Is the problem due to excessive watering? (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds like a fungus, which is normally associated with overwatering. Any apple tree of mine that did not produce fruit would find itself being a piece of furniture or firewood by now!


Q: I know a lady that is wondering if Robby red and Haroldson apple trees are ok for this temperature zone. She lives in the southwest corner of Emmons County. (e-mail reference)

A: I can’t tell you about the Robby red cultivar because I’ve never heard of it. Haroldson can be planted anywhere in the state.


Q: I planted some apple seeds in a pot some time ago. One of them sprouted and was doing well for the first two weeks. Now the edges of the tiny leaves are starting to turn brown. I don't want to plant it outside because I would like it to grow into a big house plant. Is this possible or do they have to grow outside? (e-mail reference)

A: The darkening of the leaf edges means the container is not draining and the roots are either rotting or beginning to do so under anaerobic conditions. The salts in the water source could also be too high. Use distilled water on alternate waterings.


Q: I planted a dwarf apple tree eight years ago. The deer love to chew all the new growth back each spring. I put nylon meshing around it each year, but take it off once I think the deer are gone; however, they always fool me. The tree is very stunted and has dense branches. Should I take a lot of the small branches off and leave it to see if it will eventually bloom and produce apples? (e-mail reference)

A: Don't give in to the deer so easily. Spray the new growth with hot pepper spray or Deer Away. You can hang Irish Spring soap bars around the tree, swatches of human hair or spray the area with predatory urine. These defenses may work alone or in tandem. Yes, do some cleanup pruning. Deer don't prune apple trees with any design in mind, just taste!


Q: Is there a way I can grow honeycrisp apple trees from the seeds I get this fall? (e-mail reference)

A: It is illegal to propagate proprietary nursery stock. Have patience and stay legal, the local nurseries should have them in stock next season.


Q: I have seen apples that are red on the inside, but I cannot recall their name. Do you know? (e-mail reference)

A: Rome, pink pearl, surprise and alamata are some examples. There are probably more that I can’t recall.


Q: I have someone that wants to buy four apple trees and prune them into espalier shape. What varieties are best suited for this? I come from Sweden where making fruit tree espaliers has always been popular, especially if you don't have space for a big tree or just want a more decorative shape around a window or fence. (e-mail reference)

A: Espalier shaping of any plant is relatively easy, but you have to stay at it. Any apple tree will work. Select the branches that you want to grow in the two-dimensional network. Prune everything else out except the branches that you can put into the two-dimensions against the wall. You will need to get some holdfasts as the branches and trees mature to keep them against the wall so they don't break when they bear fruit. I think the word espalier scares people more than the process does. It really isn't all that difficult to do.


Q: I recently planted a Haroldson apple tree. I bought some shredded red cedar bark to mulch a nearby flower bed and was also going to put some around the tree to hold in moisture. I was ready to open the bag when I remembered something about red cedar rust and apple trees. Am I better off using something else? (Ashley, N.D.)

A: Use the cedar mulch. The pathogen is only active on living tissue. The mulch has been composted which destroys most pathogens.


Q: I have two apple trees that could be 60 to 70 years old. Ninety-five percent of the interior of one tree trunk is gone. All that remains is the bark and an inner layer about one inch thick. The other tree is not much better. They have been this way for 18 years (when I moved in). They still flower and fruit, and the only care I give them is to occasionally remove dead branches. How long do apple trees normally live? (e-mail reference)

A: You have reached the end point. There is no pre-programmed life expectancy for apple trees. It mostly depends on the care they get. I have seen trees like yours go on for another decade or more or until a good wind blows them down. Enjoy them while you can!


Q: My apple tree didn't leaf out this year. How do you tell if it’s dead? Last year we had our best crop ever, but not even a leaf this year. Some rabbits ate at the bark on the trunk. Is that what caused this? (e-mail reference)

A: No new leaves is not necessarily a good sign, but all hope is not lost. There are several things that come to mind. A heavy fruit crop means that the tree put a whole lot of energy into reproduction last year and may not have put much into storage. Stored energy is where this year's leaves and twigs will come from. Wait a few weeks and see what happens. On the other hand, sometimes when trees put all their energy into reproduction, it's a sign that they're dying and this is one last attempt to reproduce before they die. Again, wait a few weeks and see what happens. How much rabbit damage is there? I'm guessing they went all the way down to the wood. By doing that they eat through the phloem and cambium, which are two very important plant tissues. If they went all the way around the tree, girdling it, then the tree will die. If they only went part of the way, the tree might be okay. A rough rule-of-thumb for girdling is that if less than a third is damaged, the tree should be able to recover, if there aren't any additional stresses. If a third to a half is damaged, it's really a coin-toss as to whether the tree will survive or not. If more than half is damaged, the tree is a goner. Even a girdled tree should leaf out and may take a year or more to die, so I doubt that the rabbit damage explains the lack of leafing. (JZ)


Q: A source for sheepnose apples is Miller Nurseries, 5060 West Lake Road, Canandaigua, N.Y. 14424-8904. Call their toll free number, (800) 836-9630, for a catalog. I would like to find a source for goldo apples. (Walhalla, N.D.)

A: Several readers will be delighted to have this information! Perhaps someone will know where to locate the apple variety you are looking for.


Q: My sister has a braeburn apple tree. The seed sprouted in an apple so she planted them. To her surprise three grew. They are now about three feet tall and she is wondering if she should prune them and how. If she plants them outside will they survive? She lives near Churches Ferry. How and when should she feed them? (Dazey, N.D.)

A: You sister made a basic mistake of sowing the seed too early. Chances are the trees will not survive. Apple trees need full sunlight to grow normally and there is no way those trees are getting anything close to that inside the house. The cell tissue will be thin-walled and the entire plant very tender to any environmental extremes, which we get plenty of in North Dakota! She should get plant lights and direct them at the seedlings for about 13 hours a day. Don't fertilize or over-water. This spring she should play the move-out, move-in game in an attempt to harden them without killing them. Assuming that strategy is successful, she should plant the tree, container and all. Then when the tree defoliates in the fall, remove it from the container and replant. The tree will survive if she is very lucky. The bad news continues however because the braeburn apple is very likely not hardy enough for our region and will winterkill anyway. Sorry!


Q: I am doing a project in my agriculture class. I’m wondering why there are different types of apples, who came up with them and what the difference is in where they are grown. (E-mail reference)

A: Apples are a cool climate crop. What that means is that they must go through a sufficient chilling process in order for them to survive and be productive. Apples are members of the rose family of plants, which means they are related to roses that you see growing in gardens. Apples have what are known as mixed buds, which means the flowers and leaves are in the same bud. Such plants can usually tolerate lower temperatures than those in which the flower buds are separate. Often the separate flower bud type plants (cherry and peach) will open too soon in the spring and be subject to frost damage. Apples need about 1,200 to 1,500 hours below 45 degrees (roughly 50 62 days) to satisfy their resting period requirements and flower the next spring. Since the origin of the apple is thought to be south of the Caucasus Mountains in Asia Minor, it is obvious that most are very cold hardy, although there is a lot of variation in cold tolerance among the cultivars. It is estimated that humans have been consuming apples for more than 2,900 years! In America, apples got their start from the seed brought over by the early European colonists. It spread via colonists moving westward as well as being carried by Native Americans and the legendary Johnny Appleseed (whose name was really John Chapman). He distributed both seeds and sprouts primarily through the Ohio Valley. The state of Washington is known as the apple state for its prodigious production of this delicious fruit. Apples are genetically active because they constantly produce new sprouts, chimeras, and variants of all sorts, most of which make up the wide selection of apples that we take for granted today. The “delicious” apple is an example. It originated as a chance seedling in 1870 on a farm in Peru Iowa. It now has a market value of $22 million. From just this one original chance seedling discovery, literally millions of apple trees have been propagated and several hundred mutant strains have been identified. I could write a book on apples but I'll stop here. I hope this is enough to get you started on your class project. Good luck!


Q: Would you have a list of possible causes of apple trees failing to bear fruit? I see the timeline normally listed is two to five years. Is there something about scarifying an apple tree's trunk to stimulate fruit production? (Hettinger, N.D.)

A: There are several reasons an apple tree will not bear fruit. Some varieties take as long as seven years to bear fruit. Pollination may not be possible if the apple tree is located in a windy area. The buds will die as they begin to harden if the tree is located in a frost pocket area. Wet, cold weather during and after pollination can cause a tree not to bear fruit. Too much TLC, turf fertilizer and water, may delay the tree’s entry into the reproductive stage of growth. Also make sure the variety you are using is hardy enough for your zone. "Traumatic stimulation" has been used to get trees into bearing modes for centuries. In some cases it is clubbing the tree with a stick or bat; girdling stems. The best method that seems to work and cause the least amount of damage to the tree is to take a sharp shooter spade and drive it into the ground around the canopy spread of the tree in about a half dozen spaces. This action cuts back on the root volume somewhat and sometimes traumatizes the tree into reproductive activity.


Q: We have two wonderful apple trees that provide us with tons of apples. What is the best way to store them for the winter? I find that they get soft and mushy very quickly.

Also, when do I dig up glad bulbs and how do I store them until next spring? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Apples store best at just about freezing and 90 percent humidity. The storage life of apples is also dependent on the variety. Early apples have a short storage life while later apples have a longer storage life. You could have an apple like the Hazen, which is an excellent variety, but has a short storage life. Dig the glads after the first frost that nips the foliage. Dust them with sulfur and store in a dry, cool location.


Q: I bought a Haralson apple tree last spring (2002) but now I’ve heard that I need at least two apple trees in order to get apples. Is this true? I have a flowering crab apple tree that is about 300 to 400 feet away. Will this help with pollination or should I buy another Haralson and plant it closer to the other one? Also, I recently planted some trees I bought from my local Soil Conservation District. They are bur oak, Siouxland cottonwood, amur maple, Colorado spruce, and nanking cherry. Do all the trees need lots of water? Fertilizer? (Battle View, N.D.)

A: The crabapple will pollinate your Haralson but don't be too anxious to harvest apples. It will probably take five years before you see anything of consequence. The trees you purchased from the Soil Conservation district should be watered but don’t overwater. You don’t need to fertilize unless you have very sandy soil.


Q: I have an apple tree that is about 10 years old. I just got a dog and he is chained to the tree at times. To my surprise he has stripped most of the bark from around the trunk. I have wrapped it in plastic and stapled a wire mesh to it. Please let me know if it's too late or if I can do something to help it. (E-mail reference)

A: It is probably too late from what you’ve told me but you can never tell. If it is still holding leaves, you may be in luck, especially if it leafs out next spring. There’s not much more you can do except keep the dog away from it.


Q: I have two beautiful apple trees in my backyard, however my husband does not like the mess they make every year. Is there a way that we can keep the trees and not have any apples grow on them? Is there a chemical or something we can put on the trees to stop the apples from growing? (E-mail reference)

A: I sympathize with your husband. Unfortunately, there is nothing that is dependable enough on the market to recommend.


Q: My mother-in-law has an apple tree that is approximately 90 years old. It bore fruit every other year regularly throughout my husband's childhood, but has lately started to die branch by branch. We tried grafting scions from it into our own orchard, but failed. What would happen if we cut back the apple tree severely, almost like we do with our new trees when we prune them down to whips. Would it sucker? With proper pruning could it be revived or is it fairly hopeless? We've been unable to find information on reviving a tree that's doing so poorly. While I've never tried them, apparently this tree produces the most delicious apples ever! (E-mail reference)

A: You would have nothing to lose by trying. It would probably work unless the root system is rotting.


Q: I have two apple trees that are about 6 years old. They are about 12 feet high. For the first time last year, one of the trees produced seven apples. This year that tree had only two blossoms. The other tree has never blossomed. They are about 25 feet apart. They are very healthy looking. One is a Haralson , the other is a Minnesota something. Why aren’t they producing by now? (Detroit Lakes, Minn.)

A: Maturity for fruit production varies with the species, the care they are given and their environmental setting. Many home-owners have their trees planted in a lawn area that receives ample amounts of high nitrogen fertilizer. The tree roots compete for the nutrients and as a result, can stay in a vegetative (non-reproducing) state longer. You might want to avoid fertilization anywhere near the canopy spread of the trees. You may also want to drive a spade into the ground around the canopy edge to reduce the root system and perhaps stimulate fruit production.


Q: We moved to this area a year ago and we have three apple trees of an unknown variety. The former owner claimed that he never sprayed or treated them for insects at all and had wonderful crops of apples. We have just planted two Honeycrisp apple trees in the same area so we have a "mini-orchard" and would like to harvest non-wormy apples. My husband is not crazy about spraying the trees because of possible harm to his lungs and the environment. What is the best solution for us? (Eveleth, Minn.)

A: Apples without spraying is very much a possibility. You can get pheromone traps to attract the apple maggot, "false apples" that are covered with a sticky substance that will attract and hold other destructive insects as well. Then, it is simply following basic good sanitation -- picking up all apple litter in the fall (leaves and fallen apples), spraying with a dormant oil in early spring before leafing out takes place and properly pruning the trees to allow for good air circulation, sunlight penetration and of course easier picking. All will help to control insect and disease problems.


Q: My Haroldson apple trees are finally starting to leaf out. Is now a bad time to trim the branches that are almost hanging on the ground? (Valley City, N.D.)

A: Yes, it is a bad time, unless you want to take a chance with disease. It should have been a month or more ago.


Q: When is a good time to move an apple tree? It is 4 feet tall and starting to bud. (Linton, N.D.)

A: I would say it is a little too late. Wait until the tree goes dormant this fall and replant at that time.


Q: We live in the Missouri River woodlands in the Bismarck area. We have a Haralson apple tree about 10 years old. It looks absolutely great with heavy foliage, nice trunk and branches. But we've only gotten one apple and maybe three blossoms from it its entire life! We've tried everything the different nurseries and county agent in our area have suggested; more fertilizer, less fertilizer, nails, hammer blows, cuts in the bark, pruning half the new growth while dormant, etc. This tree is about 12 to 15 feet tall with a 5-inch diameter trunk. It’s located at the edge of the garden so it gets plenty of water, but we haven't been fertilizing it the last few years to "stress" it, as advised. Two smaller Haralsons in the same yard (each within 100 feet of each other) are also not blossoming or giving much fruit (one or two apples per year.) Other apple trees in the neighborhood are bearing, as are our crab-apples. (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: While you mentioned many other remedies for coaxing a tree into bearing fruit, you didn't mention one I frequently suggest that seems to work most of the time--"traumatic stimulation," where you take a straight-edge spade and drive it into the soil about six or eight places just outside the drip-line of the tree to sever some of the feeder roots. This almost always encourages it into blooming and bearing the following year. I suggest doing this after the frost is out of the ground this spring. And keep fertilizer of any kind away from the roots. It sounds like the tree is getting "spoiled" somewhat, and is not concerned at all about going into a reproductive cycle.


Q: I have always heard that you need two apple trees (not necessarily the same variety) to get reliable pollination. How far apart can the trees be and still get reliable pollination? Are we talking tens of feet, or hundreds of feet? In my case, if I planted a single tree, the nearest tree would be a crab apple about 150 feet away and the nearest apple (probably a Haralson) would be about 350 feet away. (Ashby, Minn.)

A: You have nothing to worry about. The bees will do the work for you at the distances you mention. You should get excellent fruit set.


Q: I recently found some apple trees in an old grove of trees and am wondering how to tell if the apples are safe to eat, or are all apples safe? Some of the apples are rather small and I am wondering if they are crab apples. Are all of those varieties all right to use in jelly? (Pettibone, N.D.)

A: I have never met an apple that hasn't been good to eat in one fashion or another. Enjoy. The mixture would make a good applesauce.


Q: An idea I've heard about driving nails into apple trees to stimulate them to bear fruit is very interesting. How do you do it and how does it work? Can coffee be used to stimulate any plant, or just certain types? Do you dilute the coffee, or use it full strength? Are coffee grounds good to put around plants in a flower bed? Are there any colored flower varieties of crabapples that are fruitless, or just the couple white varieties? (e-mail)

A: Yes, driving nails into trees may stimulate them to bear fruit, but it is also quite injurious to the tree, so I don't really advise it. Girdling branches also does the same thing, but then the branch dies! A less traumatic practice would be the take a square-tip spade and drive it into the soil out around the drip-line of the tree (the outer edge of the canopy) to sever some of the roots. This usually makes a pretty clean cut, which heals faster, and often results in the tree bearing fruit the following season. Coffee is a complex compound, in addition to caffeine, coffee contains nearly 400 other chemicals, including trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, tannins and caramelized sugar. It has an acidifying effect on the soil, and the used grounds tend to enhance the tilth of the soil. I have known many people, and perhaps you have too, who say all they have done for so many years is dump their old coffee on their house plants. I don't know of a plant that would be harmed by coffee. The only crabapple I know of is Spring Snow, which is white.


Q: I need help with my apple tree. Every branch is loaded with apples and I was thinking of cutting some of the lower branches off, thinking this would help with the other branches. Years past I would have to prop up the lower branches with 2x4s.So would it be all right to cut those branches now? (E-mail reference)

A: Not a good idea. Pruning now would open the tree to a host of fungal, bacterial, and virus disease problems. Prune the tree early next spring when it is still leafless (dormant). In the meantime prop up the heavy branches with your 2x4s!


Q: I have apple trees that are having deformed apples and some of them are dropping off. Some of the apples don't even grow any bigger then a grape. What could the problem be? They are Haroldson apple trees, about 7 years old, and we have always had good apples before. I can't see any bugs or leaf damage to the tree or apples. (Buchanan, N.D.)

A: Spring or early summer apple drop is normal where the fruit set is heavy. Nothing to worry about. It’s Mother Nature's way of population control!


Q: I just bought two apple trees and I'm about ready to plant them. They are the same species, Beacon. Will they pollinate each other or do I have to have two different species? ( Osage, Minn.)

A: Yes, but I wouldn't worry. There are usually enough crabapples or other apples within a quarter mile that will help with the pollination. Beacon is a very good apple to enjoy. I'd certainly keep them both.


Q: I have an individual wondering about fruit production in his apple tree. The apple tree is the only one is his yard, is approximately 8 or 9 years old and of an unknown variety. He said they have had bountiful blossoms but no fruit for the last two years, since their plum tree died. I assume the plum tree was doing the pollinating. What I am wondering is what species and varieties of fruit trees would be suggested for him to provide compatible cross-pollination. This is a apple tree, not crabapple. ( Hettinger, N.D.)

A: No, the plum and apple tree do not cross pollinate. They are different species entirely. Apples and crabapples will cross, and apples and crabapples of different cultivars will cross. Tell your client that another tree like a Hazen or Winter Crisp planted within a quarter mile will do it. Many times fruit set is poor if the weather doesn't cooperate at critical times. Windy, cold, and wet will prevent pollination every time.


Q: Is there any harm in leaving the white plastic tree wrap coils on our apple trees all summer? Please help resolve this domestic dispute. (E-mail reference)

A: When did I get the reputation for settling domestic disputes? I have a hard enough time managing my own life. Anyway, without trying to make anyone mad, you are better off taking the wrap off during the summer months to allow the bark to dry and develop normally during the growing season. The wrap, even though it expands as the tree grows, could end up being a haven for destructive insects and canker diseases.


Q: If a homeowner has cedar apple rust on junipers, would it be wise to avoid planting any type of apple, whether its flowering crab, regular apple or crabapple? There is a little distance between the junipers and where the flowering crabs (if that's what they planted) would go. What are the more tolerant ones? (Cando, N.D.)

A: The fact that the juniper is showing CAR now is an indication that the alternate host--apple or crabapple--is nearby. Picking the orange, spore-bearing structures (golf ball size) off the junipers would help appreciably in controlling the spread of the pathogen. Some cultivars resistant to cedar-apple rust are Donald Wyman, Indian Magic, and Prairiefire.


Q: Is there a special paint that you use when trimming apple trees? What is the best time to prune and should you use paint to paint the end of the cut? (Steele, N.D.)

A: You are already too late to prune this year; and no, a tree paint is not needed or suggested. Research has shown that it cause more problems than it solves.


Q: I spotted a good-looking, reasonable-priced apple tree this spring. The variety is "State Fair" and it is a dwarf tree, according to the tag. I am not able to locate any information on this variety for North Dakota. Is it not recommended here? (Carrington, N.D.)

A: The State Fair apple is recommended for trial purposes across North Dakota. I would encourage you to give it a try as it is an excellent apple, with the best storage qualities known in our area. Apples can keep until May. I am planning to plant one in my back yard this spring.


Q: There is an heirloom apple called Winter Banana. Description from AppleSource: A large, clear, pale yellow apple with a beautiful pink blush. Originated in Indiana in the late 1800s. Quality good to very good. Firm, coarse, distinctly aromatic. Often used as a pollinator for Red Delicious in Washington state. (E-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the info! Our reader will appreciate getting this, and along with that, I have learned something too.


Q: In reading your column I noted that someone was looking for a source for banana apple trees. I received this week a catalog from Miller Nurseries, 5060 West Lake Road, Canadaigua, N.Y. 14424-8904, phone (800) 836-9630. In the catalog it lists the Winter Banana apple, a semi-dwarf. It is described as having an aroma similar to bananas. They call it an heirloom variety and may be the one you were looking for. I worked for Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co. at Yankton, S.D. for the past 15 spring seasons, and really enjoy reading your column. I agree with most of what you say in the column and sometimes learn something new! (Springfield, S.D.)

A: Thank you for the info. I believe you are the third person to inform me of this apple, and I appreciate your interest!


Q: The writer who inquired about the banana apple picked a good one. They are large, pale yellow, with a waxy finish, and blushed with a rosy pink. It has crisp, tangy, juicy flesh that is firm and slightly coarse in texture. The aroma is distinctly banana, hence the name. It is good for eating and making cider, generally poor for cooking. Under the right conditions, the apples can store until March. The tree is an excellent pollinator, and the fruit ripens in October or early November. It originated at the Flory farm in Cass county, Indiana, in 1876 and was introduced to the public in 1890. It should be available at the following nurseries: 

Miller Nursery, 5060 West Lake Road, Canandaigua, NY 14424; Ph716-396-2647 

South Meadow Fruit Gardens, Box SM, Lakeside, MI 49116; Ph616-469-2865 

Tower Hill Botanic Garden, French Drive, Boylston, MA 01505 

M. Worley Nursery, 98 Braggtown Road, York Springs, PA 17372; Ph717-528-4519 

Bluebird Nursery from Nebraska used it as an interstem to dwarf their pear trees. 

I hope this will help. (E-mail reference, Bemidji, M.N.)

A: Thanks for the very good information about an apple I knew nothing about. It sounds like something that would be good to sink your teeth into just about now!


Q: Could you please send me information on how to start apple trees from seed? Would like to start the trees in a light soil, in grass area that has never been planted to anything but prairie grass. A lot of sun, near other trees. (E-mail reference, Dundee, Iowa)

A: Your success will depend on a number of factors, first being the variety of apple you will be using for the seed source. Seedlings of 'Delicious', 'Golden Delicious', McIntosh', ''Winesap', 'Yellow Newtown', and 'Rome Beauty', are the most widely used sources for good rootstock development. If you suffer from extreme prairie cold like we do in the Dakotas, you might want to get some Siberian crabapple seed (Malus baccata) for the hardiness such rootstock can impart to the edible scion wood. Although apple seed needs about 120 days of stratification, this can very easily be met by direct sowing outdoors. I advise you to sow much more than you think you'll want or need. That way you can select the most vigorous plants for further development.


Q: I am trying to find out how much to water my apple trees. I live at an elevation of about 4,000 feet in southern California (near Bakersfield). There are many apple orchards in the area, and they give varying replies to my question. I have a Johnna Gold, Golden Delicious and a Figi. This will be my second year of growing. During the summer months it gets up near the 100 F, and is dry. I have been watering one to two minutes every morning with my sprinkler system, about 1 to 2 quarts of water, in the hottest parts of summer. In the cooler parts of summer every other day, same amounts of water. Any advice or tips will be greatly appreciated. (e-mail)

A: Watering your apple trees is dependent on a number of factors:

1.The soil type--sandy, silty or clay.
2.The temperature and the EVT--evapotranspirationrate.
3.Wind, surrounding vegetation and whether you have the roots mulched.
4.The age and size of the trees.

If you have sandy soil, then daily watering is justified, If you have clay soil, watering should probably occur two to three times week. With high temperatures, the trees would benefit from syringing the foliage a couple of times a day during the hottest part.

You should view your water requirements in acre-inches. For example, figure that a   4-foot square area around each tree needs to be irrigated, regardless of whether the roots have extended that far. If you apply about 15 gallons of water over that area (16 square feet) each time you water, you will be adding the equivalent of about 1 acre inch of water to that area. Mulching with wood chips or other organic material would conserve the water and keep the root system cooler.


Q: Should I spray my fruit trees with any kind of spray at this time? They are plum, apple, cherry, apricot etc. Also I have an apple tree with yellow delicious apples, but lost the name of the tree. Is there any way to identify it and what would you need to identify it? (Hague, N.D., e-mail)

A: All the spraying is done in the early spring or late winter, prior to leaf-out. I suggest a lime-sulfur and dormant-oil spray at that time--these take care of most overwintering insects and diseases.

If you have an apple tree with yellow delicious apples on it, then that is the name of the tree. I do not try to identify apples any longer. It turns out to be too much of a good guess or worse, a shot in the dark!


Q: We have three apple trees that are 14 years old and still not producing. Can you tell me what we might try to get the trees to produce? (Ayr, N.D.)

A: Assuming the trees to be in good health, I suggest a little "traumatic stimulation." Take a straight-edge shovel and drive the blade vertically into the soil in 3 to 5 places around the drip line. This many times will stimulate them to set fruit.

It could be that you have the trees in a location that prevents the activity of pollinating insects -- where the wind blows almost incessantly, for example. The older trees should have begun bearing apples a long time ago.

Try my suggestion. If that doesn't work by the spring of 2001 at the latest, get back in touch. In the meantime, keep high nitrogen fertilizers away from the roots of these trees.


Q: I planted an apple tree about five years ago and the tree is about 15 feet tall now. The previous years the tree has had about a dozen apples, but this year the tree is loaded with apples. I am afraid that there are so many apples that it will break the branches. Is it better to remove some of the apples or let the tree take care of itself? (e-mail)

A: At this stage of the season, you are likely to cause more damage removing some apples than any storm would. I suggest NOT letting the tree take care of itself, but instead, to prop up the heaviest branches with a pole or cloth tied to the main trunk. If you don't think this will do, then VERY CAREFULLY take a hand pruner and remove the smaller apples to allow the "King" apple to develop more perfectly.

My apple is bearing heavily this year too! My wife and I are looking forward to making a lot of applesauce and freezing some for winter apple pies and apple crisp!


Q: I have been told to use Sevin to force some apples to drop. I have quite a number of trees and I would like them to produce every year. At what rate do I mix the Sevin? (Elbow Lake, Minn., e-mail)

A: Sevin is used at a rate of 3 tablespoons per gallon of water two to three weeks after bloom. You might want to look for two other products that would do the same thing but not have an adverse effect on predatory or pollinating insects: Fruitone N and App-L-Set. These are growth regulators, instead of insecticides, that need to be applied at full bloom to be effective. Another one that can be used is Florel Fruit Eliminator, which gives off ethylene gas, another growth regulator. All of these will cause fruit drop at the embryo sate.


Q: To the lady having trouble with her sheepnose apple grafting, she might try winter banana apple interstem. Also, how to tell an Easter cactus from a Christmas cactus: the leaves are shorter and fatter and trimmed with a red tint. (Bemidji, Minn.)

A: Thank you for writing and providing this interesting information. I am sure our readers will enjoy it!


Q: I have a few questions that I hope you can help me with. I want to cover an arbor and would like to know what kind of vine would be winter hardy as well as quick growing and nice looking? What grape varieties can you recommend? Could we use one to cover an arbor?

We have a sheepnose apple tree that's 50-plus years old. Would it be a good apple to use with others to make sweet cider? Can you also tell me where I can find more of these apple trees? I have sent scion wood to a friend in Ohio to make a new tree, but he cannot get it to take. (Freeman, S.D.)

A: Both the Beta and Valiant grapes are excellent choices for growing over arbors. You could also grow the vine honeysuckle as an arbor covering. As a temporary covering while the others are getting established, try morning glory and moonflower.

I have never heard of the sheepnose apple. Are you sure it is grafted, or is it a seedling? Have you tried to root cuttings? Try those two procedures this year—seed and cuttings—to see if anything takes. If it doesn't, send me some scion wood next winter and I'll see if our grafting expert, NDSU research specialist Larry Chaput, can succeed.


Q: I have a Honeycrisp apple tree which is 4 years old and has never blossomed or borne fruit. The tree seems healthy, but doesn't produce fruit. We are wondering if we are having trouble with pollination or if the ash tree in the next yard is causing the problems? (Cooperstown, N.D.)

A: My best suggestion, right now, is patience. You have done everything right; planting, location, other trees, etc. In another year or two it should begin bearing fruit.

In the meantime, don't be too good to the tree; cut back on watering and fertilizing, allowing it to be a little stressed. That will push it into reproducing a little faster.


Q: I would like to start an apple tree from an apple. Any suggestions? (e-mail reference) 

A: The seed from the apple will likely not produce true to type. Johnny Appleseed simply scattered apple seeds as he traveled around the northern part of the United States, and after going through the winter cold period, they sproute  and grew into the literally hundreds of varieties of apples that we have today.

You can accomplish the same thing by saving the seed from your apples and placing them in a crisper (nonfreezing area) in your refrigerator for about two to three months before planting them. So, if you let them stay cold for 60 to 70 days, that would take us to the last of April when you could sow them. Good germination should be the result, if they're placed in a location where the soil can warm easily from the sun.


Q: I built a new house on an acreage in Great Bend, N.D. I want to establish some fruit trees. What type of trees do I even have a remote chance of establishing and enjoying the fruit from? Also, I understand there are some interactions between trees that can cause disease in one tree because the "pest" completes its life cycle in another tree. (e-mail, Great Bend, N.D.)

A: Apple trees are going to be your best bet! Anoka, Beacon, Haralson, Northern Lights and Rescue are the hardiest. The only disease cycle that can bedevil these trees is the Cedar-Apple Rust fungi. If there are junipers in the immediate area (within a half mile) of your apple tree, the two plant species will act as alternate hosts to complete the life cycle of the fungus. It is harder on apples than it is on the junipers.

Other possibilities are plum and some cherry. These species are known to sucker extensively and can be a pain in the neck where a well-tended landscape is wanted. I think overall, though, you would be happiest with the apples. Have fun and enjoy!


Q: When should I spray my apple trees to thin the crop, and when is the correct time of year to prune my Norway maple? Last time I pruned it in March, and it drained from the cuts. What is the difference between lime-sulfur oil and dormant oil? Can they be used together if needed? Also, many years does fruit tree spray stay good in the bottle? Thank you. (Stickney, S.D.)

A: Spray when in full bloom, and again at flower petal drop. Maples are noted for their "bleeding" during early spring pruning, but this causes no real harm.

Yes, dormant oil and lime-sulfur can be used together. Dormant oil smothers insect eggs, while lime-sulfur acts as a "sanitizer" of the plant above ground surfaces.

How long a product stays "good" depends on how it is stored. If not allowed to freeze, three to four years does not seem unreasonable.


Q: Enclosed is a sample of our mountain ash and a few leaves from a tree that I cannot identify. The ash blooms and gets berries, then it dies off, and is now getting some dead leaves. We also have three apple trees right next to the ash that we were told have fireblight. What can we do to save these trees? We did try spraying Malathion at the time of blossoming, but it didn't help. (Berlin,N.D.)

A: My suggestion is to get rid of the badly diseased apples and mountain ash, and allow the black walnut that is growing among them (probably planted by a squirrel) to thrive.

The apple and mountain ash are members of the same family, and both are susceptible to fireblight, along with other diseases. Once they are hit as hard as yours are, there is little that can be done to save them. Enclosed is a publication of apple cultivars that are more resistant to diseases ("Tree Fruit Culture and Varieties in North Dakota"H327).


Q: Can you tell me what is causing the enclosed apple tree to slowly die? It bloomed and produced very well until about three years ago, then it slowly began to look ragged. Also, why don't my mock orange trees bloom? (Hope, N.D.)

A: From the visual symptoms on the sample you sent, I'd say the tree is going through zinc deficiency. This is characterized by a general chlorosis, undersized leaves and short internodes.

I suggest an application of micro nutrients (Miracid) to help the tree along. Apply once a month during the growing season — May, June, July and August.

As to the reasons why your mock orange shrub will not bloom: 

1. Flowering branches pruned out previous season.
2. Too much nitrogen from lawn fertilization.
3. Too much shade.
4. It isn't a mock orange.


Q: This is an update on the letter I sent you two years ago about my scion or budwood apple seedlings. These trees have survived their third Minnesota winter. A year ago last fall I transplanted one tree and last fall I transplanted six more. They all are fine. One tree is 3 feet tall, and most are between 2 and 2 1/2 feet tall. I do hoe around them and when it gets dry I have been watering them. This spring I pruned some of the trees. This fall I will move a couple more trees, as I planted them too close to some other trees. (Dent, Minn.)

A: That's great news! Let's give them five more years (summer 2003) to bear fruit—then I'd really be interested in them. Keep up the good work—you've obviously got a green thumb.


Q: Last year we lost one of our apple trees to rabbits. We have a seedling that came up from the roots, will this bear fruit? I believe this one was a Harelson. We also have a Red Baron apple tree that half the branches on one side died. It looks like it could fall over, it's so unbalanced. It also has this fungus-like growth. Does this need to be treated? It doesn't seem to affect the leaves or blossoming.

We also have a Habelred apple tree that has a black powder like residue on some of the branches. What is it and should it be treated?

What is the best proven chemical to use to kill dandelions, keeping in mind that we have children and a dog? (Barnesville, Minn.)

A: The growth from the roots is very likely a rootstock sucker growth. The rootstock is different from the top growth and is likely to result in something unwanted.

The fungus is a saprophyte feeding on dead or decaying wood. The black powder is sooty mold. Pruning to open the canopy of the tree will help to control this superficial fungus growth.

I would encourage you to put up with the dandelions in your lawn if it is going to be used for romping and playing by the family. If they are just too much to put up with, then Confront applied according to label directions would be an example of an acceptable herbicide.


Q. I read your excellent advice and look forward to it every week.

I am enclosing two pictures of some miserable apple trees that are about 30 years old. No. 1 produces lots of apples, every other year or so, that are good for canning and pies. No. 2 does not produce much fruit, but when it does, they are good eating apples. Would you recommend any pruning of these trees? If yes, could you mark what should be cut out this year with one pen and next year with another? The leaves are just starting to bud, so it may be a little late already, but I would like to learn.

Thank you for any advice you can give me. (Freeman, S.D.)

A. I admire your desire to learn, but what you are asking I cannot do. Both trees would benefit from pruning, it is obvious. Pruning needs to be done yearly and with a thoughtful, logical approach, involving the health and aesthetics of the tree, as well as ease in harvesting. To mark lines on a couple of photos would be a travesty of the art and science of pruning.

The best I can do is to suggest you do two things: read the enclosed publication H-327, "Tree Fruit Culture and Varieties in North Dakota," where pruning principles are discussed, and contact the Ag Communication Distribution Center at 701-231-7399 and ask for a copy of our video on "Pruning Tips for Early Spring."

Thank you for the kind comments about the column.


Q. I really enjoy your column on problems with plants, etc.

I wonder if you can help me. I have some apple trees and the last couple years my apples have had dry brown spots all the way through them and I would like to know what to do about them. They are not caused by apple maggots.

I have heard a couple of other people mention this problem, but we don't know what to do about it. Is there a spray or some other way to cure this?

I will be waiting for your answer. Thank you. (Doran, Minn.)

A. If you tell me the spots are not caused by the apple maggot, then I don't know what to tell you. My suggestion is to take some of the affected apples in to your local county extension office when the problem resurfaces this year.

Thank you for the kind words about the column.


Q. I have learned many good tips from your column. 

My problem is a 3-year-old apple tree that did not fare well after last winter. Some branches have leaves and some are dead. When would be the best time to cut out the dead   branches, fall or spring? It did not bear any fruit this year. Thank you. (Battle Lake, Minn.)

A. Early spring is always the best time for deciduous tree pruning. The cambium is active at that time and the cuts would compartmentalize and heal quickly. In the fall, cambial activity is greatly slowed and the healing is very slow, which could result in winter injury.


Q. I am writing in regard to our apple trees. We purchased and planted them three to four years ago. They produced apples last year and doubled in their production this year. They did have blight, which we sprayed and pruned for.

Please send information on fertilization, spraying, pruning, watering, etc.

Do I care for apricot trees in the same way? They didn't produce well this year. They are about 6 years old. Is it wise to fertilize trees in the fall?

Thank you. (Garrison, N.D.)

A. Enclosed is a publication on fruit trees, PP-454, "Diseases of Apples and Other Pome Fruits." Others may obtain a copy of this publication at their county extension office or by contacting the NDSU Distribution Center, Box 5655, Morrill 10, NDSU, Fargo, ND 58105-5655.

An apple is treated differently than an apricot. Neither need much fertilizer and both are prone to many disease problems. The apricot is lightly pruned, while apples typically require heavier pruning, both being pruned in late winter.

Apricots, being a Prunus species will tend to sucker heavily and may cause you a headache later on.


Q. I enjoy reading your articles about plants and trees. My problem is that I planted a dwarf Jonathan apple tree and last winter the rabbits chewed all the bark about 3 feet up, so it died. Now it is sprouting limbs from the bottom. Will it ever be any good and bear fruit or will it just be a bush? Will be watching for the answer in the paper. Thank you. (Canova, S.D.)

A. This has happened a couple times to me as well. The result was a better tree for what it had to endure. Check to make sure the growth is not coming from the graft union or below it. If it is, then dig it out and replace.

If the new growth is emerging from the remaining stem, then you likely have nothing to worry about.


Q: Have you ever heard of driving nails in apple trees to get them to produce? (Bemidji, Minn.)

A: Yes, driving nails into trees is a form of stimulation to get them bearing fruit.


Q: Can I spray my trees with a fungicide to control the cedar apple rust? If so, what fungicide do you recommend? (Mott, N.D., e-mail)

A: It would be far easier for you to pick off the globular galls on the cedars right now than to go to the expense and environmental havoc of spraying a fungicide. Simply removing those gelatinous galls would break the cycle, and prevent the apples from becoming infected.


Q: We have an apple tree that has developed an almost rotten-looking area about half way up the trunk. The bark has peeled off above this area, but below the bark is OK. There were lots of blossoms and fruit has set. Should we take the tree out? (Milnor, N.D.)

A: Sounds like a good idea, but wait until after apple harvest is over. Then cut it up for firewood.


Q: I have apple trees that have apple cedar rust with apples on them. A local nursery told me to spray them with Daconil, which I did about a month ago. Now I have been told that I cannot eat the apples since they have been sprayed with Daconil. Is this true? (Kansas e-mail)

A: Daconil is a turfgrass fungicide and should not have been used on an edible crop like apples. The product was used off-label--in other words, illegally. Once the disease sets in for the season, there is no effective control except sanitation at the season's end. Next spring, when the flower buds turn pink, spray with a fungicide containing zineb or ferbam. Spray again at 75 percent petal drop and then again about 10 days later. Another control is to find the alternate host, juniper, and remove the fruiting bodies that are obvious in the late winter or early spring. Or, simply remove all junipers within several hundred yards of your tree, if possible.


Q: We have an apple tree that has developed extensive suckers. I've read that one should dig down and cut the suckers off where they are attached to the root -- that if the suckers are cut off any higher, they merely come back thicker than ever. Does this work? Is there any other way to get rid of suckers--a chemical or something? Thanks. (E-mail reference, Fargo, N.D.) 

A: I wish it worked! Unfortunately, it seems that once a plant begins to sucker, they become difficult to control. Cutting each sucker back to the source may keep it from suckering again at THAT point, but they just develop again somewhere else. 


Q: Our apple tree was loaded down with apples and the branches overloaded and bending to the ground. We appreciate the apples but need advice on pruning. Can we trim off those full branches and when should we prune? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: You need to give the loaded branches as much support as possible to avoid breakage. The overloading can be avoided in future years by hand thinning in late May when the fruit is small. Pruning on fruit trees is done in the early spring while the plants are still dormant or leafless.


Q: A client is wondering if apples should be picked before the first frost or do they need a frost? Also, how cold and how long? (E-mail reference, Linton, N.D.)

A: The first frost of the year is almost never detrimental to apples because of the foliage protection. They can normally tolerate temps down to 27 degrees for the night with the foliage. It is later in the fall when most of the foliage is gone and the tree is still carrying apples that such a freeze could damage the apples, but then only for storage purposes, as they can then be immediately used for making apple sauce or juice.


Q: I have an apple tree about 6 years old and it had nice apples on it for the first year. It is growing too tall and spindly, and I was wondering if I can cut the top and some of the upper branches off. Will it have apples next year? (Mercer, N.D.)

A: You bet! "Prune to harvest," I was told by an old orchardist when I was a kid. The best apples are always out of reach! Do so, however, in the early spring before leaf-out.


Q: I came across your website while trying to find information on banana apple trees. The two trees my grandmother planted in 1938 have died and I've been unable to locate a nursery that sells them. Is there another name, or am I just looking in the wrong places? (E-mail reference, Connecticut)

A: I think the term "banana apple" is a reference to the golden color of the apple skin in Golden Delicious, Honeygold, or Granny Smith types. I have lived in apple country a good part of my life and have never heard of the term banana apple. Perhaps one of our readers will know just what if any, variety that term refers to. If they do, I'll certainly let you know.


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