Apple Trees

By Jeff Rugg

June 21, 2017 5 min read

Q: Our apple tree has many apples, but they are all small and gnarled and have black indentations on them. Can you suggest some remedies?

A: Maladies to apple, pear, orange and other fruit trees always seem to be black shriveled spots that are difficult to diagnose without seeing the actual fruit. Accurate identification is important because any treatment not suited to the problem leaves you with bad fruit, wastes time, money and effort, and probably puts unnecessary chemicals into the environment.

The most common disease of apples, and the most likely cause of the described symptoms, is Apple scab. It affects apples and crabapples. (The technical difference between apples and crabapples is that apples are larger than 2 inches in diameter. Many crabapples are good to eat and make good sauce, cider or any other apple food.)

Apple scab causes black spots on the leaves and can cause the tree to lose its leaves. Several outbreaks of the disease can occur during the year, especially during rainy spells. And if the tree loses its leaves several years in a row, it can weaken and be damaged by low temperatures. If an outbreak occurs early in the season (late April to early May), the fruit can be deformed with the black areas concentrated around the blossom end of the fruit. Later outbreaks cause spots anywhere on the fruit, and a fall outbreak can cause pinpoint spots on the fruit in storage.

Sanitation is the first step to control most disease problems. Most of the fungal and bacterial diseases occur over winter in the dead leaves on the ground under the tree, where they can easily infect the tree in the spring. Remove and dispose of the leaves if they are falling now, and do so again in the fall for a start at better apples next year.

Fungus spores blow in the wind and can cover a long distance, so fungicides may be necessary to control tree fruit diseases. Some fungicides work as preventative; some work to kill existing fungi; and others do both. Read the label, and follow the directions.

If you plant any new trees, use a variety that is labeled as resistant to Apple scab or the most common disease problem in your area. One place our tax dollars do an excellent job is the USDA Cooperative Research and Extension Services. There is an office in practically every county in the country, although there has been some consolidation. Most states offer a group of publications on growing fruits, which would be excellent resources. They generally cost less than $5 and have many color photos, diagrams and updated lists of resistant trees and allowable chemicals. No one trying to grow fruit should be without one.

Q: I have a limited amount of space in my yard that I can use to grow an apple tree. The catalogs say that some of these trees will stay less than 10 feet tall. Is that really true?

A: It probably is true. The most common method used to dwarf a fruit tree is through a dwarfing rootstock. For instance, a cutting of the desired apple tree is cut off a branch. It is then grafted on to another tree's root system to become the new trunk of the tree. Some specific trees slow the growth of the new top to a mature size two-thirds or one-half the original tree's height. Some of these rootstocks limit the growth to less than 10 feet tall. Of course, soil conditions, fertilizer and weather will all play a role in the height.

Even in orchards, most apple trees are now grown on some type of dwarfing stock. Orchards of smaller trees grow more fruit per acre than the big trees, and it is easier to maintain and harvest them.

Many of the dwarf trees are denoted as Malling or Malling-Merton, and often they have numbers after them. A Malling 26 grows smaller trees than an MM 106, according to one of my sources. The sellers of the trees have a good handle on how big a tree will grow because it takes many years to get enough cuttings to grow for sale. In the meantime, the original trees will have matured to an average height that they can use in their advertising.

Another advantage of small apple trees is that you must have two different apples that bloom at the same time to get pollination. Without pollination, you will not get any fruit. Two small trees will fit into the same area that one older variety would have consumed. Two different varieties will give two different types of apple as well, so you get twice as much enjoyment. Try getting one variety that is good for eating and one for cooking.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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