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 Starting an apple tree 
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Joined: Wed May 09, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 3
Location: Minnesota
Post Starting an apple tree
My husband and I purchased a house 4 years ago that had two (barely) mature apple trees in the backyard of unknown variety. They have both been great producers. Unfortunately, the winter before last, our friendly resident rabbit got very hungry and chewed the bark off of the bottom 10" or so of the trunk of one of them. I patched it with tar as soon as I caught it last spring and it seemed to do just fine and produced quite well last fall. It apparently did not fare so well over the winter and now appears to be dead as the other is leafing out and has an incredible amount of blossoms and this one has nothing. I'm assuming the lack of snow and the harsh sub-zero temperatures was more than it could handle. It was also planted right next to a cement retaining wall and did not appear to have much of a root system as we had to brace it up in the summer to keep it from falling over after any amount of rain or watering.

Anyway, now for my question: Is it possible to start a seedling from a young branch of the other tree? I obviously do not have any seeds from any of the apples since I was not expecting to have to replant this spring. Since I do not know the variety of the apple and the existing trees have been excellent producers, I figured if I could somehow "replicate" the existing tree, I would possibly get another good producer of the same variety. I know it is possible to start some houseplants using a cutting from a plant and rooting it out in a jar of water, so I thought it might be possible to do the same with an apple tree. Sorry for the rambling explanation, but I thought it might help to know my reasoning behind all of this. Thanks for any information! :)

Wed May 09, 2007 5:00 pm

Joined: Wed May 09, 2007 9:18 am
Posts: 111
Location: Corvallis, Oregon USA
Speaking as a newbie to the apple tree thing myself, your description of the damage is classic "girdling" of the tree - I'm surprised that it even kept going at all after that. There are a couple of grafting methods used to repair damage like that, but you needed to do it then when it happened; or at least before the tree came out of dormancy and leafed out.
And no, you can't plant seeds from the other tree; at least not if you want a tree like either of the ones you have - apple seeds don't grow up into a tree like the parent; that's why nurseries graft buds or young branches (scionwood) from a known variety onto a rootstock; to make another tree the same as the one the buds came from. If you had a Red Delicious and planted the seeds, you'd get something vaguely like it, but the seeds only have half the genetics of the Red Delicious, the other half is from whatever pollinated that particular blossom.

And you can only harvest scionwood (recent growth with buds) when the tree is dormant, then it can be grafted onto an apple rootstock; which themselves are usually cloned from special rootstock trees to give certain known characteristics such as cold hardiness or dwarfing to whatever is grafted onto it, so you might get a dwarf tree which bears full size fruit, yet which is only 5 to 6' high. So it is all possible to do with your surviving tree, but it all takes time, and grafting takes some skill. Rootstock can be purchased from some mail order or web nurseries, if you look around; then you get to choose what kind you'd like for what size tree you want and which will grow well where you live.

As you can see, it's a bit more involved than just taking a cutting and dropping it into some water until roots form! Probably your best bet is to wait until the surviving tree fruits, take the fruit and get it identified; use the tree size to figure out how dwarfing the rootstocks were for that variety; then just go out and purchase another tree from a nursery; which will already be 3 to 4 years old. If you identify it correctly, the new tree should be genetically the same as your old one; even though the buds which started it came from a different place.

And put some metal guards around the base of the trunk to keep the critters from eating it again!
Good luck!

Wed May 09, 2007 7:06 pm
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Joined: Wed May 09, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 3
Location: Minnesota
Thanks for the advice, Dave! :lol: I'll definitely put a guard around the other tree. We have a lot of yardwork to do this summer anyway. I can see it is definitely more difficult than I imagined. I knew there was a lot of grafting done with apple trees, but I had no idea just how extensive it was. I have some ideas as to the type of tree it is, so I will probably do some looking and find a tree that's similar either online or at the local nursery. Still bummed out about losing the tree as it was an excellent producer, but it was planted in a really stupid spot, anyway! The previous owners planted it right next to/on top of an underground cement retaining wall, so the roots couldn't grow the way they needed to. I find it amazing that it did so well where it was planted. Thanks again for the help. Now I know where to go with any more questions about my new or existing trees!

G'Day to Ya!

Thu May 10, 2007 7:16 am

Joined: Thu Feb 15, 2007 10:56 am
Posts: 12
Location: wisconsin
just a quick thought. i've protected all of my young trees from critters by jus using a piece of 1 1/2 inch corrugated black drain hose from the local box store. i think it costs about $5 per 25 feet. cut off an appropriate length and use a utility knife to cut a slit along the length. wrap it around the little trunk and use a simple wire wrap to keep it taught. the wire can be loosened every year as the tree grows and this will keep the wrap in place and not girdle the trunk. any way, i found this quick and easy and cheap and looks a little better than the fencing; also easier to cut the grass.

Thu May 10, 2007 8:44 am

Joined: Wed May 09, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 3
Location: Minnesota
Thanks for the thought. I've actually seen plastic tree trunk wrap at the store which is almost identical to what you describe. My dad has used it around his apple trees with excellent results. He has rabbits AND deer to contend with! :?

Thu May 10, 2007 9:27 am

Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2005 11:27 pm
Posts: 1188
Location: Yamhill County, Oregon
Good stuff. …if I may, you mentioned using tar to coat the girdled tree? I don't know how tar affects a trees open wound, but only arch grafting can save a totally girdled tree – and as mentioned, it’s too late for that. But if you've got tar ... I'd use that around your remaining tree.

I've used corrugated black plastic tubing too. My worry was that I couldn't see what was going on under it… I feared a mouse nest, or vole action. I also worried some about the extra heat generated by the color black; though white (both are available at the same price) could be a good alternative.

What has worked wonderfully for me is painting actual roofing tar around the base of my fir, cedar, sequoia, and fruit trees. A new application every 2 to 3 years kept anything from sinking their teeth into them. And this treatment hasn’t bothered any of those trees; though I'd had major losses due to rabbit / mouse & vole damage to the 'forest trees.' If you go with the tar, paint it up as high as you like - though I rarely went above a foot. And keep the grass down around the trunk/s!

As far as identifying the dead tree, I suspect it was a common variety to your region and a basic description of its fruit would lead a knowledgeable nursery person to it. …good luck finding that knowledgeable nurs…

Temperate Orchard Convservancy:

Thu May 10, 2007 1:45 pm
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