Apple tree dying

I have a 30+ year old apple tree that seems to be dying. I believe it is a Wolf River apple tree. A branch died two years ago and nothing seemed to happen last year, but now at least four branches have died and more leaves are turning brown and the branches are dying. It has been quite dry around here for two years now. I am not sure what is going on and we love the apples this tree produces. I would greatly appreciate any advice.


Pamela - Welcome to Growing Fruit!

Its not unusual for old apple trees to die. I have had 2 old trees to die in the last 10 years. What does the trunk of the tree look like right at the ground? If there is more than one-third of the circumference of the trunk is damaged there it is not really anything that you can do. If there is just a little damage the tree will either heal itself or get worse.

Also, it would help if you would list your zone in your profile.

I think we will need more information to be able to help you. I expanded the picture and looked at it in detail. It looks like the tree is probably about 25 feet tall and has some localized dead areas. It appears to have had minimal pruning done to it and the grass is green so it doesn’t look like the soil is extremely dry.

Look around the trunk and see if there are areas of dead bark or dead areas free of bark. Also look for cracking and abnormal growths. Where the dead leaves and dead branches are look for damage, cracking, etc. If you find any areas like this post pictures if you can. Also look at the leaves and see if there are dead areas, spotting, or other non-green areas.

From the initial picture you have in your post it may be that those branches died and just need pruned out. That there isn’t a greater issue beyond that. But I think examining the tree and posting more pics would help us help you. What kind of soil do you have (sandy, loam, clay)? Also does the ground around the tree ever have standing water?

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You could mulch out to the dripline with some leaves this fall or other organic matter, which will help retain moisture and build soil fertility as it breaks down, helping to increase the tree’s immune system. And less mowing too as a bonus! :slight_smile:

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So sad! Your photo brought back memories of my youth. When I was young, we had a giant old standard wolf river apple tree. The site was a remnant of an old orchard that was all on standard apple rootstocks and most likely planted early in the 20th century as they were very old and some dying off in the late 1960’s when my family bought the lot.

We kept our picnic table under our giant wolf river and got to eat our Sunday dinners in the shade. Neat to look up and see all the giant sized apples hanging over our heads! We soon learned not to eat our dinner under the tree when the apples got ripe. The giant apples falling down can really hurt if they hit your head.

Your tree seems to look healthy except for the few dead branches. Prune them out and I would hope for the best. At least the whole tree is not in decline.

How big are your apples? I recall one year we had some so big that 3 would be enough to make a pie. I have fond memories of Wolf River.

Some day I want to start a Wisconsin Heritage apple orchard. So many apple varieties that originated in my home state (Wolf River, NW Greening, Pewaukee, Milwaukee, Bonnie Best, Viking, Apple-Tizer, Chin Dripper ect). The Oneida indians even have a heritage apple they grow in their commercial orchard on their reservation site near Green Bay that they supposedly brought to Wisconsin from the East when they settled here.

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They sure are delicious apples. We love them. I was picking up apples that had fallen off the tree and noticed a hole in the trunk which is soft. I was wondering if this could be some of the problem of why my branches are dying.


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