Apple tree problem

Hi all,

I am concerned about one of my apple trees, Liberty, that is supposed to have a lot of disease resistance, but is this fire blight? No other trees in the orchard are affected. Any help identifying and recommended next steps is appreciated.

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I’m sorry, that looks dreadful. Could it be water, gophers, herbicide?

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I would start with watering it. Judging by the soil and grass around it doesn’t seem to be getting any. With that level of stress, whatever it may be, I would take all the apples out. It is very taxing to put out apples, double so if the tree is going through whatever it is going through.

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Oh no, that’s sad. Good luck finding the fix!

I wish that were it. It gets watered and the rest of the orchard is fine.

That’s not fireblight. Is the cambium still green? Give it the good old scratch test and see if the layer just under the bark is still green. If you are watering a lot, stop. If you aren’t watering, I would start. Perhaps a flush of growth will show up. Any chance the tree got sprayed with herbicide or Hit with the lawn mower, roots dug up when installing a drain pipe? Could be lots of issues.


where was the tree stored? i bought one from the local nursery once that looked fine then did this when i planted it out. one of the helpers, moved a bunch of them into the garage due to a frost warning then forgot about them… they had stayed in the garage for 4 days before another worker saw them and brought them back out. if thats the case, like others said, it will send out new growth.

I agree, it looks like it is not being watered. Silly questions, but did the rootstock look okay when you planted it? When you planted it was the dirt around the roots pushed down with your foot to make sure there wasn’t an air pocket, etc around the rootstock? I know, maybe silly questions but simple things can get overlooked when you are in a hurry.
I hope it recovers.

Was that tree just planted? If so you should have taken all the apples out. A transplant is very stressful, producing fruit early is very stressful (a sure way to stunt and dwarf a tree for years to come), a transplant AND asking it to produce that early? I would expect it to look like that.

If this is so there is a chance next year it may not even flower or put out growth. I have seen stressed apple trees that took two growth seasons to sort themselves out.

What’s your watering routine and soil composition? You could be watering daily with little water actually making it to the roots. For a new tree it needs deep daily water. Well provided you have enough drainage.

A few people have mentioned a lack of water, but it sounds like you have been watering it regularly. Another idea might be borers eating all the way around the cambium, or gophers eating the roots. Those would probably all display similar symptoms. Do you have any suckers popping up from the roots?

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I have never heard of borers eating roots or around the trunk. Voles usually eat roots and could eat bark, too. For voles, it is easy to discover. Lift a tree up. No roots left, it’s voles.

The OP needs to provide more detailed info re. treatment of this tree compared to the rest. A pic of the row of trees with this tree in it could be helpful, too.

Don’t look like fire blight.


Thanks all. This tree has been in the ground two years. I water deeply with a hose every 7-10 days when not getting sufficient rain. Orchard has all received the same spray program, so no differences whatsoever in treatment among trees. I’ll try to find a picture of the trees immediately adjacent but they are vigorous and healthy, all same age but different varieties. It has been dry here, so perhaps this Liberty variety needs more water than the others.

I should add that not 10 days ago this tree was perfect, browning happened very fast.

I would personally dig it up and replant it. Making sure the roots were okay and the soil around the area planted was okay as well. What do you have to lose at this point?

It would have been nice if that was the problem, it just get uglier from there.

And a rabbit or vole didn’t gird the tree? That’s usually a winter thing but worth just looking at it.

Provided nothing ate the roots it is probably a disease; viral, bacterial, or fungal. The sad thing is that at this level of dieback there is little to gain spraying much of anything, the damage is done.

What herbicide did you use around that tree? Do you use the same sprayer for herbicide as for fungicide/pesticide?

The reason I ask is that it looks like trichlopyr (Brushtox) damage at about the level you would expect if, say, you had left a little bit in the wand when you washed out the sprayer before switching over from herbicide to pesticide.

I am betting on collar or crown rot (Phytophthora). If the roots are orange looking that decides it. Fast browning is often a symptom. It can take out an orchard if there is too much water or watering. Only known treatment is one of the most expensive pesticides there is, Ridomil Gold SL. Read the label. (I lost 15% of my trees the year we had 84" of rain and most of them were younger - all varieties, from Jonathan, Golden D, Granny Smith, etc.) When you plant new trees, it is usually OK to soak them with a little Aliette for 24 hours in a bucket to give them a chance of survival in a crown rot area.

Alternatively, it could be Southern Blight depending on your location. (Sclerotial blight) Look for nodes.

The first thing I check here when a tree goes from healthy to darn near dead in a short amount of time are the roots. I’ve been able to lift some trees right out of the ground thanks to gophers eating the roots.


I experienced that with both apples and pears before I started planting with stainless mesh baskets. It was rather discouraging.

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I haven’t gone that route, but I am very much on top of pocket gopher trapping.