Cankered apple - reuse roots or start over?

I have a 15 year old Cox Orange Pippin that is dying due to a trunk canker (it spread from a weed whacker cut and has almost girdled the trunk at this point). I could pull it out and start over, but it seems to me there’s a big established root system in the ground. What if I cut it off and then grafted onto the shoots that will likely spring up from the rootstock? Less work, and maybe faster time to maturity. Has anyone ever tried this?

I recognize that the canker (bacteria? viruses) are likely in the rootstock too, but it still seems like it could work.


You could use the root to grafte new varieties. Yes, the established roots can grow much faster than small tree. I did that to my cherry tree.

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If I were in your situation, I would experiment with a mud pack and bridge grafting to see if I could help the tree to beat the canker.

To mud pack cut out as much of the damaged area as you can back to clean wood, cleaning along the edge of the canker until you expose cambium. Take soil from your area, mix it with water to get a dough like consistency, then pack the mud into the cleaned out canker. Wrap the whole mud packed area tightly with plastic wrap to hold the mud in place and prevent it drying out. The idea is that microbes in the soil will make life harder for the canker bacteria, giving the cambium layer that you exposed a chance to callus off the edge of the canker. Leave the mud pack on for at least a year.

Bridge grafts going from below the canker to above the canker will give the tree the ability to move sap past the canker while the mud pack is doing it’s thing.

I would graft a scion of this tree to a new rootstock as a backup just in case the tree doesn’t survive but I wouldnt give up on it as long as it still has life.


I tried to heal my tree with a mud pack (just like Zafak suggested) and it worked. I removed the cankered/damaged area to clean wood, I burned the wound with a lighter and I used clay to patch the area. Except I didn’t wrap it in plastic. I added clay when the rain washed it off. It was on the tree for a couple of weeks. The wound healed and there is no more canker.


I looked at it today now the snow is melting and it’s now completely girdled. Interesting since the twigs are still green. Still I don’t see much hope of it budding out. If the rootstock puts up some shoots I’ll look at grafting onto it.

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Seems like it might work or might do the opposite by keeping the area wet, which favors fungus. My trust would be in the trees own chemistry to wall out the fungus after removing as much as possible.

However, if someone has used this method often with success, I could easily be swayed.

Interesting idea- could depend on the microbiology of any given soil.

There is no scientifically derived method I know of- when I’ve sought help for girdling canker on apple trees I’ve been told by Cornell experts there’s nothing I can do.

I had well developed 6" diam grafts on a tree girdled by a canker that killed one big branch, while the other that was partially circled has continued to grow several seasons. The original tree is a Siberian crag with no canker on it.

I was expecting the original grafts to all die, but it hasn’t happened, although I replaced them lower on the tree with a couple of other varieties.

The client doesn’t favor crabapple preserves, so I have to do something.

Yeah, there’s no healing this one. It’s completely girdled 10" wide or more. So that leads to the related question: assuming this root system suckers, is it worth trying to graft onto the original root system, or just start over? I had a wild cherry tree snapped in a snowstorm and the top regenerated incredibly fast. But there are no suckers up yet, so it’s a question of which approach is likely to get to fruit faster.

Have you looked into bark/rind grafting? I had a pear die above the graft line, but the root stock was still alive. I cut off the top and bark grafted scions onto the root.

It’s a good thought. As it turns out, the canker extended below the graft line and even some of the roots were in rough shape. So it’s unfortunately a total loss and I’m replacing it with a new tree.

I have done this with a plum and a fire blighted pear a few years ago. Both worked quite well. In both cases I used 3 of the suckers to make a tree with three different varieties, and 3 trunks on one root system. Removed all the other suckers. I held all the branches of the pear at 45 degrees or lower and it began bearing in 2 years. Both trees are in the video thread (Members' Orchard Tours (Video Links)). On the pear I grafted to suckers that were still watery and soft, perhaps four to six weeks old.

If you have a healthy root system and lots of suckers I think it is worth a try.:+1:

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