Fruit Trees Aren’t Doing Well

I remember Alan (HM) saying one time that the old garden web was the best place for the home fruit grower to get information on growing and taking care of fruit trees. I believe that to be very true as I’ve gotten most
of what I know about growing fruit from reading what you guys have written. Hope you have some answers to my problem. My growing fruit has been severely hampered this year because a lot of my trees are dead or close to it. I live northern front range Colorado where it is common to have warm springs to get everything blooming and then comes a hard freeze to kill off the flowers or buds. If we get a good crop of peaches and or apricots every 5 years or so I’m a happy camper. We had a mild winter, only one short really cold spell and no late spring frosts. I was sure this was going to be one of those bumper years for peaches and apricots that is until I started to do some apple grafts in May. Snipping branches to graft I was finding a lot more brown than green and things just didn’t look good. The cambium may not be the green but I’m thinking the green stuff is pretty important. I started looking around and found I had 15 plus trees and 100 plus dead scions. Not good. Remembering back to late summer/early fall it had been really warm and we had a hard frost that killed all of the leaves and my only thought was man the trees really looked weird with all of those dead leaves. I should have put a little effort into thinking what had happened and maybe I could done some things to reduce the damage. This seemed to affect the apple and peach trees the most, pears and plums the least, cherries and apricots in between and 6 of 8 trees planted last year are dead. Apparently you can lose a lot more than some fruit with an early fall frost. My question is there things I could have done to decrease damage either before or after this happened? I think I water adequately, mulch some, don’t fertilize, don’t prune as much as I should. One of my old, about 30 years old, apple trees had a mild chlorosis and I’ve put down some sulfur around it but it didn’t seem to get any better or worse. For the last couple of years I’ve been meaning to get my soil analyzed but haven’t got around to doing it.
One final thing. About 5 years ago I decided I wanted to learn to graft and started reading up on the whip & tongue and bark graft and understood what I was reading but felt I was missing something. I didn’t understand the reason for everything that was done. I had about 30 scion sticks to do and just started grafting doing my best to mimic what I had read and was and have been pretty successful. As a result I just forgot about the questions I had until I seen Opea’s thread What Color Is The Cambium Anyway? I had read the Cambium Cross or Match and watched Impala 1993’s video just as I think Opea had done but he was smart enough to see there was a pretty important question there. From that thread I believe I got all of the questions answered that I had in the beginning. I do service work and there’s an old saying – if you know how something works you’ve got a better chance of fixing it – I now have a better understanding. I’ve read a lot of great information, especially on this new site, but that one just seemed to hit home to me.
Any help would be appreciated and thanks


Wow. FWIW I don’t think there was really anything you could have done. For sure inaction alone could not have caused the terrible losses you have incurred imo. The lack of green (which nearly everyone refers to as the cambium) under the bark is a sure sign of death of at least that part of the tree and obviously if it is throughout the tree it’s probably dead. BTW, I too am familiar with the thread. video etc on cambium and am aware that there is inner lying tissue which evidently is also part of cambium tissue. Still, brown is dead.
I also cannot imagine a hard frost killing the trees although late summer / fall would be a bad time for it no doubt. I just have never heard or read of widespread tree failure due to an early - late frost. I would think if that was common at all there wouldn’t be many trees of any type in your part of Colorado since physically speaking trees are all very similar.
Is it possible that this was caused by some other factor that just happened to coincide with the hard frost? Voles, herbicide damage, could they be girdled from bark gnawling animals…anything?
How old were these trees and the dead scion wood (grafts)…when were they grafted…the spring proceeding this hard late frost?

Also…just wanted to mention that I do and always have subscribed to your thinking on knowing how and why something works in order to be able to successfully repair it. I am an electrician by trade and when I was apprenticing 20 years ago I remember an extremely sharp troubleshooter telling me “when you go into a factory to repair a machine ask them for access to the chief operator. He won’t likely know how any of it works, but he’ll be able to tell you the sequence of operations and explain what the machine is supposed to do and what it is not doing”. He said “don’t forget that…some guys are too proud, they want to pretend they know how a machine that they’ve never laid eyes on works”. I never did forget it and it has over the years allowed me to be successful where others have failed. I succeeded not because I was smarter or better, but because I heeded that one very simple piece of advice. With a little background knowledge all one has to do is understand how and why something works to be able to repair the problem…the only thing left was to put all that into action. I think this principle can be applied to anything.
Like you, I too have done different things where I was following steps or guidelines and not knowing the whys or hows and it never feels right to me either.

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Appleseed I don’t think caused by herbicides or voles because it’s too widespread in this area. Yesterday as I was going to do some work in the next town north of me I noticed that along a whole stretch of the parkway the trees showed no signs of green and some were diffidently dead. And there’s a fellow that has a peach tree that I have driven past for years and enjoyed seeing how many peaches he had on his tree as compared to mine. I thought his tree was dead until yesterday when I seen a few green leaves in one area. I’ll contact the local extension office and see what they say.
Most of the dead trees were young and most were apple or peach with the oldest apple being 8 years. I have two 30 plus year old apple trees that I was using as scionwood reservoirs and they are in pretty sad shape but I think they’ll be OK. On the apples I would say that all one and two year scions are dead along with some of the three year old stuff. On E, J and J/A plums and apricots all of one year old scions are dead
with some of the older surviving. Funny thing the J and J/A plums bloomed out like nothing had happened and it looks like I’ll get plum crop out of them. Pears other than everything being delayed a little appear to be normal. The only scions I’ve lost on them have been from my tree climbing patterdale terriers who probably get more of the fruit than I do.
Interesting that you are an electrician. I was and guess I still am although my life is divided up now between electrical, refrigeration and gas. I think your troubleshooting mentor was exactly right. When I worked at or in plants and a piece of equipment was down the first thing I would do usually is talk and listen to the operator and they could generally put you in the right neighborhood of the problem. Ignoring them and you might be looking in the next state for the problem.
If the extension agent has anything interesting to say I’ll post it.

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Very interesting…all of it. Keep us posted.

Well I finally spoke to the extension agency people. What they told was that you just have to suck it up buddy and realize that all of your trees are dead. And who said that the county extension services couldn’t be very helpful. No just kidding, what I was told were things I already knew but they put names and figures on it. They said that we had an extremely warm fall and that a polar vortex came throug and the temperature dropped 40* in a couple of hours. The damage was wide spread. Mulching and winter watering may have decreased the damage and all you can do is wait and see if they will pull out of it. I already mulch and winter water and just went out back and things still look the same. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a polar vortex before and hope I never hear of it again.
The only thing about this whole thing that is kind of interesting to me was the effect this had on different kinds of trees. In that town I spoke of above there’s long stretches younger trees, 15 tall and under, either are dead or at least appear to be while flowering pears appear to having a banner year. Anyway I’ll salvage what I can and go on from here.

Man Mike that stinks. I don’t know whether I had heard of a polar vortex either until this past winter. One came through here as well. I think they have always existed and are probably not all that uncommon, but the weather media seems to like the flashy term since sensationalism is what they are all about anymore. They even assign powerful sounding names to tiny little snowstorms these days. I never heard snowstorms named when I was a kid.

Funny about those pears…pears seem to be tougher than pine knots and I wish I’d have planted more. When I was a kid my best friends house burnt down. Big old 2 story farmhouse, burnt to the foundation. There was a pear tree almost right up against the house and afterwards it was charred black as coal. It leafed out and just kept growing pears until the property was sold and it was bulldozed to build a new home. The temperatures that tree endured were unfathomable and yet it survived…somehow.

Sucks about your trees…I feel for you friend.

That polar vortex weather has always been around. It’s just the arctic air taking a headlong rush to vacation in the temperate zone. That name is an attention getter. So, that’s what it’s called now. This year a series of them came early and dipped far down as they crossed the country. Trees had not hardened off.

Winter storms did not have names until last winter when the weather channel decided to give them names. Hey, saying a named storm is coming gives it the excitement, and hopefully the viewership, they get for hurricanes. Cold temperatures aren’t as tough on trees when they are dormant. When they haven’t yet gone into winter self-protection mode and the temperatures drop severely, cells burst. I don’t know but a thimbleful about growing things in colder areas (or even my own), but my own experiences have been that major drops in temperature that involve early and late freezes cause me more damage than colder weather in the middle of winter does.

I feel for you. I know how much I look forward to seeing the greening and blooming of trees of all kinds in the spring. To see it not happening on a widespread basis would feel like a promise that was broken.

Here in the front range of Colorado we had very good growing conditions…good rain, not too hot…all spring, summer and fall of 2014 and everything kept on growing. There was a freeze in early September but after that very mild until November 10. many trees never changed color or dropped their leaves.

Here are the records from a local weather station that is always very close to my thermometer in the back yard:

Mon Nov 10: overnight very mild (around 60), typical of weather all fall. Got up to 68 around 10 am, then fell all day, reaching 15 just before midnight. On Wed and Thursday the highs were around 10 and lows around -6 both days. It never got above freezing until Nov 17.

There also was a very deep extended freeze in late December, got below -15 I think, the coldest since I moved to CO 6 years ago. Other that that the winter was fine!

I planted my first fruit trees in spring 2014, one Euro plum and a Chinese apricot died completely up top, but a Redhaven peach and a Harcot apricot survived fine but lost all their flower buds. In the back yard the serviceberries are fine, and one pawpaw is growing, not sure about the other pawpaw or persimmon yet.

There are brown arborvitae and tops of pines all around town, my roses, quince, flowering almond etc all died back more than ever before. So it’s not just you.

That’s terrible about all the damage but I’m really surprised that it’s from an early hard freeze. We sometimes get conditions like that here and the trees get hit with a very hard freeze while still in leaf. 2012 was especially bad for that, with a warm fall suddenly giving way to winter on October 20, then the snow stayed on the ground from Oct. 20 until early next April. This is what my apple tree (centre of the photo) looked like on Nov. 12, about 3 weeks after the freeze hit. My neighbour’s two apples (left side of the photo, just over the fence) look the same as mine. Most of these leaves didn’t fall off until spring, yet when the new growth came out the branches were alive to their tips and trees fruited normally. Why my trees didn’t suffer the same fate as yours I don’t know. Did you get a warm spell after your freeze that might have somehow enhanced the damage? Our weather stayed wintery (ie no serious thaw) until the next spring, so maybe that’s the difference?

I have similar situation. Most of my trees were planted in 2014. Most of them are fine after this winter except for Japanese plums. Golden nectar was very vigorous grower all summer and it made quite a big tree just in one year. It could not stop growing in the Autumn when the freeze came. There was some tip die back. But it looked good in the winter and the early spring. I pruned it and the cambium was green, the buds began to show green tips … Then about 1 week ago I suddenly realized that it still has no leaves although my European plum have them. I looked closer and it still have green tips on some branches and the other branches are completely dry. The tree have no any damage on the trunk, but it slowly dying. My other berry bushes affected are blackberries. They also could not stop growing in time. Some of them were protected over winter, some stayed uncovered. Both had healthy looking branches in early spring with green cambium. About 50-75% of buds are not waking up and the branches are slowly drying. The damage is the same on the protected and unprotected parts of the bush, so I think it is the late autumn freeze caused this damage. The other bushes - blueberries, currants and raspberries which should hardy well enough have similar damage. The cambium was green, then they failed to leaf out. It is also strange that Chippewa blueberry has more damage then Sunshine blueberry and they are growing next to each other. Overall all my plants will recover, except for the Japanese plum which I need to replace. I am really sorry for your dead trees, Mike.

Been working a lot and just back to reading this. Muddymess I think you describe what happened very well. It had been very warm and the trees in this area hadn’t either started hardening off or got very far in the process. I may have been through one a few years back but the trees were better prepared. I just wacked off the branches and never thought any more of it.
Olreader your spot on with the CSU publication listed below and my memory. When we only one really cold spell and no hard spring frosts I thought this was going to be a banner fruit year. Boy was I wrong-I had forgotten about Nov 10.
Don your apple tree looked exactly like my trees except for the snow. I think your tree was just further along in the hardening off process than some of mine were. If my experience here is any indication pears and J and J/A plums harden off first and apples and peaches last. Appleseed spoke of pears being as tough as pine knots and I think that is true. My pears look as nothing bad has ever happened and that also goes for the J and J/A plums.
Antmary you kind of shot down my thoughts about J plums hardening off first. But you may have been taking too good of it keeping growing when it should have been slowing down getting ready for winter. I don’t do a whole lot for my trees and listed what I do above and probably lied about half of it. I believe I had 2 apricots do what you describe several years ago. One didn’t make it but the other had one small branch pop out above the graft and just remembered I had an apple do the same thing. Both are doing well today. I don’t know anything about blueberries or blackberries, I have raspberries and think you could drop a bomb on them and they’d coming back smelling like a raspberry. I’d probably post your problem as there are a lot of smart people on this site. Hopefully they’ve leafed out by this time and it won’t be necessary. As long as your have green you stand a chance of things working out.
I did a search and came up with this CSU publication (
which I think kind of explains what happened. This is the university in the town just north of me that I wrote about in the above junk. I think what this is basically saying is that trees go through a hardening off process to get ready for winter and this cold snap came in before they got either started or were very far into the process and this could cause some damage to your trees. It did. I think the CSU publication describes pretty well the conditions that occurred to create this damage. mikek