First time fruit grower here. I have a 30ft. overgrown and unmanageable apple tree in my back yard. The trunk is partially hollow (see photo). The 1st division of limbs is about 10ft from the ground. I believe the tree to be a McIntosh variety or relative of this.
I believe the roots to be good as all the limbs bloom fully and bear fruit (which falls prematurely because of the size of the tree?).
Can this tree be cut to below the first division and used a root stock for grafts of desired varieties of apple? Are there references you could recommend (videos or text) to help advise on this situation? If I would be better off just removing the tree entirely feel free to say so.
Basically everything that is hollow has to go as it just serves as a hotel for insects to continue eating up the tree. If it can be cut down to good wood, even if to the ground, new growth will come up. You can either graft directly into the freshly cut trunk next spring or onto the new growth a year after.
The fruit drop could be due to bugs. Plum curculio for example damages the fruit which the tree will drop.
I also have 2 huge apple trees. The healthy tree, I’m considering cutting it down to size bit by bit. I’ve read suggestions to not chop more than 1/3 per year. The other unhealthy tree, I plan to cut and replace.
First of all, I would remove all of the plantings (or weeds?) around the tree. They are causing moisture is which is not good for the trunk, which is in bad shape already. I would, frankly, start again with a new tree. You have a long wait with grafts on a sawed off trunk.
I think you should try grafting. You have a decent chance of success, and not much to lose. “Topworking” is the term you should be searching for.
I’m in 4b/5a, and about a year into the same process. The half-dozen trees I did were not as large around as yours, but may actually be older. They were 80-90 year old apples that were growing on the edge of a field that had been lost to the adjoining forest: 6"-8" diameter, 30 ft tall, no low limbs. I cut the growth around them, let them taste the sunlight for a year, tasted a few of the apples they produced, and then decided to try topworking them.
I got about 85% initial take on the scions I put in, but my losses after that were higher than I would have liked. Birds landing on them, deer taking a chomp, and unknown things that happen at night took me down to about 70%. I also may have a few that just didn’t wake up after the winter (-24F, which is cold for us) although I’m still hoping they are just delayed.
But starting the second year, I probably have about 60% still looking promising. Growth ranged from 12"-40". I cut back the taller ones to about 18" this spring hoping that it would reduce future breakage and promote some low branching. The trees still look pretty ugly, but I have hopes that in a year or two they’ll just look strange. And hopefully in 5-6 years they might look good and start being productive.
You may want to do a preliminary cut of the tree a few inches above your final grafting height while it is dormant, and then cut it down to the final height just before putting the scions in.
You will want a lot of scions for a tree this size: maybe one every 3"-4" going around. Partly this is for redundancy in case some grafts fail, but mostly it is to promote faster healing over the large cut area.
The final grafting might be later than you expect. Wait until other apples in the area are starting to leaf out. It’s a pretty wide window, but slightly later is probably better than slightly earlier.
If you have deer pressure, consider grafting high (maybe not possible in your case) or fencing. If you have heavy birds, consider giving them something higher than the fragile scion to perch on.
If you are doing multiple varieties, figure out your labeling system ahead of time! Drawing a clock face in a book might be best. If you ever tell yourself “I’ll remember and do it tomorrow”, realize this is a lie.
While you can make do with just about anything, using the recommended grafting wax and sealant probably will make your life easier. But don’t let your expensive jar of Doc Farwell’s Seal and Heal freeze or you’ll feel really sad!
Link added to make things clearer. One of the products recommended for sealing large cuts like this is Doc Farwell’s Seal and Heal. If you let if freeze, it changes from a smooth ultra thick latex paint into a a gritty mess.