I need help evaluating older apple trees

I am an owner of two older apple trees that came with the property. Previous owner didn’t know much about them other than they are old and apples are small and not that good. What I know about them is following:

They are most likely semi dwarf, too short for standard , too tall for dwarf.

They both are fire blight prone, I can see cut branches of good size and infection spread beyond the cut area(they probably cut dead branches before sale). In order to clean it I will have to cut pretty large limb, one of 4 on the second level of branching.

They planted too close to the woods and to each other , branches are leaning toward light.

They both have bark damage on low portion of the trunk, one has a hole there.

They are biannual, or not producing at all, no apples this year.

They planted after 1983, before it the area was a forest.

People who planted them knew very little about plants(they planted large trees 2’ from the house, I guess it was “cute” at the moment of planting.)

Having all this info, any reason to keep them?


I can’t see a plus. One way of looking at it is that they’ll take an investment of time and worry you could devote more productively elsewhere.


I’d let
'em fruit.

If fruit is good–a good variety–then I’d keep the trees and do a little pruning on them.

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My 2 cents, I would remove the one with the hollow trunk and bark graft the stump of the other. Having an established root system already is a big plus in getting some fruit fairly quickly on new grafts.


Agree with Mark, there are fire blight resistant varieties if you really want an apple tree. Otherwise I would just make firewood out of them. Too many negatives to try to salvage them. Better to start with new rootstock that you can train to what you desire. The prior owner should have topped these trees much lower, impossible to care for such high scaffolds.
Good luck

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Massive cutting on old trees often results in death. I agree with the others, trash them. You could graft the rootstock, but it is old as well. I’d still try grafting it though, they are right it will fruit much quicker.

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So you should kill them so they don’t die?

If they’ve survived all this time, maybe they are somewhat resistant to fireblight and it looks like they may still have some vigor. It is so easy to change over varieties via grafting and FB starts on small wood so you can turn the trees into any variety you want, including disease resistant ones.

My choice would be based on the vigor of the trees and my desire to have apple trees- as well as their location and access to sunlight. Established trees will provide fruit much sooner than replanting and your trees have shown a strong tendency towards survival.

If you don’t love the idea of having fruit trees, cut them down, if you do, give them a chance. I bet they surprise you if you nurture them a bit.

If you cut them way back and they respond with vigorous growth, that growth will be perfect for grafting the next season.


Unless they are truly sick there is a huge chance that if you cut them at the trunk that they will push new branches.

But if you have it on good authority that the apples are not that good I would not bother with the original apples and would look at grafting something new to the trunk. It would look something like this

You only need one or two of those to take for it to be a success and if too many take you just trim the weaker ones.

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I thought about the possibility of cutting them back and then grafting something desirable to them, but they’re still badly placed. Other than that, sure, work with them, at least the healthier of the two.

Thanks, everybody! I do want apple trees, and I already planted some rootstocks to be grafted as espaliered trees. I found them to be very easy to care for, and enough productive so you do not have to scratch your head what to do with them on a good year. They are also space-saving. For the existing trees, I am still debating if I have to cut them both or just one and cut another one at the trunk for new branches. They are kind of on the way of my garden plan. If I cut at the trunk I may have apples sooner, but generally I do not want tall tree and not completely understand how to keep them low. It is way simpler with espalier!


A bit more food for thought:

If they are prone to disease either graft them from the trunk or get rid of them. Other disease resistant apple trees are going to have a harder time resisting if there is a reservoir for disease in nearby trees.

Keeping them within size is not too terrible, you get to decide where to trim.

The other bit is that it takes about 20 pounds of apples to make a gallon of cider. Giving away apples is easy enough, giving away cider is more of making sure you keep enough for yourself :slight_smile:

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