Is this drought stress or disease?

This is an old tree. About 35 years old.
It originally was a Red Jade crab and I grafted it over the past couple of years to Belle de Boskoop, Reine des Reinettes, Freyberg, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Pomme Gris and American Summer Pearmain.

The drought here in New York has been really bad, if we get a day of rain a month over the past 3 months we’ve been lucky. Outside of that its a toaster oven, and the trees roast all day in the sun 85 degrees+ many days, some stretches in the 90s. This is the first year this tree has put on fruit. Last year I noticed some of the branches had terminal buds that created large leaves with the regular leaf bus not pushing, very odd behavior. I chalked it up to the harshest winter we’ve seen in 75 years. This past year we had a very warm and dry winter with very little snow pack and not a lot of chill hours.

This year, I notice some other branches look dried out. Some of which barely pushed bud from the start.

I do not see any Shepards Crook indicative of fireblight, or any orange oozing

I ripped out new, green rootsuckers this spring.
Are older trees more sensitive to drought conditions? I have younger trees in the lot that havent skipped a beat.
Many branches have this sun burned look on the more tender parts.
It looks to me like the entire tree is giving up the ghost all at once and I dont know why.

If its sending up big root suckers that usually means the roots are happier than the top. In other words the graft union may be having problems. My two cents…

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Hi Scott,

I suspect this tree has a M7 rootstock.
Before I grafted branches over it was massively suckering, so this pattern of behavior really hasnt changed much.
Not big, but many.

You should to deep watering at least once a week for while to see if any improvement.


Hi Tony,

Over the last few days I’ve been watering pretty heavy.
We are on sandy soil here, so its near impossible to overwater.
Garden hose set on wide spray, run for about an hour.
Its being watered again now.
About how long would it take to see improvement?

If the leaves stop turning yellow and drop are good signs of improvement.


I think I may be losing the tree. I’ve been watering it every day with the sand soil and the heat.
Im beginning to wonder if fruiting is just too stressful for the tree.
Im not sure what the deal is, but I’ve had my eye on a few questionable leaves on the tree that were a little bit limp but green, and now they’re turning more yellow and brown. A couple other small 2 year old branches have just dropped all leaves and dried up.
Some new green growth appeared to perk up, but the leaves are dropping off other parts of the tree.
I guess I’ll wait until next spring to see if its really dead. I just dont get it. It looks like the tree just gave up its will to live this year.


I don’t know the history of your tree maintenance, fertilizing, mulch, sprays, etc.
Therefore it would be a waste of our time going back and forth trying to fix the trees problem.

I would recommend getting a soil test done, as this will guide you in the right direction to reviving your tree. If you don’t want to get a soil test done for what ever reason, I would put a lot of compost mulch around the tree and water it in. Be sure it’s not just some ground up bark for decorative purposes.

You can find this almost anywhere to use as your mulch, not the best but it will work.

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I just use the mulch from Lowes.
Its a couple inches thick, just enough to stop weeds from popping up and I keep the mulch away from the tree trunk.
I also have a lilac and a hosta in the general vicinity and they seem to be unaffected, in fact they are thriving.
The mulch also helps to keep in the moisture on our dry soil.
I had a soil test done a few years ago. Its acidic @ pH 5.8.

This tree is around 35 years old, and I do not see a graft union on it.

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Did you try to raise the Ph?

No, the tree is 35 years old.
Its not like this is a new tree we’re talking about.

A response like that, I will bow out.

Good luck


Well, I did say a hosta and a lilac are near the tree alive and well, so its not like the soil is toxic.
I’ve never heard the “dont use decorative bark” mulch before.
I’d think if it were that bad, it would kill everything it came in contact with.
Apple trees are pretty resilient, they’re tough to kill intentionally, unless you use diesel fuel to water them or they get fireblight and you let it infect back to the trunk.

Im sorry but im not prescribing to the pH (apples like it a little acidic), or the mulch being the reason for the struggle.
I wish Alan (harvestman) were around, he’d probably know whats up.

I still see root suckers coming up from the ground, so maybe it is the upper part of the tree having a problem like Scott said. I’d think if the root system were having issues the suckers would just stop.

@alan will likely have some good tips but in the meantime I can think of several possibilities which are heat, insects, water, age of the tree. Trees lose vigor as they get older. Many apple trees live to around 40 years old and then begin to decline. You might want to spray with neem oil for insects as mentioned on other posts. If the sun is the problem you could build a tent over it with a tarp until the weather returns to normal. You could add manure and wood chips around the tree to improve soil moisture levels. A good fungicide like immunox or captan could be sprayed to rule out fungus problems. Unfortunately I don’t have a magic bullet rather I’m suggesting you take the shotgun approach

Agree. I’ve never seen this before.
It started to show signs of “pulling back” last year, possibly a bit the year before.
What I mean by that is, what I described above, some of the outer young branches wouldnt push bud and the closer to the center of the tree the more vibrant growth.

During that massively cold winter here in upstate NY 2 winters ago I had ice dam problems on my roof, and used calcium chloride to break it up in the gutters. There was so much snow pack that year the CaCl2 would have been so diluted and ran off with the frozen ground I’d be surprised if any got in the ground and did this. I’ve found nothing out there so suggest CaCl2 could do something like this. Nothing else in that area has skipped a beat, tulips, hosta, lilac.

Im beginning to wonder if either the tree is old, or I have ants or insects eating out the heart wood, but I have no signs externally of that.

Its very odd, the tree seems like its just pulling all the sap back toward the middle of the tree and calling it quits.
I hope its drought, but I find it unlikely that all my other trees show almost no sign of it, and this old one’s giving up the ghost.

Thanks for the suggestions.

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It isn’t water stress, but there is something metabolically wrong. Sometimes trees rot at the base for a variety of reasons- you can poke around the soil line checking to bark at the base and the beginning of big roots. Sometimes cambium damage from a single weather event doesn’t kill a tree immediately but sends it into decline. In the end the tree looks to be dying and in any case you can’t really do anything I know of. Occassionaly miracles happen and a tree that seems doomed rebounds.

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@alan I went out and looked. 100% right.
I peeled back the top layer of soil, 2" or so, and on the shade side of the tree below the soil line, the wood is squishy.
I pushed on it and a little bit of water dripped out.
Its not squishy all the way around the tree though.
I left it all exposed to dry it out to see if that makes a difference, but like you said its probably too late.
Its not a good location for that tree, and I have no idea why they planted it there, its too close to the house and behind the tree it doesnt get sun or good air flow.

So, lets say the tree is toast. Do you think the root system is still viable to regraft again in a more sunny spot there a few feet away or should I just restart with new root in a new area. 30+ year tree, I’d think replant disease would be too much to overcome for a new tree.

So I guess im asking, is this a root system problem or a scion problem?
Thanks so much Alan, for pushing me in the right direction!

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Dig some more to see what the state of the root tissue is. I’m not sure it’s really worth it- I’d start fresh.

Thanks again @alan.
I wish there was a sign of something going wrong, only minor issues I attributed to old age.
This year everything was fine until it got hot for a really long time with no rain for weeks, and I dont water this tree because its likely M7 rootstock.
I thought it was drought, because this happened so quickly.
If this is due to soft tissue at the base, is this tree pretty much doomed? Or will drying it out with air exposure help?
I suspect the problem may be deeper. Should I have not mulched the area to help keep the moisture in the sandy soil?
Im second guessing myself here. Really disappointing considering how many heirlooms are grafted onto that tree.

In CA there are growers who don’t water their fruit trees at all in their rainless summer to produce very high brix fruit. When I lived there I had some almond trees on a sandy soil hillside that I stopped watering because they were always eaten by ground squirrels. They wouldn’t die, and survived years when even during the rain season in winter there was only 3 or 4 inches of precip.

Sometimes trees die for reasons unknown.

I do feel your pain in losing precious grafts. That is a setback of some heartache.

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