At an orchard I manage there are 2 dead apple trees and two that appear on their way. I should have investigated the situation more carefully as soon as the second tree showed signs of major stress. The first one had been in decline for a very long time and its decline is kind of a red herring that helped throw me off. Then a Macoun nearby came out of this winter in terrible shape and now is nearly dead. I wasn’t alarmed because at this site the fruit of this variety is consistently pecked by birds (it and the Cortlandt there) but the remaining trees usually produce a lot more fruit than is needed.
But I was there yesterday and noticed that a tree dear to my heart, a 60 year old Cox Orange :Pippin, seemed highly stressed with small leaves and tiny annual shoots that should be 2 feet long by now. A second Macoun looked to be similarly stressed so I checked the trees closely. My only jobs at the site are spraying and fertilizing and a bit of the pruning because I turned the orchard over to my protege several years ago.
When I looked at the base of the stressed trees it seemed the mulch was piled up excessively high against the trunks. I got out a small shovel and pulled the mulch away from the base of the trees. It turned out that the trees had been mulched over fabric, over composted mulch over more fabric. When I mulch trees I always scrape away the old mulch to outside the mulched area, lift any fabric, or replace or just remove it and then put down fresh mulch.
Apparently, because the mulch was allowed to rot and remain against the trunks at a fairly wet site, it rotted the bark around the base of the trees. I’m aware that the literature calls for pulling mulch away from trunks, but I’ve seen wood chips and shredded wood piled against trunks 1,00’s of times and usually it isn’t wet enough to create problems. I don’t pile mulch against trunks when I’m doing the work, but when someone else does I don’t always intervene and pull it away.
At this site I should have intervened some time ago because I really am the designated trouble-shooter there. I let the owner and, just as importantly, the trees down by not investigating the situation sooner.