Old apple tree with no new growth


2 seasons ago I inherited a small apple tree on a property I purchased (approximately 6’ tall with a trunk 4" in diameter). It was in a poorly chosen space over crowded and with patchy sun at best. It had quite a few dead limbs, and a good deal of lichen growth despite all it did manage to produce decent quality fruit.

I chose a sunny spot turned and cultivated the soil and proceeded to remove the tree only to find it had extremely spall grass like roots, it lifted out of the ground with almost no effort.

So I moved, pruned, staked and watered it regularly and last season it did manage to yet again produce a dozen decent apples.

This season it has yet again flowered. But here is my question in the 3 years we have it it has yet to sprout a new branch, not a single one. Meant time we have a normal amount of die off that requires pruning, Needless to say the branches are dwindling and if this keeps up there wont be anything left of the poor thing.

what can be done to stimulate new growth, again It gets plenty of sun, water, room and has no root competition from plants or grass within 3 feet.

any thoughts would be appreciated, just trying to save this poor old guy.

I would fertilize in a ring just outside of where you think the roots are.

I would guess it’s on a dwarfing rootstock based on your description of the roots. You may want to consider grafting it to a different rootstock and starting a new tree to replace it. If you could locate a root stock you could bud graft it this summer. Otherwise, next spring would be the time to graft it. It’s not unusual for a tree on dwarfing rootstock to reach the end of it’s life at around 10 years.


Interesting, I did not know they could have such a limited life span. Any thoughts on where to acquire new root stock?

To me it’s unheard of simply as a result of rootstock- any variety of apple should be capable of surviving for at least 25 years on any common rootstock in the context of a home orchard in my region- I’m not sure what the average cycle is in a commercial orchard with full dwarfs, but the 10 year number is something I’ve only heard of for peaches- which are capable of living much, much longer than that, but not always at max productivity.

Generally, apple trees purchased at big box stores and non-specialized nurseries are on M7 or 111 and it is doubtful they would stock trees on anything less vigorous than 26, but you can’t be sure what a big, commercial Tennessee nursery might throw on the truck, but why would a nursery intentionally grow anything less vigorous than 26 for an home grower unless they were selling it as an espalier already trained? They want a bigger tree sooner.

So many things could have happened, including voles feeding on the roots, that the problem can’t be precisely diagnosed based on the info here.

The first things I’d suggest is to make sure the tree doesn’t have to compete with grass or weeds and don’t try to get fruit out of it until it gets more vigor- remove the flowers now- and give it a nice shot of quick release nitrogen. Continue to feed it until about mid-summer or use a time release fertilizer.

This article suggests that in commercial production Fuji apples on M9 should remain in profitable productivity for over 20 years. http://ses.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/EB1735.pdf

I’m guessing if you aren’t concerned about profit margins the trees can live double that.

Ok makes sense redirect the energy into growth as apposed to making fruit

I edited my comment- you might want to read it a second time.

Most appreciated