These two liberty trees are not doing great. One looks thin and the other died back to the ground this year. The adjacent Enterprise and Goldrush trees look good in comparison. All were planted same day. I’m going to dig up the two sad liberty trees and replace with a different variety unless you all have a better idea.
I’m not even sure you still have a liberty apple there anymore? Looks like it died back to the root stock.
Please forgive me for explaining what you may well already know, but basically any apple you buy will be made up of a “rootstock” and a “scion” or top which will be the tree you want. The root stocks are chosen for their root characteristics- ie they keep the tree a certain size, the have strong, disease resistant roots, etc. Then the nursery grafts, or attaches, a known fruit tree on top of those roots. If a tree dies back to the ground as you said and as it appears in the photo, then the known fruit producing part of the tree is lost and only the root portion of the tree survives. Problem with that is that the root portion was selected for its roots and not its fruit producing ability, so it will likely never make a good eating apple.
This is a long way of saying you probably don’t have the tree you want (liberty) even if you let if grow back from ground up. So its probably time to either break out the ax or learn how to graft (not hard) so you can attach a new “top” to the rootstock growing back in the photo.
Again, if you already knew all this it wasn’t my intention to belittle your knowledge- we get folks from all levels here.
I find it hard to believe that the liberty is growing all those from above the graft. That looks way to much like root suckering. Cut off the dead top, pick a good sucker or 2 and trim away the rest. This coming summer, chip bud a variety that you want onto the best sucker. Next spring top work the other sucker. Have a 2 in 1 planting of pollinating partners
Now I see. And clearly you already understood the whole grafted tree thing. I can’t see the graft union in your pic but I’m sure you can and I’m sure those higher sprouts are above it if not all of them. If you leave a couple of those they will be nice graft site by next year, allowing you to take advantage of the large, well established root system- as you know.
Any idea what killed the top tree?
How did the trees look going into winter? Were they OK or declining?
To me the first picture looks like they were doing OK as there looks to be fairly decent lengths of growth from last year.
I think if they were doing well going into winter that winter kill and/or sunscald would be logical causes of death. For example if you had a whiplash fall from like 80 degrees to well below freezing while the tree was not dormant you could easily get bad winter kill like that. And the up/down temps in TN winter could easily cause sunscald/winter damage to the trunk.
I also think that with the regrowth you are seeing the roots are doing OK. They are pushing growth very strongly so I’d probably say it is not a root issue.
I cut out a Red Delicious and Fuji this year that were doing terrible next to Gala and Jonagold. When I dug up the rootstock, the graft union was under 4-5" of soil. It makes me think they lost vigor and disease resistance when the scion took root.