Recover an Apple Tree

We have an Arkansas Black apple tree overgrown by brush and saplings. Is it possible to recover an apple tree after it’s gotten overgrown?

Pruning it has been on my list of things to do for a few years now. Today I finally got around to it.

Here’s how it looked before:

overgrown apple tree
Overgrown and crowded out apple tree.

The first thing I did was pull up all the honeysuckle, catbriers, and blackberry bushes trying to crowd it out. The honeysuckle was the worst. It had started going up into the tree and would have only been a matter of time before it choked it to death.

Before pruning apple tree, after clearing underneath.
Before pruning, after clearing underneath.

I added fertilizer over the root zone. The only kind I had on hand was a general purpose garden mix (organic), so that’s what I used. I did have a feather meal, but I didn’t think it would need only nitrogen. I might add some later after I do a little research to see if it’s a good idea.

Nitron's 4-8-4 fertilizer
Nitron’s 4-8-4 Organic fertilizer.

And here’s how it looked when I was finished:

Arkansas Black apple tree after pruning
After pruning and clearing away underbrush and trees crowding around.

The horizontal sticks you see in the apple tree are forked branches of the sassafras trees we cut down from nearby where they were growing too close. I used them to spread the main branches of the apple tree. Ideally, this would have been done while the tree was younger to train it to grow with more of a spread all along, but I think doing it now will help a lot still.

An Arkansas Black apple isn’t the best for eating fresh. They’re very tart. But they make great cider and are great pollinators for other varieties that are good fresh. One of the issues with growing apples in the Ozarks is cedar rust. We have so many cedar trees here that it’s hard to grow apple trees without them getting infected. Arkansas Black is a resistant heritage variety, so it does well.

After all was said and done, it turns out that the tree has been invaded by borers. This is likely going to kill it. But I performed some surgery on it and plastered the base with herbs and hopefully that will help. If you’re interested in my experiment with using herbalism for a tree, I’m working on a blog post about that. When it’s done I’ll come back and make this a live link. (Be sure to check back – The post about my remedy for the apple tree is scheduled to go live on Jan. 28)

So now it’s just a matter of waiting to see how it does this spring and summer. Hopefully it’ll survive to produce apples again and we’ll get to try making some cider.

Have you ever tried to recover an overgrown apple tree? If so, did it work?

Update 5-20-15: Sad to say this tree did not leaf out in spring, and appears to be dead 🙁



About the voice behind this blog, Madison Woods

I'm a creative old soul living way off the beaten path with my husband in the wild Ozark Mountains. Besides homesteading, growing plants & making crafty things and newsletters, I write books and stories. My rural fantasy fiction, written under the pen name, Ima Erthwitch, usually takes place in a much altered Ozarks.


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