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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Apples

Apples

Ask the gardener: Apples

Bill Blackledge answers all your fruity questions about apples and apple trees...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Linda Eccleston asks...

I have an apple tree quite young, it is now in bud but there is a white foamy spot on the branches and when you wipe it away it is red underneath. Can you tell me what it is and a cure if any, I have sprayed with provado but it keeps coming back.

Bill replies...

The symptoms which you have described Linda are synonymous with Woolly Aphid which, in late spring early summer, causes a white waxy growth on the bark of Apple Trees and is secreted by pinkish brown sap sucking aphid (Eriosoma Lanigenum) and later in the summer the aphids will move onto younger shoots and can cause swellings to appear on the branches.  You will need to spray to run off with a general contact insecticide.

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Tracy Rowe asks...

We inherited a dwarf apple tree when we moved. I don't know the type of apple I'm afraid.  Last year there were tiny white moths all over the tree and the apples weren't good at all - most were bad.  I want to spray the tree now the blossom is ready to come out, but can't find out what the moths were.  What insecticide / fungicide should I use and how often.  Do I need moth traps and sticky strips too?  Hope you can help a novice gardener!

Bill replies...

If you found last year Tracy that there were large holes in your apples I am sure that this was caused by the larvae grubs of the Codling Moth.  You can purchase sticky pheromone codling moth traps which you can hang onto your tree spring time and the traps attract the male moths who cannot escape and therefore will not be able to fertilise the female moths. This I find is the safest and most efficient method to use.

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Teresa asks...

We have had an apple tree for over 40 years. Every year without fail it has produced over 150 lbs of disease free apples. Then two years ago a lot of the apples had worm holes. We gave a tar oil winter wash in January 2006 but last year the apples still had worm holes and the leaves crinkled and dropped off early and the apples were very small - about 2-3 oz each not the 8 -12 oz we had had in previous years and a yield of only about 30 lbs. We have a lot of wood fires during the winter and we have been heaping the wood ash round the tree for a few years. I have read that wood ash produced from treated (ie. painted and glued) wood can be toxic. Have we inadvertently poisoned our tree and if not what can we do to help it recover? We do hope you can help us.

Bill replies...

The holes in the apples Teresa will more than likely been caused by the larvae/grubs of the Codling Month which appear early summertime. After the male has mated with the female Codling Month the female lays eggs on the small apples and within two weeks the grubs hatch out and burrow into the apples.  Control can be undertaken by spraying with a contact insecticide to kill the larvae before they enter into the apples but to use this method spraying time is critical.  The other method is to use one of the Codling Moth Pheromone Traps which give off the scent of the female moth and therefore attracts the male month into the trap and the sticky tape inside the trap will stop the male moths from escaping and therefore no fertilisation can take place.  It would also be worthwhile giving your tree a liberal dressing of a general base fertiliser and to remove the wood ash which you say is toxic, and it maybe worthwhile if you do have a lot of wood ash to store it in one place in the garden and natural rain falls will wash out any toxins over a period of time.  This was quite often the method used by allotment holders when soot was used on their plots.

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Andrew asks...

I have just bought three trees for my Garden... a conference pear tree, an Opal plum tree and a Golden Delicious apple tree. Nearby (30m) there are maybe seven plum trees of a different variety. My concern is that will the new pear, apple and plum trees be pollinated correctly to bear satisfactory fruit?

Bill replies...

Your Conference Pear and your Opal Plum Tree are both very good varieties to grow Andrew and are also self fertile which means that they do not require another variety of either pear or plum for pollination purposes.  However your Golden Delicious Apple Tree will need another variety of Apple for pollination purposes.  You cannot use another Golden Delicious Tree it has to be another variety and ones which fall into the pollination category are Tydeman's Late Orange (which is similar to Cox Orange Pippin) Winston, which is part self fertile, Laxton's Superb which is a very good all-round variety and if you require a cooking apple there is an old variety called Lord Derby which is an excellent cooker.

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David Berry asks...

I have 2 mature Bramley apple trees in my garden.  Last year, both had the leaves on whole branches die off (but not the whole tree).  Now, the bark is peeling form the affected branches and the wood is soft, spongy and very wet.  How should I treat the trees - should I remove the affected branches completely?  Also, should I spray the trees, and if so, with what?

Bill replies...

It looks David as though the infected branches on your Bramley Apple Trees have died and you will therefore need to cut these branches back into healthy wood and this needs to be carried out during the dormant period.  To stop any infection from air borne fungal growth into the cut branches I would paint the cuts with a sealant such as Arbrex. With regard to the spraying of your trees if this is to control diseases such as Apple Scab you will need to incorporate a spray programme and sprays are available at both Garden Centres and DIY Stores but, with regard to disease infection of branches the important criteria here is to cut out dead and diseased materials.

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Brian Passey asks...

I have a Cox's Orange Pippin, dwarf in a pot. Planted this year, now bearing fruit but leaves turning yellow and dropping and a fine grey powder forming on the branch tips. Apart from too much rain, any other possible causes and what is the solution?

Bill replies...

The yellowing of the leaves on your Cox's Apple Tree Brian is due to the recent adverse weather conditions and your plant thinks that autumn is coming very early.  The fine grey powder forming on the branch tips is powdery mildew and again this has been a problem due to the very damp weather.  Once you have picked the fruit off your tree you can spray with a fungicide to control the mildew and I would suggest a contact fungicide such as Dithane which is available at Garden Centres and DIY Stores.

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Sarah asks...

We transplanted an apple blossom about 3 weeks ago and the leaves are starting to go yellow and slightly shrivelled. We have had very little rain since transplanting it but have been regularly watering it. I am wondering now whether we have actually been overwatering it and would be very grateful for any advice.

Bill replies...

The yellowing of the leaves Sarah will have been caused by transplanting your Apple Blossom (Escallonia) and during the summer months you will need to keep an eye on the watering but, I would refrain from continually watering your tree - this only needs to be done when the soil is drying out.  With transplanting you could quite easily also get die back of some of the branches and these will need to be pruned.  I am however sure that once your Escallonia has settled in its new environment your tree will recover.

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William Smith asks...

I have a fruit tree collection of 30 trees including 22 dwarf pyramid apple trees of differing ages from 1 to 6 years and 20 different varieties. All are in fine fettle and are showing blossom except my 6 year old Bramley seedling which is healthy, vigorous and coming into full leaf but without a single blossom bud. It gave good fruit last season, can you suggest a reason?

Bill replies...

Bramley Seedling is a very vigorous grower William and is best grown on a dwarf or semi-dwarf root stock but you will find occasionally that Bramley Seedlings will go one year without producing any blossom and it is recommended that you use a general base fertiliser and one which does contain a high amount of potash.  Bramley Seedlings being a tetraploid species do require two other apple varieties for pollination purposes. There is really nothing much that you can do this year regarding blossom but I am sure that if your tree is healthy and with the application of the high potash fertiliser - which will harden the shoots off - your tree should produce blossom next year and I would be grateful if you could keep me informed via BBC Radio Lancashire.

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Susan Lowe asks...

I have a three year old triple variety apple tree and each year it has developed leaf curl and drop, and mummification of fruit. What do I do?

Bill replies...

I feel that you need to arrange a spray programme for your Apple Tree Susan which will assist in keeping down leaf curl and also apple scab.  You will need to commence with this programme early Springtime and spray at regular intervals during the summer months. There is a wide range of fungicide which gives full instructions for usage at all Garden Centres and DIY Stores.  With your triple variety Apple Tree being grafted onto one root stock it is important that you do apply a good general base fertiliser early Springtime and also midsummer time which will encourage good fruit formation.  Fertilisers such as Vitax Q4 or Fish Blood and Bone Meal will be fine.

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Ken Griffiths asks...

I have two old apple trees in my garden laying on the ground but still growing and producing fruit. They have got to be removed for building work, but I would like to take a cutting to grow and plant elsewhere in the garden. When and how do I do this please?

Bill replies...

As you will probably be aware Ken shoots and buds from Apple Trees are usually grafted onto specific root stocks which determine the height of the tree and also encourage early fruiting and I am afraid it is very difficult to propagate apple trees from cuttings.  However during the summer months you can by chip budding graft some of the shoots off your apple tree onto a specified root stock.  If you are  in close vicinity either a Horticultural College or a Fruit Tree Nursery I am sure that they will be able to provide root stocks and give you advice on grafting techniques.

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Irene asks...

I need to remove 2 apple trees. The trees must be 18 years old - how deep would the roots be? The height of the trees are approx 8/10 feet high and don't produce much fruit. Thank you

Bill replies...

The time to remove your Apple Trees Irene is during the dormant period - late autumn to early spring - and regarding the root size 18 year old trees - ten feet high - will have quite a large room system and from the wording of your question I am not sure if you wish to keep these trees.  If you do intend keeping them you will need to dig out a large root ball which can be very labour intensive/demanding if you are using only a spade and if it is possible to use a small front loading digger this will ensure that you can lift a large root ball and will be far easier.

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Hannah asks...

I have bought several grafted apple trees and have recently planted them. Should I have ensured that the soil came up to where the graft is? That is to say the graft isn't buried. Also last year I had tomato blight. I have saved some seeds from some of the tomatoes that didn't appear to be blighted or only slightly. Can I plant these seeds this year and if so will the blight virus have gotten into the seed, thus affecting this year's crop?

Bill replies...

When you have planted your Apple Trees Hannah the grafts should be just above soil level - if you plant the grafts below soil level this will encourage suckers to emerge.  With regard to your tomatoes if they have suffered from a virus disease such Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) there is a school of thought which says that the virus can be transmitted to the seed. If they have just suffered from Tomato Blight the seeds should be ok but my personal opinion Hannah is that it is far better to purchase new seed.

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Ally Muir asks...

About twenty years ago I planted an apple tree from a seed. How do I get it to flower and produce fruit?

Bill replies...

Apple Trees grown from a seed/pip Ally tend to take 20 to 30 years to produce flowers and fruit and this is the reason why apple trees grown commercially are grafted onto a root stock which decreases the vigour and encourages flowering.  What you need to do with your tree is to reduce the vigour of the tree - basically you need to give it a shock - and you can do this by root pruning (which is the removal of part of the root system) which will encourage fruiting.  The other easiest method is bark ringing (which is the removal of a strip of bark from around the tree) which again will reduce the vigour of the tree and hopefully encourage flowering.  You could however graft some of the shoots from your tree onto a commercial viable root stock. The two must popular methods used for grafting a fruit tree are whip and tongue grafting which is carried out during early springtime and chip budding a fruit tree which is carried out during late summer.  It is difficult for me to explain the techniques by email and it would be easier to ask an experienced gardener to show you the techniques or contact your nearest Horticultural College or Gardening Society.

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Steve asks...

I have an apple tree and the trunk and limbs are green and the apples have maggots in what can I do to cure this problem?

Bill replies...

It is quite common for Apple Trees especially it they are growing in a shady spot to have algal growth on the trunk and stems.  This algal is caused by very wet and damp weather conditions and I would not worry about it Steve it is just a natural occurrence.  On the question of maggots in your apples it could quite easily be the grubs of the Codling Moth or the grubs of the Apple Saw Fly and you will need to spray your tree with a contact insecticide early June and repeat again three weeks later.  You can also control Codling Moth with a Pheromone Trap which will attract the male Codling Moths. When inside the trap the moths will get stuck to the sticky glue preventing them from fertilising the females.

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Sandra Clayton asks...

We have an apple tree in the garden and in the summer it was full of blossom, but we only got a hand full of apples can you tell me what is wrong?

Bill replies...

There are a number of reasons why your apple tree has fruited badly this year Sandra. One of the most common causes is late frosts which can devastate the flowering blossom - your apple tree could also be a biennial variety and these tend to fruit lightly every other year.  If you only have one apple tree in your garden it will improve pollination if you plant another tree which needs to flower at the same time.  This will ensure cross pollination takes place and will enhance the fruiting of your apple tree.

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G Weston asks...

I have just moved into a house with two apple trees. Can you advise; 1. when is the best time to prune them. 2. One has been blown over in the past and although healthy will need some support long term, at the moment is leaning into a dead tree, that I will have to remove at some stage for safety reasons. Can you advise of best way to support the apple tree, it must be 15/20 years old and I do not want to lose it this?

Bill replies...

The time to prune your Apple Trees is during the winter months - when your trees are dormant - and with a fifteen to twenty year old tree you will need to remove any dead or diseased branches and with spur fruiting varieties the branch leading shoots need to be cut back by approximately one third of this seasons growth.  On the question of support for one of your apple trees - you will require strong tree stakes which will need to be knocked into the ground at an angle of approximately 45 degrees and you will probably need more than one stake and when tying your tree to the stake ensure that there is a good layer of padding/sponge between the tree and stake to prevent the rubbing of the bark.  You will probably find that two people will be required - one to support and straighten the tree (if possible) and one to insert the stake.

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Steve Livesey asks...

I have an old apple tree in my garden, at least 30 years old. Every spring it is full of blossom which produce a large number of apples. However after the blossom is over bunches of leaves, usually at the branch ends start to droop and wither. This has happened for the last three years. Last year I sprayed it with a general fungicide but it still happened. What is causing this and how can I cure it?

Bill replies...

It looks as though the root system of your apple tree cannot sustain the new growth of leaves and stems during the early spring and summertime.  And, when this happens you will get wilting of the leaves and die back of the branches.  One of the main causes of this problem is water logging during the winter months which causes some of the adventisous/feeding routes to rot off and when your apple tree comes into leaf in early spring there is not enough root to sustain the growth.

To encourage new root growth it is worthwhile to add a good general based fertiliser  (such as fish blood and bone meal or growmore) during the spring and also during the summer months.

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Jacob asks...

I have an apple tree in my back garden which I want to get rid of.  However, I can't cut it and wonder if there is any way that I can 'kill' it.

Bill replies...

The only safe method to use Jacob is cutting the tree down and if you are unable to undertake this yourself it maybe worthwhile contacting your local authority who may be able to give you help regarding removal.

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David Jackson asks...

Why do my apples (French Golden Delicious) come out with scarred skins?

Bill replies...

I am sure your Golden Delicious David is suffering from Apple Scab Disease which not only discolours the fruit but also the leaves. The disease is very problematic in hot and humid conditions.  The most effective method of controlling the disease is by using a spray programme starting early Spring when the leaves are just beginning to appear and you will need to spray at regular intervals until late June/early July, but you must not spray when your trees are flowering as this will affect pollination by the bees.  I feel it is too late this year to start spraying but it is important to collect all the leaves when they drop in the Autumn and and burn them.  I am shortly going to produce an information sheet for the Web Site which will include information of spray programming.

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John asks...

I have two dual apple trees I planted last year. On one tree one of the stems has started to die back about 6" from the tip. Is this fatal or is there anything I can do to stop the die back?

Bill replies...

You will need to cut the dead shoot back John and providing the rest of the stem is healthy I feel your tree should be fine.   Because you have two stems on one root stock you will need to keep an eye on the watering especially during the very hot weather we are experiencing at the present time.  It would be worth checking where the shoot has been grafted - sometimes these have a habit of working loose.

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Ian Lever asks...

I've got white fluffy growths on my apple tree, what are they?

Bill replies...

I am quite sure that the growths on your apple tree have been caused by woolly aphids.  What happens Ian is the numerous aphids secrete a white waxy coating to protect them from predators.  They do not cause a tremendous amount of damage to the tree but if you are worried you can spray with a general contact insecticide. I find the easiest method is to wash the growths off with a hose pipe.

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Lucy Haynes asks...

What fertiliser should I use on my apple tree in February, should I use horse manure?

Bill replies...

Apples will benefit from an annual feed each year Lucy and I would recommend a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Vitex Q4.  Both contain the main fertilisers which Apples require and you need to apply the base fertiliser early March time. Approximately four ounces per square year or 140 gramms per square metre.  Regarding using horse manure - this will be fine providing it is well rotted down and I would apply the manure as a general mulch April time and you will need to apply the mulch after the base fertiliser.

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Catherine Taylor asks...

I recently bought and planted an apple tree in my small sunny south facing garden. It now has lots of fruit but for some reason the smaller apples are falling off. The tree was planted in well rotted manure and fish blood and bonemeal and it gets two pans full of water a day. The leaves are green and healthy and there is no obvious sign of disease or stress. The tree has been in the ground about four weeks.  Also, as I live in the city, will I need to plant another apple tree for this one to fruit next year and in the  future. This one was already pollinated when I bought and planted it. Thanks.

Bill replies...

Your apple tree Catherine is suffering from the term known as 'June Drop' and it is nature's way of disposing of some of the apples so that the remaining can grow into normal size fruit.  There is nothing to worry about and you are doing a 'good job' of looking after your tree and keeping it healthy.

For pollination purposes - even though your fruit tree may be self fertile - you would be far better purchasing another tree of a different variety.  You will need a variety which will flower at approximately the same time as your original tree.  Good luck.

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Gerry Oliver asks...

Last spring we planted a young apple tree and it bore about six apples in the Autumn. This year there are about 30 beginning to grow, but about a week ago I noticed that some of the leaves were starting to droop and turn yellow with brown patches. This process has accelerated during the week and now nearly all the leaves are like this. The young apples are also beginning to shrivel up. I've not been able to identify whether this being caused by a disease, or a problem with water (i.e. too much or too little). Can you help?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what could be causing the yellowing of the leaves and brown patches to appear Gerry and the apples beginning to shrivel.  With it being a newly planted tree and the very high temperatures that we have been having it could just be a shortage of water and you will need to check if your tree needs a good watering.  Again, it will also depend on what root stock your tree has been grafted onto - for example on a dwarf root stock it will not have as vigorous root system and it will be quite easy for the roots to dry out.  It would also be worth checking where the Apple Tree has been grafted to ensure that the grafting seal is still intact.  It could also be a fungal disease but with it happening so quickly it sounds very much more of a physical disorder.

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Brian Rowe asks...

I have just moved house and there are a number of apple trees in the garden. One has a scab on every leaf. Can you tell me should I remove all the leaves now or should I wait until after the summer?

Bill replies...

I feel it would be worthwhile Brian to spray the infected apple tree with a recommended fungicide to control the scab.  A good safe contact fungicide is Dithane.  Spraying your infected tree will help to stop the spread of the disease to your other apple trees.  I would also next year work out a spraying programme for all your apple trees to ensure that the disease is kept under control.  This briefly entails spraying the trees approximately every three/four weeks during the early Spring/Summer time.  During the Winter months it would be advisable to collect all the leaves off the trees and burn them.

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Ann Downham asks...

I have a Cox's orange Pippin tree which I planted last year. It has done well but I just wondered if I should prune it this year or should I leave it with the new growth?
Thanks Bill PS I love the website

Bill replies...

Your Cox's Orange Pippin Tree will probably be two to three years old Ann and I presume will have approximately four to six main shoots.  If this is the case this year's growth on the main shoots can be pruned back by approximately two thirds to buds/leaf scars facing in the required direction.  For example if a shoot is nearly horizontal this can be pruned to an upwards or inward facing bud and if the shoots are vertical you can prune to an outward facing bud.  If you are still unsure I would suggest you call in at your local Garden Centre who will stocks fruit trees and I am sure that one of the experienced staff will show you the buds I have mentioned.

Many thanks for your kind comments re the web site - pleased to hear that it is of help.

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Rick Baines asks...

Really hope you can help. We have a Dwarf James Grieve apple tree only about 18 months old I think, probably around 4.5 feet tall and with the heavy winds something  fell on the trunk and snapped it. It is now only about two feet high although still with quite a few branches and foliage. Is there any hope for its survival or has it seen the end of its days? Your advice is much appreciated

Bill replies...

If quite a few branches have survived Rick and the seal has not been damaged where your tree has been grafted I am sure that your apple tree will survive.  However over a period of time you will need to prune your fruit tree into shape again.

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Miss T Hill asks...

I bought a crab apple tree in memory of my Dad last autumn but unfortunately didn't inherit his green fingers. It is in the garden with other fruit trees and bushes (apple and pear trees, blackcurrent and gooseberry bushes, rhubarb). All of the trees have developed black patches on the branches.  I have noticed that it is also affecting the growing fruit and looks to be spreading from the bottom.  The other trees are not bearing as much fruit as previous years. Please help before I accidentally kill my special crab apple tree altogether!

Bill replies...

A major disease of apple and pear trees is Scab which can affect all parts of the tree, the fruit is badly disfigured with brown and black marks often appearing on the branches and leaves and, this could easily be the problem which is affecting your fruit trees.  What you will need to do early next year is to spray your fruit trees at regular intervals with a fungicide spray and information of when to spray will be stated on the spray pack.  One organic spray which I would recommend is Dithane.  What you will need to do this autumn/leaf fall is to rake up all the fallen leaves and prune back any infected shoots and dispose of the debris.  These actions will given some protection against infection of your Crab Apple Tree.

last updated: 02/06/2008 at 12:40
created: 20/10/2006

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