Apple tree advice needed

I have this huge old apple tree in my yard. Here are some pictures:
This is a pic of the top of one of the branches. Notice missing bark and cracks:
http://zootal.no-ip.info/stuff/2006%20July%20Yard%201/images/DSCF3743.jpg
http://zootal.no-ip.info/stuff/2006%20July%20Yard%201/images/DSCF3744.jpg
Trunk:
http://zootal.no-ip.info/stuff/2006%20July%20Yard%201/images/DSCF3745.jpg
http://zootal.no-ip.info/stuff/2006%20July%20Yard%201/images/DSCF3746.jpg
Entire tree:
http://zootal.no-ip.info/stuff/2006%20July%20Yard%201/images/DSCF3750.jpg
The pics may not really give a good indication of the tree's overall health. The leaves are warped, curled slightly. No new growth. Apples look good, so far. Some of the branches have missing bark and cracks. I'm not sure how healthy it is or how long it will live. What can be done to maintain and improve the health of an old tree like this?
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Matthew Reed wrote:

Looks like every other really old apple tree I've ever seen. Do you fertilize it, or prune it properly, does it get adequate water? Those are things you can do yourself with some self-study. Call your state ag agent, should be one in your county, and ask for some help in determining the health and well-being of your great old tree. The ag agents are paid with your tax dollars and generally, or so I've found, are willing to give you advice. Wish I had the tree but apples don't grow well in SW Louisiana. HTH
George
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Ah, good advice from both of you. Should I not worry about the cracked branch missing bark? How about pruning? There are hundreds of little vertical suckers sticking up all over the top of the tree, should I cut all or some of them off? I will see about the aggy agent, might be of some help.
How would I go about fertilizing it? Also, I'm not sure how to water it. In the spring the water table is only 9 feet deep. In summer I think it drops to 18 feet or maybe deeper. I'm not sure how deep the tree roots go.
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Matthew Reed wrote:Ah, good advice from both of you. Should I not worry about the cracked

If the leaves extending from the crack look ok, leave it alone.

You can cut off all the suckers, preferably while the tree is dormant in early Spring. Certainly remove any dead branches. You can also cut off one of every branch that crosses closely to another. Cut off branches that grow inwards towards the trunk. That should do it.

You can spread mulch around the drip line and/or mix in some composted manure.

Apple trees do not send out deep roots and tend to stay near to the surface. Test the soil about 6 inches or so deep for signs of moisture. If necessary, deep water the tree about once a week.
Sherwin D.
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<snip excellent advice from several people>
Ahh...much more good advice, but it does bring up one more question. This tree once sprawled with very long branches. The guy that had the property before me butchered it back, and now it have these very thick 12" or so branches that leave the main trunk and go about 15 feet or more, and stop because he cut them all off. From these is a lot of new growth sprawling all over. I should take som pics of inside the canopy so you can see what I'm describing. Also, two main branches that are over 12" thick all but cross each other. I could cut one off, but it's quite large and would leave a big scar - again let me see if I can get some pics so this makes more sense. The challenge here is that this is a big tree and the branches themselves as they branch from the main trunk are over very thick. I think the main trunk itself is easily 36" diameter. Hmm...tomorrow I'll measure it and take pics and post links to them here so you can see what I'm describing. It's a big beautiful tree, and I'm willing to invest some time and effort to save it. It gives a lot of shade, and there is a rope swing on one of the branches that my girls love (should this be removed so it doesn't damage the limb any more then it has?).
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Matthew Reed wrote:

Aside from not looking very nice, I don't think this stubby growth pattern seems to have damaged the tree. You could encourage these branches to grow a new 'leader' by pruning off the smaller branches and selecting the biggest and strongest for that purpose.

I think it might be too late to fix that problem. Cutting off such a large branch could do more harm than good.

If the branches are growning too tightly together, you could cut some of them off, especially the ones growing towards the center of the tree. Don't take off too much wood in one season. Check the web for info on how to prune to decide where to make your cuts, and in what fashion.

Keep an eye on the attachment points that they are not cutting through the bark. You may want to add some padding at the attachement points to distribute the load.
Sherwin
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Here are the promised pics:
http://zootal.no-ip.info/stuff/2006%20July%20Apple%20Tree/index.html
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My overall opinion based on the pictures is that there is nothing seriously wrong with this tree. I get curled leaves on some of my dwarf apple trees, and although unsightly, doesn't seem to be a danger to them.
To improve it's health, you may want to do some pruning to open up the tree, although with a tree this big, it won't be easy and possibly not safe for you to do yourself. You might try and cut off any dead branches, as well. Also, keep it from drying out during any drought periods. That's pretty much all you can do as long as the tree has no diseases or insect infestation.
Sherwin D.
Matthew Reed wrote:

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"Matthew Reed" <nospam at zootal dot com nospam> wrote in message

health.
so
Matthew,
I'm no expert, but do have one old ancient tree like this and have transplanted about 95 11-15yo trees from an orchard that was closing down and only had one DOA out of the bunch. A tree as old as yours is bound to have some battle scars but I didn't see anything in the pictures that run up a caution flag. Overall it looks pretty healthy. As was mentioned in another post, I would take the time once it is dormant to open up the center canopy a bit. I spent a good bit of time on-line and talking with local experts and here is what I do.
Apple trees do not like acidic soil so it's always a good idea to get the soil tested apply lime as recommended. For fertilizer, it is recommended that you use something like a nursery special (I use 12-6-6) in the amount of 1lb per pound inch of trunk diameter 12 inches above ground level. I.e.if the tree is 18 inches in diameter, use 18lbs of fertilizer for the year. I apply half this amount just before the blooms/leaves come on and another half after the apples reach 1-2 inches in diameter. I also keep the area under the trees clear of grass & weeds that compete for the food. Be careful if you choose to do this with something like Roundup as there are oftentimes suckers that grow up from the roots and if sprayed, these could take the Roundup to the roots and kill the tree. I usually just use the weedeater :-)
Winter - A couple of months after leaf drop, usually December for me, I prune off any vertical suckers (ones with smooth bark that grow straight up), prune to open center of canopy and prune fruit limbs back to about 10 foot total height. It is hard for me to describe the pruning process for fruit limbs so I suggest you google for better descriptions and pictures. It is very important to remove any pruned limbs or leaves from the area and if possible burn them or at least have them carted away as diseases could be transmitted from any ground litter back into the tree.
Late Winter - About a month before green-up, apply a dormant oil spray and if scale or other bark parasitic growths are present apply a lime sulphur spray as well. (Note this must be applied before leaves are out and especially prior to bloom or it can kill the blooms!)
Spring & Summer - At bud swell and at least once a week during bloom apply Streptomycin (sp) to prevent fire-blight. Once the blooms are off and continuing until a few weeks before harvest, begin applications of an insecticide (I use Malathion) and Captan roughly every 10 days. Depending upon the amount and frequency of rain that could wash off the insecticide, the frequency should be adjusted. With all of these sprays, read the label warnings and wear full protective gear including long pants/shirt, eye protection, face mask and gloves. With the Streptomycin, your state may require that you are licensed or use a licensed person to get/use the product. With it be sure that none of the product comes into contact with your skin and was clothes all by themselves immediately after use. It is possible to go au-natural during this period and forego the insecticide et al if you are willing to work around the worms later.
If you get any fire-blight during the season, cut the limbs off a few inches back from the dead spot and dip the shears into a Clorox & water solution after each cut.
Fall - Beat the deer to the Harvest Woohoo
Keith
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<snip>
Any guesses as to the age of the tree? The trunk is about 36 inches in diameter - big. I chopped down a tree half it's size that had about 70 or so rings. I had to cut it down because one of the two main trunks had rotted 2/3 of the way through, and it was dangerous. Hated to do it, poor thing :(
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KW wrote:

An alternative would be composted manure and mulch.

Not sure what a weedeater is, but I would not recommend any kind of weed killing chemical this close to the tree. It is very tedious, but we hand pull all of our weeds, and supplement that with gentle hoeing of the surface.

This step may be overkill, and expensive. Unless he is in a region where there is a definite fire-blight problem, there is no need to apply it. I have my doubts about the effectivity of Streptomycin. To my knowledge, the only treatment for fire-blight is to prune off the damaged wood, several inches from the effected area, as you mention later in this post.

You should mention that Captan is used as a fungicide. There are also some organic options available to reinforce the spraying, like insect traps and covering the fruit with bags. I do all these things, and more to keep my spraying at a minimum. The time when you need heavy spraying is from the early spring to fruit formation. From that time on, the organic methods can allow you to stretch out your spraying schedule, unless you get hit with some bad infestation. If you have Apple Maggot or Codling Moths, you may need something stronger (Imidan) to do the job.

One way to make the spraying more effective is to ad a 'sticker' to the spray
mixture. This will help the chemicals stick to the trees for a longer period.

Basically good advice Keith. It's a lot of work, but if you want clean fruit and healthy trees, that's what it takes.
Sherwin D.
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