From time to time, we recieve mail on our website with some questions about one thing or another. It often takes me a while to get to them, but I do try to respond to each one whenever I find a moment here or there. I recently got a real stumper, inspiring me to share it with everyone. The emailer asks:
A neighbor had an old apple tree that the wind blew down. It had good, fall- bearing, sour apples. I took a sprout from around the base and planted. That was probably five/six years ago. The tree is about 20 feet tall, leafs out nicely every year but has never bloomed. What is the problem? Thank you..
This is a case of close but no cigar. Let me explain.
Each apple tree grown at a commerical nursery is comprised of two crucial parts, the rootstock and scion. The rootstock controls a number of things including the size the tree will be at maturity, susceptibility to diseases and a number of other things. The scion is what makes a tree the desired variety. In other words, a Gala tree is made of a rootstock that could be used to grow any other compatible variety and a scion, "cutting", of Gala. These two parts are grafted together and the tree grows up to be the desired variety.
Old trees used rootstocks that, in addition to not controlling tree height, produced a lot of "suckers" as we call them. A "sucker", as it's called in the fruit business, is a vegetative growth that takes energy away from the fruit producing part of the tree. They are also called "rootsuckers" or "watersprouts". They are always the first thing to go when dormant pruning an apple tree.
When I read that this emailer had a large tree that didn't bloom and that the cutting was taken from the "base", it stands to reason that this cutting was part of the rootstock part of the tree - probably one of many "suckers" under the tree's canopy. As a result, the tree is very large but doesn't bloom. Because suckers are 100% vegetative and blossoms (and the subsequent fruit) is propagative growth, we can deduce that this trend is likely to continue. This emailer knew to propagate the tree by taking a cutting, he just took one at the wrong part of the tree.
Close, but no cigar.
For further "Ask A Grower" reading:
- "Ask A Grower" vol VI - Grafting Workshop
- "Ask A Grower" vol. V - Proper Apple Storage
- "Ask A Grower" vol. IV - All About Cider
- "Ask A Grower" vol. III - Clingstone Peaches vs. Freestone Peaches
- "Ask A Grower" vol. II - Granny Smith Fables
- "Ask A Grower" vol I - Roots & Scions