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I have a sickly apple tree and am not sure what I should do to try and revive it. I've attached a few pictures below.

We live in Arizona, so it gets a lot of direct sunshine and there is a tap right next to it, which makes watering very easy.

Experienced gardeners, I need your help:

  • Can you tell what's wrong with it?
  • Can it be rescued? If yes,
  • What would you do next?
  • How frequently would you water it?
  • Would you fertilize it?

Thanks in advance!

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  • How old is this tree? And which AZ climate/zone are you in?
    – Debbie M.
    Nov 28, 2017 at 15:43
  • Hi @DebbieM. - I'm not sure how old the tree is. We're on the outskirts of Gilbert, which is Maricopa County in Arizona.
    – azgardener
    Dec 24, 2017 at 15:28

3 Answers 3

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To start, cut out all the dead/diseased wood. At a rough guess, then prune out about half of what's left - this looks like a tree that has been "let go" from a pruning point of view, and it's seriously overgrown. "A robin should be able to fly through the tree" is a very elderly rule of thumb in the Northeast apple orchards.

I'm thinking you might also want to paint the sunny side white - research "southwest injury" or sunscald.

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  • But this means he should pollard or coppice the tree, no? I don't see any healthy major branch...?
    – VividD
    Nov 28, 2017 at 9:24
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You need to fertilize your tree.

The leaves have sign of lacking of fertilizers (borders and different colours near the veins/between them).

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It looks like magnesium or zinc deficiency to me—magnesium deficiency since the leaves are yellow, but the veins are still darker green, and zinc deficiency because it just kind of looks like it. It also kind of looks like manganese deficiency does in this link.

Extreme heat can induce magnesium deficiency symptoms—adding more magnesium to the soil might not be the answer, however (but if the soil is really deficient, it may help).

Since it's not a particularly hot part of the year, I'm guessing it's really a soil pH issue (or just a deficiency, perhaps).

Take a look at this PDF for information on soil pH and nutrient availability. Zinc is less available in more alkaline soils, they say. Manganese is definitely less available in more alkaline soils (all you would have to do there is make your soil more acidic, and then you should have plenty of manganese for your tree). I can't say how much supplementing zinc or manganese would help (but supplementing zinc probably wouldn't hurt).

Anyway, what I would recommend is getting a soil test, making sure your soil isn't too alkaline, adding organic matter, mulching, perhaps keeping the soil cooler (if possible), and making sure your tree gets enough water. Your water might be alkaline, too (so checking that could be helpful).

I know there's supposed to be a lot of alkaline soil in Arizona (so, I wouldn't be surprised if you had alkaline soil).

In Arizona, I'm guessing you'll probably want to water your tree a lot, if you want a good harvest, since it's arid and hot in much of Arizona (and the soil probably dries quickly). Apples tend to be more cool-weather trees (but it's possible your winters may be cold enough to satisfy them, depending on where you live).

Making your soil more acidic may take some time. People generally recommend adding sulfur for this. Peat moss is pretty acidic, too, but I don't know if it's acidic enough for a whole tree, with how much you'd need to use. Some people say compost is acidic, too. Some fertilizers are said to acidify soil over time.

If you gave your tree a bunch of wood ash or something like that in the last year or so, that could be the cause of the problem (it would make the soil more alkaline; wood ash is high in calcium and potassium). Other products high in calcium could also raise the pH. Your tree reminds me a bit of an apple tree we had that had been given too much wood ash (except our tree had yellow veins on its foliage, too; the trunk and/or branches got fissures or cracks in them, and looked unusually dry).

If your tree is getting too much sun (I'm not sure if it is), pruning should help considerably (since less leaves means the tree will get less sun—although your soil would probably get more sun, if that's an issue). How much sun the trunk and branches get shouldn't matter terribly, though.

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