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Thought on diseased wild trees

Posted by Tom Kleffman 
Thought on diseased wild trees
December 11, 2018 08:39PM
I have been working for 3 years, slowly building an orchard from scratch with my kids, 4.5 miles south of Lake Superior, halfway between Cornucopia WI and Bayfield.

I have some wild seedling apples on the property, varying in age from 15-100 years old, that have an incredibly variety of apples, but most of them have serious disease issues.

Was thinking, to preserve the heritage of the property, but rid myself of diseased wild trees, to cut them down, burn the wood, and stool the stumps, either pruning to one or just making clones I place elsewhere.

Space is not an issue for me. I am doing nearly all full sized trees anyway and have 23 of 40 acres open for planting. I am simply wondering if there is anyone who has taken the route of rejuvenating ancient trees by cutting them down?

(I have made graft copies of most, just in my mind, for a long time an apple tree has been in that spot/s and maybe by just cutting the top off, I can make a new disease free copy in the exact spot).


Tom Kleffman

Tom Kleffman
currently building a fruit orchard from scratch on the Bayfield Peninsula of Wisconsin, 4 miles south of Lake Superior, dead center of the snow belt, zone 5.
Re: Thought on diseased wild trees
December 15, 2018 04:56PM
I'm going to ask you to clarify a couple points, Tom, in hopes this will give others enough information to respond.

The notion of "escaping disease" by removal of a tree to ground level --and thus a reboot provided the root system sprouts anew -- demands we understand deep systemic reality versus biological and nutritional deficits within a given growing system. A tree with fire blight or black rot limb canker has a limited future. I doubt you can escape vascular penetration by fire blight bacteria by simply cutting a seedling (wild) tree back to ground level. Such a move will set black rot advantage back to square one . . .but it also eliminates the fruiting tree . . . and I'm not sure that is a strategy for humans with limited life spans. If on the other hand, you mean scab, rust, mildew etc. by condemning these trees due to "disease" and general decline overall . . . you in turn need to embrace soil health and mineralization and green immune function and competitive colonization and orchard compost 101. Read the books, read the website, read other posts if you don't grasp what is meant by such basic holistic concepts.

Now the horticultural challenge. A mature fruiting tree cut to ground level has a 50-50 chance of revival by throwing up stump spouts. (Challenge that observation, y'all, if you think different.) These shoots in turn can be thinned to one or two that get grafted to a desirable variety. A similar argument can be made for topworking existing branch structure so as to preserve photosynthetic oomph for the roots and fungi below. Here's where I think others can share actual experience.

Enough from me. Working with tree response is certainly fun!

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/19/2018 04:44PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Thought on diseased wild trees
December 15, 2018 05:43PM
<grin> well, I have read all of YOUR books so I have book knowledge on it all, but that is not the same as in practice. The big issues are ancient trees rotting out. And by big, I mean their old trunks are more than 16" in diameter. They have live parts, lots of dead parts, and they have shown some fire blight. Since they have managed to hold on through lord knows how many bears climbing and tearing them up, other trees dropping branches through them, sapsuckers turning their bark into a pincushion, while still setting here and there some good fruits, I feel bad about killing them alltogether. The most ancient ones had dead centers nearly down to the ground and I took them out completely this last fall. (cut down close to the ground)

The oldest, honestly, were not in really good places. Perhaps when they originally grew it was, but now many of them are surrounded by 80-100 year old black spruce and never will get enough sunlight. If they stool, I can graft them onto other rootstock. At one time they would have been forest edge trees, but that forest edge moved on them while they stayed in the same place.

It is more the current forest edge trees I am thinking of. These are much younger on average. Their seedlings prospered where they grew, and harder to get better forest edge ecology than actual forest edge. I had been thinking (and I could be wrong) that the disease issues came from injury from bears, and the openings it created in the tree's inner wood as they tore down branches to reach apples. I have found a pretty good way to deter both bears and deer. I am not going to be able to eliminate all wild trees, because apparently the area is great for wild germination. Any walk on the surrounding public land includes sights of wild apple trees. Upside to that, is that so far, ringing trees with 60" rebar cages is enough of a deterrent because there is no shortage of other apples available. So for the ones damaged, but probable good root systems in a forest edge environment, with apples we enjoy eating, I thought stooling would get rid of the issues the trees have, and having a full-sized root system would lend itself to fairly quick new tree growth.

Or perhaps best to start over, and if I want new trees that are whatever wild crosses they were, I should just take pieces of them and graft onto new rootstock in the areas I am managing for new trees.
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