CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
WILDLIFE HABITAT SERIES
Rejuvenating Old Apple Trees
Why Care About Old Apple Trees?
Wild apple trees are one of the most importantwildlife food plants in New England. They are usedby many wildlife species, including white-taileddeer, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, cottontailrabbit and gray squirrel. Apples or apple seedshave been found in the stomachs of fox, fisher,porcupine, bobcat and red squirrel. Apple treesalso provide good habitat for woodcock and manysongbirds, including bluebirds, flycatchers, robinsand orioles. New England is fortunate to haveapple trees growing naturally in the wild.
Where Are Old Apple Trees Found?
Wild apple trees normally become established inclearings or on the edges of fields. Eventually,forests will grow and surround established appletrees, often crowding the trees and shading themfrom sunlight. Prolonged periods of crowding andshading will cause a decline in vigor and eventuallydeath to the trees, decreasing their value towildlife.
Pruning an Old Apple Tree
The health, location and value of an apple treeshould be determined before pruning is done. Ifthe trunk is rotten and appears to be split or if thereare only one or two healthy branches, the tree maynot be worth saving. Trees that are successful inproducing fruit are exposed to the sun all day long.Disease and insects are more likely to affect treeslocated in a shady, damp area.First efforts should be aimed at clearing around thetree, so that the leaves and fruit get plenty ofexposure to sunlight. In a situation where the treehas grown in a competitive forest, the apple treeshould be pruned before competing trees arecleared from the area. Trees growing under thesecircumstances usually have shallow root systemsand are easily wind blown.Pruning should be done in late winter or earlyspring before the leaves begin to appear. Whenthere are no leaves on the branches, it is easier tosee the structure of the tree and what cuts arenecessary. By late winter, the tree is fully dormantand less susceptible to injury. Also, it has a chanceto form a protective barrier behind the pruning cutsbefore insect and disease organisms becomeactive.Up to one-third of the live wood on an apple treecan be removed each year. If a tree has beenabandoned for a long time, cut only diseased anddamaged branches before removing one-third ofthe live wood. In a situation where the whole topneeds to be cut off, the tree will be highly stressedand may not produce apples for a few years.