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The Life of an Apple Tree

What is a reasonable life for a tree? Does that idea change when considering what kind of tree one is contemplating?

There are craggy trees by the side of the road abandoned but still bearing blossom and fruit. There are tenderly cared for orchards and trees neglected in city yards and greenways.

Apple Tree

Apple Tree

Our city has an urban forester and tree specialist just focused on trees until their yearly vacation dates arrive. They have interesting answers and recommendations but they do not pay the bill.

There are two old Western Cedar trees which have rocked and rolled the sidewalk, deposited thousands of needles in my gutters, uplifted the street and could fall on my house in the right wind storm (Plus they block the sun from the solar panels 2 hours a day at high noon.). What is my responsibility to these trees and to the owner?

We had to take out 8 massive fruit and nut trees when we moved into our house 20 years ago. As the major rain storm the day we moved in excited rotting limbs to fall and break during the night in a horrifying thundering nightmare.

4 apple trees remain. One Gravenstein is over 100 years old, very tall and extremely beautiful. The tree has paid its way with applesauce to sell, dried apples to gift, pie to enjoy, and buckets full to share with friends.

With homemade coddling moth traps, a bit of fertilizer, geranium and natural sprays, pruning and lots and lots of water, this tree has been part of our lives. The deer, raccoons, possums, and squirrels love this tree as much as our family. My Mother spent her last days watching the finches, sap suckers, and woodpeckers dance about and the tree cycle through its year of growth and release.

No one is at home to climb and prune this huge old remnant of the orchard. The tree is unable to ward off the moths and apple maggot. The many uncared for trees in our neighborhood re-infect this tree about every two weeks. Even English Ivy is growing up the rotting part of the trunk and coming out of a limbing hole near the top. This tree took $800 of care this year for 2 batches of apple sauce and three pies.

The tallest growth on the tree blocks the solar panels for an hour when it is not pruned.

How does one make these decisions? It is not in any manual or instruction book. Although a true orchardist would have a bottom line not just 3 freezers full of last year’s applesauce.

Are we part of the problem or part of a solution?

We have walked through the decision stages and researched and still we are at odds.

My partner says we should just prune it to keep the panels unblocked and let it go. I vote for cutting it down, renewing it, and preserving the environment for the critters to enjoy and model responsible tree care.

How does one measure the life of a tree? What part does hunger, shade, and beauty play?

We would value your comments on our decision.

Some related posts you might also enjoy:
Apples, apples and more apples
Trees which become catalogs
Never build on your food supply
6 apples in heaven

25 Responses to “The Life of an Apple Tree”

  1. J.D. Meier Says:

    I can empathize. I have a tree I have to get rid of that I’ve been fond of, that I’ve been putting off. I finally realized, it’s time had come and gone, and I need to cut the dead wood and move on. I need to revitalize it from a dead spot to a growth spot.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Argue Your Way to Optimism =-.

  2. Betsy Wuebker Says:

    Hi Patricia – Oh, I remember the trees that had to go for one reason or another in every house. The most recent was a huge lightning-scarred old maple from my last house. It had been split down the middle and still bravely leafed every year, but failed slowly each time. Pete and I were dating at the time, and he and his best friend rented a splitter, took it down and carted away the wood to use in their woodstoves. This needed to be done, but changed the face of the yard tremendously. I mourned. A week or two later, Pete presented me with a gift: a simple box he had made from the lovely wood that I still keep in the sideboard here. Perhaps if the tree has to go, and it sounds like yours truly does, you can remember it in a similar way with an object made from it. Remember Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree?
    .-= Betsy Wuebker´s last blog ..Going All In On the Gunflint Trail, Part 2 =-.

  3. Tess The Bold Life Says:

    I tend to side with you. How about sitting under the tree for a while and asking for guidance. If you decide to chop it down give it a hug first;)
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..If I were King or Queen…I’d Change Our World =-.

  4. Dot Says:

    That’s a tough decision to make. Sounds like a very giving tree. I’ve never owned a house, never had to worry about a tree’s life span. I guess I’d go with Tess and hope that if the tree goes, something not too small will take its place so the critters can continue to enjoy the spot.

  5. Talon Says:

    Wow – a hundred year old apple tree. That’s amazing considering most varieties only live to eighty or so.

    Life cycles of trees…and all the good they do for us. It’s always heartbreaking when they have to go. Especially if they pose a threat to life and limb – pun intended 😉

    If the apple tree is expected to produce for you, and is no longer able to, it’s probably time to take it down. If you can overlook its weaknesses, and let nature take its course, maybe you can let it remain …

    I love what Betsy’s husband did – what a beautiful gift.
    .-= Talon´s last blog ..Residuals =-.

  6. Patricia Says:

    Yes I think it needs to be a growing spot and a sunny spot to help us get off the grid. Apple trees take so much water even in our climate, and I am concerned it will fall down on someone – it usually gifts we with 3 or 4 falling apples on my head or back while working under it in the summer :)

    I think of the Robert Frost poem about no longer picking apples – it is about death…we read it at my Father in laws service, who raised apricots.
    When we took down the rotting Walnut trees one of the Faculty at our local college came over and took a number of the joint pieces and Lathed us 2 stuffing bowls…..I think I put them on the post Hats off to a House….they are just wonderful gifts…like Pete’s thoughtful box.
    I am sure I will mourn this tree.

    I do a grounding meditation by leaning up against this tree and placing my bare foot against it – I helps me heal on so many levels – for some reason I do not wish to let it just rot away….I would rather it make way for growth and sunlight – I think that is what it is telling me

    I think I am hyper responsible….if the children were still small I would take it down because large limbs could fall on them …I want to keep the birds coming to my yard and I just feel connected to this tree and I think this is practice in letting go?

    Wasn’t that a love gift for Betsy….
    This tree was a food safety net for the family, besides paying it’s own way…all of my customers for applesauce are deceased …
    My partner says he will get up a ladder and keep her trimmed away from the solar panels, but his Rheumatoid Arthritis really means I have to do it myself or pay someone to do it…that is just too much money for a non-producing tree and shade…

  7. vered | blogger for hire Says:

    Such a tough decision. I’m not sure what I would do! Your writing was so beautiful – I could feel the intensity of your emotions.
    .-= vered | blogger for hire´s last blog ..Restaurant Salads Scare Me =-.

  8. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia .. I empathise with you .. – oddly my next post when I get to publish it is about apples ..

    Apples do not grow true from seed, so in order to propagate a new tree a bit of the old is required: a piece of budded “scionwood” must be hand-grafted onto sturdy rootstock and nurtured as it grows.

    The Gravenstein was introduced to western North America in the early 19th century, perhaps by Russian fur traders, who are said to have planted a tree at Fort Ross in 1811

    As it’s diseased it will need to come out and the ground to lie fallow for a while .. but a new tree could be planted nearby ..

    it’s time for an apple tree education I think .. because the value you and your mother have had from your tree, should be there for future generations .. for apple sauce, crumble, roasted with pork crackling joint, stewed apples to keep the flu away ..

    all things good … check out Wikipedia on the Gravenstein – it comes from Denmark ..

    Enjoy the learning curve!! Apples ahoy ..
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Fireworks and Bonfire Night – November 5th =-.

  9. Patricia Says:

    Yes! a very big decision and I don’t want to make it just because of money…
    …and I want my partner to not be angry over the decision – he finds letting go very hard.

    Thank you for all the good information and knowledge sharing. I look forward to you next post.
    We have graphed several good takes onto the new young G. tree that is in the front yard as it was flavorless and this tree’s pruning have gone all over town to graphs….
    It is a yummy fruit and beautiful

  10. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia ..that’s excellent news that you’re reawakening the Gravenstein tree – no wonder the Russian fur traders brought the apples with them .. to give them (stored) fresh delicious flavoured fruit. Or perhaps they even brought a rootstock ..

    Apples travel well .. that’s obvious – and can be brought back to life .. and I’m so pleased you’re continuing with the apple legacy in your house … nuts too – sounds like home! As you say yummy!
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Fireworks and Bonfire Night – November 5th =-.

  11. Mama Zen Says:

    I’m too sentimental to give an unbiased, helpful opinion. I grieve when an old tree is cut down.

  12. Patricia Says:

    Apples are very amazing trees and fruit…and I am glad we have shared this tree’s bounty in so many ways.

    Mama Zen,
    My partner is finding it so hard to think about letting go of the tree he is refusing to think about it….I think that is why I wrote the post because it is not a random decision and it is a big decision.

  13. Davina Says:

    Hi Patricia. Sounds like this tree is calling for your attention. I don’t like to see trees cut down, but sometimes the time comes for change. You could plant another in it’s place and start nurturing it. A switch from feeling tormented by this position you’re in.
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..New Lives: Stories of Rescued Dogs =-.

  14. Patricia Says:

    Hi Davina,
    I was hoping to have an arborist come out and help us get a root stock started from this tree. I thought that would be the best solution, but it is very expensive – more so than purchasing a new tree and my partner is having a very hard time letting go or spending money right now. If we wait too much longer we will not have that option available and the tree maybe come “dangerous”

    I am more with JD about starting something growing….

  15. Jannie Funster Says:

    Could you plant its seeds in some field or friend’s yard and tend the sapling until it doesn’t need to call you Mom anymore??

    Could you sing this song to your beloved “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me,” before you both hug it deeply over and over and say your farewells to it,” using its fine wood for guitars and winter tales by firelight?

    Could you use the new-found electricity from a full days’ sun to run a saw and sander for a sailboat you’d fashion together and sail out the Puget Sound on your 590th wedding anniversary to the fanfare of the song I mention above?

    Maybe the squirrels are looking to relocate anyway, but need a gentle push?

    If you do choose to let it return its molecules to the earth ans sky from whenst it came and must return, tell your beloved I’ll write a soothing apple tree song in his honor.

    And you know I will!

    .-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..First Pictures With My New iPhone 3GS =-.

  16. Jannie Funster Says:

    Whoops, I meant 50th wedding anniversary.

    Your 590th !!! Go, Patricia, Go! Well, you will get to that one too, of course but perhaps not on this realm we call Plantet Earth.
    .-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..First Pictures With My New iPhone 3GS =-.

  17. Patricia Says:

    Jannie and Jannie,
    I just might get to the 590th at the rate we are working on tree decision…Partner is actually liking Hilary’s suggestion of cut it down in a way to establish a new start from the root stock…I am researching…
    and looking forward to the song…greatly :)
    .-= Patricia´s last blog ..Book Review: Traveling with Pomegranates ~Kidd & Taylor =-.

  18. Hilary Says:

    HI Patricia .. so pleased your partner is thinking ‘my way’ .. it’ll be really good news and I’m sure future generations will thank you.

    Apples are a huge subject! Surprised me somewhat! Especially the part that you can’t plant a seed .. logical I suppose – I read somewhere that the University of Minnesota has a large research department for apples .. not sure if that’s your neck of the woods?

    Well done on perservering with the ebook – it’ll be good and so well worth it .. learning curve, sweat and guts and all!

    Have a good Sunday – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..A is for Apple – an Apple a day keeps the doctor away … =-.

  19. Betsy Wuebker Says:

    Hi Hilary – You’re right the University of MN does have a large research department for apples. Pete and I drove past its facility yesterday on our way out to the farm. It is operated in conjunction with the MN Landscape Arboretum (where we were married, incidentally) west of Minneapolis. The challenge, originally, was to develop cold hardy varieties. Every year or two they come up with some new cultivars and then there is a naming contest. If you’ve eaten a Honeycrisp or Haralson apple, it came out of their work. Good fun!

    The Haralson apple was developed by a Mr. Haralson who lived in a big yellow farmhouse with lots of gingerbread trim down the street from me in Deephaven, MN. Our neighborhood park used to be part of a truck farm there, and some of the old trees survive on a property across the street from the park, which used to be the larger orchard.

    Here is a link that might help you, Patricia as you decide:
    .-= Betsy Wuebker´s last blog ..Down to Sleep: The November Garden =-.

  20. Hilary Says:

    Hi Betsy .. thanks for that – I’m on the south coast in England .. so American places are pretty vague Geography wise .. but live and learn – so I’d love to visit Deephaven and have a Haralson apple .. some day! I’ll llook out for the Honeycrisp too though – but obviously I support our 3,000+ english cultivars ..

    It’s an interesting subject losing a tree of life – linking generations .. I’m sure Patricia and her partner will make the most sensible decision ..

    I’m off to your sleepy November garden ..
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..A is for Apple – an Apple a day keeps the doctor away … =-.

  21. Patricia Says:

    Mama Zen,
    Yep we know the sentimental value and the tug on the heart strings too…Sorry I missed your comment – happy to find it now…Thank you

  22. Patricia Says:

    Hilary and Betsy,
    Thank you for all your good information and links. I think we came up with some winning ideas here. I will just need to do lots of research about this…
    I just used Honey Crisps in the picture for one of the recipes in the UNICEF book…

    I got a phone number for a Washington State University Extension agent who knows how to do this work…need to call on a weekday..

    Wow this is fun
    Thank you for the wealth of info.

  23. Jannie Funster Says:

    Your tree has been on my mind. I came back here the other day and read all the comments, learned about how the apple tree is not grown from seed exactly but by hand-grafting. Hilary was amazing on this.

    It sure is hard when a tree has to go, they have souls and personalities too. Such a tough decision to make. I trust you will trust yourself whatever you decide to do, as I know you will be acting out of love.

    .-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..3 Photos I Took 3 days Ago & 3 Photos I Took 5 years Ago =-.

  24. Patricia Says:

    Big wind and rain storm here last night…made me look at all the trees around me with new eyes…
    then the street caved in and storm water started bubbling up heading towards our house….mud and yuck….I thought about how important trees are to drink up the water…

    We are exploring restarting the tree from the root stock…folks are not well acquainted with how to….WSU extension agent researching for us…

  25. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patrica and Jannie .. thanks for the thoughts .. I’d just like this tree to live – especially with the mud and sludge that’s swept through recently .. we’ve got the same weather here!

    I just looked up in Google search: rootstock cultivation of apple tree .. this is the first from Cornell University …


    I’m sure you’ll find something ..

    PS – I heard that a pear tree was cut down and burnt – yet rootstock was able to be obtained and used for regrowth .. so just don’t kill your apple baby yet!!

    You’ve certainly the people of the earth engaged in your challenge!
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..A is for Apple – an Apple a day keeps the doctor away … =-.