Wild apple trees are one of the most important wildlife food plants in New England. They are used by many game species including white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, cottontail rabbit, and gray squirrels. Apples or apple seeds have been found in the stomachs of fox, fisher, porcupine, bobcat, and red squirrel. Apple trees also provide good habitat for woodcock and many songbirds including bluebirds, flycatchers, robins, and orioles. New England is fortunate in having many apple trees growing naturally in the wild, but many wild apple trees are being lost each year.

Wild apple trees normally become established in clearings or on the edges of fields, and as the forests grow up these  trees are crowded by shrubs and shaded by over-topping trees. Prolonged periods of crowding and shading will cause a decline in vigor and eventually death and the loss of these apple trees for wildlife use. The length of life, vigor, and yield of these wild apple trees can be improved with some simple techniques that are commonly used by foresters and orchardists today. This bulletin describes these simple techniques in a step by step procedure.


A lightweight chain saw, a pruning saw with a ten-foot handle, and long-handled pruning shears are useful tools for working on wild apple trees. The brush, apple tree branches, and trees that are removed can be piled to form a brush pile for wildlife cover. For deer, ruffed grouse, and snowshoe hare, there is 1ittle need to pile the brush.  If there are very large trees to be removed, it may be faster and safer, to girdle the tree and leave it standing.  Girdling is accomplished by cutting completely through the bark in a ring around the tree. Do not use chemical sprays on apple tree stumps as they may be connected to the roots of the tree you wish to save.  The effects of fertilizing will last approximately three years.  The minimum size clearing for the health and vigor apple tree has been described in these instructions.  Most species of wildlife benefit from clearings in brushy or woody areas and would benefit from larger clearings around apple trees.

STEP 1. Carefully examine the apple tree. Look for dead branches, diseased wood in the trunk, and the presence of more than one stem. If there is more than one stem, select the largest and most vigorous and remove the smaller competing stems by cutting them off as near the ground as possible. If the largest stem is badly diseased or broken, remove it and select the next largest, most vigorous stem for improvement.

STEP 2. Remove all other shrubs and trees back to the drip line of the apple tree. If the tree is shaded by large overtopping trees, remove these on at least three sides especially towards the south. Remove all ~he dead branches from the apple tree. Cut these off with a pruning saw or pruning shears as close to the living branches as possible.

STEP 3. Remove approximately one third of the remaining live growth. In so doing, attempt to open up thick clusters of branches.. Clip off one to two feet from the ends of vigorous side branches or vertical sucker shoots. Do not remove the short spur branches that grow on the sides of larger branches because these are: the fruit-bearing branches. If the tree is a young sapling with few side branches, the top may be cut off to encourage branching.

STEP 4. . Fertilize the tree by pouring a liquid solution of calcium nitrate or ammonium nitrate fertilizer in a narrow band around the tree directly below the drip line.  Fertilizer in this narrow band will spread out and become available to the feeder roots as it seeps into the ground.  Use five pounds of fertilizer for a large tree and three pounds for a medium tree. For very small trees or saplings use one pound of fertilizer at least three feet from the base of the tree.



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