Cordon Down! Minor Disaster Strikes…

At the end of March I planted out a row of cordon apples that I’d grafted in 2023. They had all grown well the previous year and seemed perfectly healthy, but when I checked them over recently, I discovered that one of them, a ‘Striped Beefing’ that had seemed the most robust of the lot when I planted it, had taken a decided turn for the worse, or even the very worst:

Please excuse the black compost bag background, but it’s the only way to persuade my crappy phone camera to focus on the item in the foreground, rather then the woodchip in the background. Hopefully though you can see that this is one sickly-looking one-year-old apple tree, appearing to be dead from its tip on down to at least half its length.

My first thought was that it had succumbed to the apple canker that is sadly all too common on our allotment site. But on closer inspection, it seems that there’s a patch of damage to the bark that may have caused the die-back beyond. It looks physical rather than canker-ish to me. Perhaps a particularly voracious slug? We don’t have rabbits on our allotment plot – the resident foxes see to that – so unless a crow decided to sharpen its beak on the stem, I can’t think what else could have caused it.

Luckily, I happened to have another ‘Striped Beefing’ growing on in an air-pot. This one was much, much healthier, with a strong new growth already this season, so I swapped them over, and the reserve tree took up its place in the cordon line-up. I’ll need to prune it back in winter, probably removing the very lowest section of growth, or at least cutting it back to a couple of buds’ length, but for now I’m leaving as much leaf on the tree as possible, to help generate the energy that will aid root development and hopefully ensure that the tree gets a good, stable start.

As for the original, the eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that perhaps all was not lost, with signs of growth coming from the lower down the main stem. As this close-up shows, that new growth is coming from the scion section of the tree, right on the (whip-and-tongue, by the look of it) graft-union, and perhaps there’s a healthy bud or two above it as well.

As a result, I decided to give this tree one more chance, rather than scrapping it. I made a cut, just about where the photo above cuts off at the top, and have transferred the tree to an air-pot of its own to see whether it makes a decent recovery over the rest of the growing season. If so, I might be able to find a place for it in a future cordon row. If not and the scion dies back, I could perhaps try to re-graft another variety to the same rootstock on a general waste-not, want-not principle.

The moral of this story is: check you grafted fruit trees, as often as you can. And if you see what at first glance seems a lost cause, don’t despair. There’s might be an opportunity to stage a rescue mission.

How about you? Are you looking after any recently-planted or newly grafted trees? If so, how are they doing? Please do let me know, via the comments.


  1. Sorry to see this. I can sympathise. Every bit of growth on a baby tree is precious- during first and second year. I have had tears over those that started ever so well then got the aphid attacks -leaving them touch and go as to whether they would see out a harsh summer with barely a single good leaf. I no longer believe in organics; in the hope that nature will look after itself!

    1. Aye, always a shame when a promising tree takes a turn for the worst. This tree is a few years old now. It used to be in an air-pot in the back garden, but wasn’t doing well, so I transplanted to the allotment a couple of years ago. But it’s continued to shown signs of struggling since then, and I think this rootstock damage might be at the heart of the problem. We’ll see how it fares for the rest of the season and next winter, but a replacement could be on the cards.

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