Apples trees don’t like anything to grow near them

Crab Apple Tree by LostMyHeadache
Crab Apple Tree by LostMyHeadache

TheGardenLady received this question from Sandy.

We have a 50 year old crabapple tree in our back yard that is huge. We have tried hostas, astilbes, ferns and such around it and nothing seems to grow more than one year… any suggestions? Apparently the soil is very acidic due to the falling apples.

How very fortunate to have a 50 year old crabapple tree in your back yard! The spring bloom must be magnificent.

Apple blossoms were always my favorite blossoms in the spring. We had a huge old crabapple tree in our side yard that had loads of apples. The apples were too small to really use, so we fed them to the animals or composted them.

The tree was so huge that as a child we would climb its trunk till where it forked. And we always had a swing hanging from one of the biggest branches. I spent many hours on that swing. To make the swing my father used heavy rope over the tree branch and a board that he notched on either side. From the other big limb- this one lower down where the limb joined the trunk, the one where the trunk forked, my father always hung a hammock. One side of the hammock was attached to this lower limb and the other side was attached to a wooden pole that my father hammered into the ground at the perfect distance to enable the hammock to stretch. Again, as children, as many as three of us would lie on the hammock swinging it as high as we could. We tied a thinner rope to a pole at the side of the hammock that was used to pull us back and forth. My father also loved to lie on the hammock to rest after plowing or working in the field.

We never planted anything under the tree, for besides the swing and hammock, we also had chairs to sit on under the shade of the branches- a cool spot to chat with family or friends or a place to shell peas before the era of air conditioning.

Apple trees don’t like having anything grow under them because their roots really don’t want competition for soil nutrients or water. So why fight nature? If you don’t want to put cozy domestic items like chairs or swings under the shade of the tree, why don’t you consider putting some interesting sculpture or yard art under the tree.

I don’t think it is the nitrogen of the rotting apples that is affecting the plants. Apple trees like a soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5, but will tolerate soils with a pH between 5.5 and 8.5. The plants you tried to grow will tolerate the same pH the apple tree likes. But rotting apples give off a gas called ethylene gas. Some sources say this gas can affect the life of plants. “Ripening and rotting apples produce ethylene gas, which can affect the growth and flowering (and livelihood) of many plants by inhibiting the closure of the stomata, thus allowing excessive water loss from the plant. ” according to a writer to the Garden Web.

Why would you allow the apples to lie on the ground and not rake them up? If you have deer in your area, apple trees are a deer magnate and they would not only eat any apples lying around but would eat any plants like hostas you want to plant. Rotting apples are an insect attractant- yellow jackets love rotting apples. Yellow jackets get mad when disturbed and have a nasty sting. And rotting leaves or apples under the apple tree is a way of breeding diseases- something that apple trees are prone to get but you don’t seem to have. These fallen leaves and apples should be raked up and removed.

Mulching around the apple tree might be a suggestion. Straw and hay could be used if you don’t like the looks of the barren area under the tree.  See here.  You don’t want any mulching material that will pack down too much. And be careful of having anything near the trunk especially in the winter. Voles and mice can hide under mulch and do damage to your tree.

Some people have luck planting under an apple tree if the shade isn’t too dark. The general rule is not to plant anything too close to the trunk but to plant your plants at the drip line of the tree. The definition of the drip line is “The circle that could be drawn on the soil around a tree directly under the tips of its outermost branches. Rain water tends to drip from the tree at this point.” If you must plant around your tree, try planting at this drip line and see if you are successful. At the drip line, there is no competition for nutrients and water. And because there will be more sun here, you can try to plant more sun loving plants- though plants like hostas should survive here if you rake up the apples.

My mother loved morning glories. We got dappled sun through the leaves of our apple tree. She would plant a few morning glory seeds in a big bowl and put that bowl in the fork of the tree where it was secure. We would have the morning glory vines trailing up and down the tree with big blue morning glories blooming in the late summer.

One Reply to “Apples trees don’t like anything to grow near them”

  1. A friend gives us great big boxes of small Dolgo crabapples off his old tree, nd the two best things we have found to do with them are jelly and juice.

    Neither requires fancy prep, just wash, chop roughly in the food processor or by hand, cook with a very little water to get the juice out, strain, then make jelly or just can the juice as is.

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