Poor growth of apple trees

Question ...

I planted three apple trees in spring three years ago. I did let them fruit from the start, I'm afraid, and then I left them without extra watering except occasionally when the weather was very hot and dry. I did feed with compost and mulched around the base with composted bark, though now grass is growing around the trees. The trees are surrounded by shrubs and hedging in a clay soil. What can I do to improve their growth or is it too late?

Answer ...

If your apple trees are not growing well and the fruits are small, it often indicates a growing problem. Roots are the main source for the tree to absorb nutrients and water. Poor growing conditions will stunt the growth of the tree as a whole. We suspect that the trees are struggling for light, air and nutrients as they are in competition with the hedge and the grass surrounding the base of the tree.

There should be no competitive growth around the base of young trees. Carefully remove the grass from around the tree trunks, so that the trees stand in a circle of bare soil, 1 metre in diameter. Next spring when the soil has warmed up, apply a top dressing of garden compost (two spadefuls per square metre) keeping a clear area of roughly 15cm (6in) diameter round the tree trunks. Cover with a mulch of straw or hay up to 10cm (4 in) deep. The mulch should be removed every winter. The trees would also benefit from a soil conditioning, low-nutrient mulch like leafmould applied in the following winter.

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