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on a Mutsu and on a Yellow Delicious both trees that are near by to each other are not producing leaves. Both began to budd out but the leaves that did emerge are very small, sparce and unhealth looking. Both trees produced some small flowers also. The other apples next to these two seem unaffected. Initially, I noted the symptoms a few weeks back after the cold weather that came following the early warm weather and was hoping it would be weather related. It is obviously not. The small leaves are also browning and I don't have a good feeling about this. I didn't get the fruit trees sprayed with Lime sulfer this spring for the first time in the last three years but they did get an oil spray and two fruit tree sparys so far this year. All my trees got a bit of manure very early this spring and I am fertilizing these two trees a bit extra this year in an attempt to save them. When I scratch the bark further down the branches away from the leaves I find green tissue. What steps do you recommend and what do you believe is the problem.
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Collar rot is caused by a fungus-like organism (Phytophthora) that is more of a problem in heavy clay or wet soils. Typically, the fungus infects the roots near the base of the trunk, then works its way up the trunk to the graft union (a swelling near the base of the trunk). Fire blight is a bacterial disease that may have infected the flowers on warm days with wetting during bloom last year. The bacteria can then move into highly susceptible dwarfing rootstocks, and kill the tree within a year or two.
You could try to diagnose either of these problems by cutting into the bark near the soil line. If the tissue under the bark is dead (brown rather than green) all the way around the circumference of the trunk, there is not much that you can do to improve the odds of survival for the lingering Golden Delicious tree.
When you cut into the bark, you might also notice tunnels or pockets with whitish dogwood borer moth larvae in them. The moths emerge from their feeding galleries, leaving a brownish pupal case at an opening in the bark’s surface. The moths mate and lay eggs at the wounded surface, and unrestricted feeding by several generations of them can result in girdling of the trunk and subsequent tree death.
Any of these girdling types of problems (including vole damage) might have caused purplish foliage symptoms last fall. Typically such trees bloom quite heavily before they die. I will be curious what you find if you check the lower trunk.