Why Apple Tree Leaves Droop and Wilt (and How To Fix It)

My Fuji apple tree just got delivered, and while it’s in pretty decent shape, it has some droopy leaves. So, I did some research to find out why this is happening and how I can fix it. Here’s what I found.

Apple tree leaves droop and wilt most often from a lack of water. If left for too long, the leaves will dry, turn brown, and fall off. Other causes include transplant shock and fire blight. Transplant shock is fairly common in recently planted apple trees, while fire blight occurs in the warmer and wetter months.

So, while there are a few common reasons why apple trees get drooping or wilting leaves, how can we tell what’s causing it, and more importantly—how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.

A Lack of Water

Apple tree leaves commonly droop or wilt from a lack of water. When under-watered, the apple tree will conserve moisture, prioritizing the survival of its trunk, roots, and branches. Its leaves are less vital, which wilt and shed. For best results, only water apple trees when the first 2-4 inches of soil gets dry.

A lack of water in apple trees is typically due to:

  • Hot climates
  • Too much soil drainage
  • Poor rainfall or watering

Watering plants is a tricky practice, even for skilled gardeners, and apple trees are no exception. It’s easy to either over-water or under-water your apple tree, so how do you provide the right balance?

The best way to water your apple tree is to first provide 1-2 inches of compost and 1-2 inches of mulch. The compost will improve the soil’s richness and water-holding capacity, while the mulch will dramatically reduce evaporation. From there, only water your apple tree when the first 2-4 inches of soil are dry.

Using compost is a great practice to get into, even if you simply buy it. Not only can it often replace chemical fertilizers (with better long-term results), but it increases how much water the soil can hold. For example, each 1% increase in a soil’s organic matter can help hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre.

Mulching is equally important, especially in hot weather. Like most plants, apple trees primarily cool themselves by sending moisture from the roots to the rest of the tree. When the roots get too hot or run out of moisture, the rest of the tree suffers. This can lead to the tree shedding its leaves, blossoms, and fruits. Some great mulches to use on apple trees include leaves, bark, straw, and pine needles.

Keep in mind to keep any compost and mulch at least 3 inches away from the apple tree’s trunk to prevent mold from spreading.

No matter which climate or growing zone you’re in, by composting, mulching, and only watering when the top of the soil gets dry, your apple tree will receive the proper amount of water. You can use a finger to check the top 2-4 inches of the soil for any dryness.

Transplant Shock

my potted fuji apple tree
My potted Fuji apple tree.

After moving or planting an apple tree, it tries to establish its root system and get used to the new environment. As a result, the tree can become stressed, getting droopy or wilting leaves. For best results, avoid damaging the root ball and wait for the tree to heal. This can sometimes take up to one year.

While many apple trees take less than one year to heal from transplant shock, it really depends on how stressed and damaged the tree was during the move. For example, if the roots were pulled and damaged during the move, it will take longer for them to heal and grow back.

For example, I recently repotted my Fuji apple tree (pictured above) and tried my best not to damage the rootball. From there, I planted the tree in rich, loose soil and watered it generously.

Just make sure to completely cover the root ball with soil. A good rule for this is to check that the soil is at the same level on the trunk as it was in the previous pot.

Another tip to reduce transplant shock is to avoid extreme weather and pruning, at least until the tree heals. This is why many plants are transplanted in the early spring—they heal faster in less stressful conditions. Pruning wounds the tree, which can delay the healing process.

After following the tips above and transplanting my Fuji tree, it had droopy leaves for about a day but then improved shortly after. I’ll update this post if anything changes!

Fire Blight

fire blight shepherds crook
A symptom of fire blight is its 180º bend on branches, commonly called “shepherd’s crook”.

Fire blight is a bacterial disease that can cause droopy or wilting leaves on apple trees. It can also curl and brown the leaves, branches, and fruit. Like most diseases, it primarily spreads in the warmer and wetter months. An easy way to identify fire blight is from its scorched-like appearance (hence the name).

Unfortunately, there is no cure for fire blight.

However, there are methods to manage and even prevent its spread. Mostly, this involves pruning and using a spray to manage the fire blight bacteria.

If you’d like more information about fire blight, I recently wrote a post (including how to treat it), so feel free to check it out: Fire Blight: The Most Effective and Natural Treatments.

Other Stressors

While the above causes are the most common for wilting and drooping leaves on apple trees, it’s not an exhaustive list. There are other pests and diseases apple trees can get, including ones that are specific to your region.

So, if you find that you’ve tried everything with your apple tree, and are stuck, consider the following next steps:

  • Contact the seller
  • Contact a local nursery or professional orchard
  • Visit your county extension office

These local resources should have specific information for the types of pests and diseases apple trees commonly get in your area, and if any of them could be causing the drooping or wilting leaves.

Related Posts

If you’d still like more information about treating your apple trees, feel free to check out some of my other posts:

Tyler Ziton

After years of fatigue and declining health, Tyler found that good, fresh food was his answer. He learned more about healthy food by completing a certification in health coaching, and from there decided to grow his own food and become more self-sufficient. Tyler also runs a consulting company to help gardeners and website owners solve problems. Read more.

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