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How & When to Prune a Crabapple Tree?


crabapple tree

Why should you know how to prune a crabapple tree?
Crabapples are typically known to be tough, hardy trees that don’t require much supervision and care to flourish into healthy plants. 

However, even a little bit of time and effort is enough to go a long way in encouraging your crabapple plant to turn into a healthy and mature plant.

These plants do not require extensive pruning, but the occasional pruning will help them with:

  • Getting rid of dead branches, 
  • Maintain their healthy shape and structure,
  • Avoid the spread of any possible diseases or infections. 

Do you have any crabapple trees with the above issues? Then it’s time to prune!

Most Popular Flowering Trees


When should you prune your crabapple tree?

large full crabapple tree with tons of blooms
A healthy crabapple tree – often the result of consistent pruning.

The best time of year to prune a crabapple tree is during the later winter or early spring season. This is when the plant is dormant and the new leaves have not yet emerged and begun growing. If you are unsure if you should prune or not, it is safer to just wait a little bit longer so that the winter has subsided and there is no threat of severe cold luring around the corner. However, the small shoots that emerge from the ground near the foot of the tree can be pruned the entire year long. We call those suckers. Don’t worry too much about those.

Away with the dead parts and rotten branches!
Survey the plant to find out if any parts of it are weaker than the rest. To identify these, you will have to find out where the plant is losing color, going soft or seems more prone to breaking easily. 

If you suspect that a part of the plant is dead, or dying you need to scrape it using a sharp object to reveal what is underneath. We call this the “scratch test”. If the exposed flesh underneath the wood is a dark black or rancid brown color, then that part is no longer alive and it is safe to get rid of it. Meanwhile, if it is a yellow-green shade, then the plant is still transporting nutrients to this part of the plant and it is very well alive. Leave it as it is. 

To remove a branch, you need to cut it from its branch collar that holds it together with the parent plant.

Beware of shooters and water sprouts

You will notice that small shoots are growing between some of the thickest branches of your flowering crabapple tree. These are called water sprouts. Meanwhile, the shoots that grow near the base of the tree are called suckers. When you begin pruning, you will need to remove these first because they have the potential to grow into a separate trunk.

On the other hand, water sprouts are potentially dangerous because they can encourage the spread of disease throughout your plant. They are located in very sensitive locations on the body of the plant and can easily help in transmitting a disease from one part of the plant to another. To encourage healthy growth, you need to get rid of them!


Create more space by removing branches growing too close

The goal with pruning is often to allow the plant to be able to reclaim more space by growing new branches. This can happen when you trim and get rid of branches that are growing too close to one another and impeding the plant’s growth. You don’t want new branches competing for space with newer ones, so the only solution is to get rid of them. You will encounter type types of such branches:

  • Crossing branches
  • Non-crossing branches

For crossing branches, you will have to remove them from the plant completely. To do this, prune them at the point where they are connected to the trunk – this is the base. For branches that have not yet crossed one another but are headed in that direction, you can choose to remove either one of them.


Crabapple Tree Diseases

fire blight on crabapple
This is what Fire Blight looks like.


Stay on guard for fire blight! Fire blight is a terrible but common disease that crabapple plants have to deal with. It is a serious bacterial infection that affects new leaves and flowers which are particularly vulnerable to the plant disease.

You will know that your crab apple tree is beginning to fall prey to the disease if you notice large branches have started to appear ‘ashy’, ‘charcoal colored’ and ‘burnt’. If you feel your plant is suffering from fire blight, you need to get rid of that limb immediately. With enough luck, pruning will have saved it from spreading the disease to the rest of the tree.

It can lead to infected fruit or infected leaves, and can also transfer to your other fruit trees. There are more resistant varieties of crabapples. Choose wisely.


Maintaining your healthy crabapple tree

It is healthy to prune your crabapple plant once in a while, but don’t get obsessed with the process – it may end up doing more harm than good by stunting the plant’s growth. You want to keep pruning intended to maintain its shape and structure to a minimum and let the plant actually grow enough before you decide to prune it again.

pink crabapple flowers and buds
Pink crabapple tree with new buds.

Get Going Right Away!

Prune your crabapple trees by using the best pruning tools only. You can find pruning secateurs online and perform the job quickly and neatly. 

Enjoy your freshly pruned trees and happy gardening!!

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