Planting a Flowering Crabapple Tree

By Dawn Marcotte , last updated March 31, 2011

There are many varieties of flowering crabapple trees available for consumers. Most are tolerant of dry conditions and will require little maintenance when planted correctly. Consult with a local nursery when choosing a specific variety to ensure it will be hardy enough to survive local weather conditions such as severe winters, hot summers or dry environments. Crabapples adapt to a variety of soils, though they prefer a loamy, well-drained soil for the best growth. Crabapple trees weather cold and snow well so are an excellent choice for northern climates where less hardy trees can’t survive. These trees provide beautiful blooms in the spring and many varieties have pretty fruit in the summer and fall.

Choosing a Site

It is important to choose a place where the tree will receive full sun and not be shaded by other trees or buildings. Avoid low areas where water may gather, as this will damage the roots. Test the soil for PH levels because crabapple trees prefer a slightly acidic soil. They are tolerant of PH levels from six to eight. In northern climates avoid planting on a south or west side of a home, where the temperatures are warmer, as this can cause a tree to bloom too early and be subject to frost damage. Once a site is chosen it is time to dig a hole and prepare the soil.

Digging the Hole

Dig a hole that is at least twice as big around as the rootball of the tree to be planted. Recent research has indicated that the hole should be flat on the bottom rather than the traditional inverted cone shape or saucer shape often created when planting a tree. The flattened shape at the bottom allows the roots to spread and establish themselves quickly and more easily as they don’t need to grow through compacted soil until the tree is more established and the roots are stronger. As the dirt is removed place it on a tarp so that it can be easily mixed with organics, sand or any other items that are required to prepare the soil. The hole should be the same depth as the rootball.

Preparing the Soil

Crabapple trees prefer a slightly acidic and loamy soil. If the natural soil of the area does not meet these requirements it may be necessary to add sand, clay or silt to create the proper type of soil. The addition of organics such as compost will increase the nutrients in the soil. Don’t add fertilizer to the soil. A mix of equal parts soil and organics is recommended for the backfill.

Planting the Crabapple

The best time to plant a crabapple tree is in the spring. Crabapple trees are often bud grafted onto a regular apple tree rootstock, thus creating suckers on some varieties. It is important not to plant the tree to deep or these suckers may produce an additional tree trunk. Place the rootball in the center of the hole previously dug and backfill with the prepared soil mixture until the hole is ¾ full. Water the soil to settle it then finish backfilling the hole once the water has drained completely. Water the area again when the backfill has been completed. Make sure the dirt covers the rootball, but not so deeply to cover any grafts. Don’t pat the soil down around the tree, as the loose soil will allow the roots to spread and grow more quickly. Provide approximately one inch of water each week until fall, unless provided by natural rainfall.

Once the dirt has been backfilled add a layer of mulch around the tree. This will help keep the soil moist. Don’t plant grass or other plants around the tree, as they will compete for water and nutrients. Once the tree is well established flowers or landscaping plants can be added underneath the tree.

Fertilizer and Pruning

A properly planted crabapple will not require fertilizer for the first year. Monitor growth of the tree and if it isn’t more than five inches a year or if the leaves are very small the tree may need fertilizer. Follow the directions on the manufacturers packaging for applying Crabtree fertilizer.

Crabapples don’t require much pruning, though any suckers should be pruned. Suckers are rapidly growing shoots from the roots or base of the tree. They will eventually form a second trunk if not pruned. Dead, diseased or damaged branches should be removed, as should any branches that are crossing. This will keep the tree healthy throughout its life. Pruning should be done in the early summer, before June.

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