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Gordon Hayward: Crabapple Tips

Gordon Hayward: Crabapple Tips
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by in Mar 2009
Gordon and Mary Hayward take a stroll amid the crabapple trees they planted in their Westminster West, Vermont, garden 15 years ago.

Photo/Art by Richard Brown
Gordon and Mary Hayward take a stroll amid the crabapple trees they planted in their Westminster West, Vermont, garden 15 years ago.

Garden designer Gordon Hayward, author of nine books on gardening, advises doing some research before buying any crabapple, since not all varieties are equally suited to every garden setting. Most important, look for one that ranks high in resistance to apple scab, a disease that results in disfigured foliage and premature leaf drop. Other factors to consider are the color of its blooms and fruit and how well it retains its fruit.

The tree’s mature dimensions are also important. Many gardeners buy any type of crabapple and think they’ll be able to prune it to their preferred size. If you want a crabapple to suit the scale of your small garden, however, don’t rely on pruning. Instead, look for a crabapple that has been bred to mature to your desired height and width. For example, Malus ‘Tina’ matures naturally at 6 feet high and wide; the new ‘Lollizam’ reaches maturity at 10 feet high and wide.

Now, that’s not to say you should never prune your trees–but note that correct technique is essential. “To encourage abundant flowers, I use restraint in pruning a crabapple,” Gordon notes. “I do primary pruning in January or February, when the tree is dormant.” What results from this minimal pruning is a crabapple with an open interior, thick branching, and stems on the exterior. Here’s the sequence he follows:

1. Prune all vertical “water sprouts” growing up from interior branches.
2. Then remove any interior branches that are growing back into the center of the tree, cutting back to the trunk.
3. Next, prune just a few exterior branches that are shaded by overhanging branches, as well as any low branches that impede mowing or walking. Don’t cut near the ends of branches.
4. In summer, cut vertical water sprouts and shoots coming up from the base of the tree.
5. Avoid pruning branch tips. If you make such cuts, numerous latent buds near those cuts will break and produce new shoots–your tree will resemble a porcupine.

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