About 2 weeks ago on a mild February Saturday, I decided it was time to prune our ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple out front. Some people say crabapples should be pruned right after they bloom in order to minimize the impact on flowering the following year. Even so, I went with February so I could see what I was doing.
It was mild, like I said, but very overcast. I tried to take some before pictures but they’re not very sharp. What I hoped the pictures would demonstrate is that in addition to removing dead/diseased/damaged/crossing branches, I had a challenge in terms of how to shape the tree.
Now, generally, I like either a nice rounded or vase-shaped tree. Neither was really an option here. For one thing, there were branches growing too low over the driveway that were a nuisance – especially when loaded down with fruit and/or rain. The same thing was happening on the other side of the tree, where our neighbor Matt was getting slapped in the face with crabapples every time he tried to mow his lawn.
Then there were branches that stuck out awkwardly like an extra arm. And I don’t know if this is a thing particularly with ‘Donald Wyman’ or what – but it never seems to reach its mature size. Instead, it just keeps growing, the branches stretching further and further out, to where they really aren’t wanted.
In general I try to keep my pruning to a minimum, because Judy hates it when I remove branches. But this time I was more aggressive, removing awkwardly positioned stuff like the one above.
So do you know about how you should remove branches by making 2 cuts, one from above and one from below? You probably do, but in case you don’t, let me provide a little PSA here.
If you just make one cut from the top, the branch is likely to crack before you’re done, damaging the trunk and taking a long strip of bark with it. To avoid this, you start by cutting about halfway through from below. Then you make your second cut from the top about an inch further out. You can kinda see how I did this rather inexpertly in the photo above.
If you’ve got a really big branch, you probably need to take it down in stages. Here’s a guide to pruning branches from Fiskars.
And do you know about water sprouts, suckers, and spurs? Oh my! OK, so suckers grow from the base of the tree. Grafted trees tend to have lots of suckers. Just cut those suckers down at ground level.
Spurs are gnarly little flower- and fruit-bearing stems. They stay pretty small, so leave them alone. Water sprouts are smooth straight shoots that grow out of branches. They will turn into full-size branches themselves if you let them. I used to cut them off at the base. However, turns out if you cut them back so they are a few inches long, then they may bear flowers and fruit.
I learned this information from Tony Tomeo, who is a California arborist, horticulturist, and garden writer. Hey Tony – I apologize in advance for anything I got wrong.
So anyhow, here’s what ‘Donald Wyman’ looked like after I was done. Not exactly vase-like, unless its a vase made by a particularly clumsy potter.
Another view. Please note that I’m sharing with you my own effort to prune this particular crabapple. It’s not a comprehensive or expert account of how to prune small trees. Do you have any pruning of woody plants on your agenda for the next few weeks? If so, be careful – and enjoy!