Crabapple renovation

JudyB

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I have a largeish crabapple that is getting a bit rangy, and want to attain more ramification on. This tree had a tough summer, as did all my orchard trees, with the wet year. Although it bloomed wonderfully this spring.
I'm prepared to loose all the blossoms next year, my question is how/when to cut this back, and any tricks to get some ramification.
If I plan on cutting it back and loosing the blooms next year, would it be best to keep it in the cold greenhouse this winter instead of outside where it normally lives in the winter?

The leafless pic is a bit out of date, haven't taken one recently, as its not so attractive....
 

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JudyB

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Oh, yeah, and just in case any answers hinge on it, I didn't let it set fruit from all those blossoms this year. (and I've pulled the moss waaayyyy back...)
 

jk_lewis

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It doesn't look particularly "rangy" to me, but it does need ramification. If you carefully cut off all of the buds at the ends of the branches and branchlets you should force latent buds back on the tree to become active. Over the course of a couple of years doing this, the ramification should improve.

This should not affect blooming.

I've done this on a twin trunk pear I own and it is coming along nicely.
 

Stan Kengai

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If you want to totally remove a branch or cut one back hard, it should be done in late fall (after leaf drop) or late winter (before bud swelling) being sure to apply medicated wound sealant. Doing so during or after bud swell can often result in either water sprouts or die-back. You should prune last year's shoots at bud swell.

Crabs are difficult to give exact training advice on because they can behave very differently, not just between varieties, but also from plant to plant and even year to year. I recommend experimenting with different techniques and making very good observations and taking good notes.

If you remove the flowers, shoot growth is usually very strong. (If new growth is not strong, only perform light maintenance.) Keep watering and fertilizing on the lighter side during the spring flush if flowers are removed. On extremely strong or early shoots, tip the new shoot once 2 or 3 nodes have formed to shorten the internodes. To induce or strengthen backbudding, once a shoot has reached 1", cut it back to just 1 leaf. Any other shoots should be tipped when they are at least 1" long. There are 2 caveats to soft pruning crabs. 1) DO NOT soft prune shoots once they are over 2" long. Otherwise you run the risk of getting a branch that does not flower. 2) DO NOT cut too many (say more than 1/3) of the new shoots in one sitting, but spread it out over 2 or 3 weeks. (I did that one year. Because I removed flowers and didn't control the water and fert., the plant rocketted away. I trimmed the new shoots all at once, and the plant collapsed/went into shock. Gladly it survived, but I set it back several years.)

New shoots can be wired in early summer when they are semi-hard. I cut new shoots back (where needed) in late summer here, but that might be something you need to leave until spring. The trick to creating convincing branches on a crab (as with most bonsai) is to grow them very slowly, maybe 1" per year.
 

JudyB

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JKL, thanks, do I take these buds off during dormancy or are you talking about buds during the growing season? Twin trunk pear, sounds very interesting. What kind of pear?

Jason, I've extended the carving that was done on the original tree by Bill Choat. It is certainly interesting for sure. I'm toying with the idea of extending it further up the left branch up to the chopped branch end, as that is too chunky a cut.

Stan, thank you for the in detail instruction, sounds like you have much experience with these.
When you suggest removing the flowers, do you mean after the flower buds appear, or are you saying if you cut back below where they would appear before bud break?

I'm hoping that by cutting it back a fair amount this winter, that it'll stimulate some new buds, and I can get some additional branching where I need it.
Then I'll do the shoot tipping you suggest to promote ramification.
 

Stan Kengai

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. . . When you suggest removing the flowers, do you mean after the flower buds appear, or are you saying if you cut back below where they would appear before bud break? . . .

Removing the flowers is not necessary, and sometimes it can induce too much new growth anyway. But I thought from your OP that was your plan. If you want to remove them, just clip the flower stems when the buds appear.

When performing any operation on a plant, it's good to think in terms of the "energy" in the plant. Over the late summer and fall, plants store up a certain amount of energy in their roots for next spring. Furthermore, it might be said that plants even have the capability to store specific amounts of energy for specific areas of the plant. When you cut a branch (properly), the energy that was stored for that area of the plant is still going to go there, and a new hard flush of grow will occur in the spring. If you were to also remove the flowers, the energy diverted from flower production on top of the pruning would probably produce very strong and course growth. That is to say, save flower removal for a time when you are not also branch pruning. You could remove the flowers on branches you have not pruned, but I'm not sure how much you would benefit because you didn't remove all of the flowres. It becomes a little unpredictable at that point, probably not worth the energy (yours or the plant's)
 
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JudyB

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Stan, thanks for the clarification. Yes, I'm intending to cut it back, and now I understand what you were meaning.
And thanks for the information about the energy distribution. Although I do understand this in my mind, I often forget to apply it to the tree when making plans (or worse yet, making cuts...)
Thanks for those thoughts, I guess I wasn't thinking about how much energy the flowers pull away from the tree as a whole. I had the impression that it was in the formation of the fruit from the flowers that took the most energy. Maybe I shouldn't be culling those, might be part of my growth issue. I have read that it weakens the tree substantially to leave too many on it.
 

Stan Kengai

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Judy, it is fruiting that takes the most energy and that's why you should cull the fruit every year. When planning major work the following year, it's best to completely remove the fruit. I cull my crabs to 1, 2, or 3 fruit per fruiting stub, trying to average 2 per stub (cutting to 2 per stub just looks unnatural) maybe less if you have a larger fruiting variety. Cut the fruit as soon as you see that the flowers have pollinated to limit the energy used.

As far as cutting the flowers goes, I had a teacher recommend deflowering most mature plants every 3 to 5 years, coinciding with repotting (do not do this with naturally profuse flowerers like kurume). No flowering means no fruiting/seeding, and it gives the plant a year off to just grow. Most plants respond the next year with a spectacular bloom, but some take 2 years.
 

Randy

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I'm not sure if this is sound thinking but I am interested in developing ramification in general as well as specifically for Malus.

Flowers will divert energy into flower production and reduce the amount of available energy that would otherwise go towards leaf and stem production. Since you are looking for ramification anyways then perhaps leaving flowers on branches you want the ramification on would lead to shorter nodes. Shorter nodes would be an advantage for ramification. Do my assumptions seem logical?

Randy
 

JudyB

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Just an update on this one, I did some minor pruning,and wiring. It started up so early and fast that I didn't have time to do anything major. I'd like to get rid of the one thick branch going up from the main left branch at the rear... Next time. But I did get some progress with the upper branchlets, and it's coming along thanks to Stan... I'll get some flowering this year, this one usually has heavier flowering every other year. Last year was huge, so this year there are only a few starting up. I'll post again if it looks good...
 

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JudyB

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Here is the crabapple this year at bud break. I probably won't get many flowers this year because of some pruning.
It seems pretty strong, I've been working on getting the nodes shortened, and it seems to be working fairly well, and I'm getting some backbudding on old wood as well. Thanks Stan for all the great info!.

I did get rid of one large branch that was at a straight up angle on the left hand large branch end where it was chopped. I'll also be working on the chop sites, to see if I can minimize the chop on the left. The right hand branch may loose the front up facing branch at the top of that chop...photos today, and one old one so you can see the changes.
 

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gergwebber

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I love this tree as much as I love old craggy apples in the landscape!

Looking at that right branch makes me feel actual discomfort; I used to work on a full size tree that looked like that. It had one of those horribly rotted scaffold branches that I always wanted to whack, but it created half the canopy silhouette. As bad as I wanted to cut it, the thought of it not being there seemed worse:confused:.

Old apples are just like that: haggard, out of balance, and always looking like they have one root in the grave, but they just keep coming back every year. good job!
 

ghues

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Looking good Judy,
What type of carb apple is it?....a native or a cultivated one?
Cheers Graham
 

Poink88

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Old apples are just like that: haggard, out of balance, and always looking like they have one root in the grave, ...
LOL...pretty much describes the one I collected. I just hope it does keep coming back every year. :eek:
 

jkd2572

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I have no idea what to do to a crabapple, but that's one of the better ones I have ever seen.
 

JudyB

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This crab is a Sargents. At least my vision for this tree is apparent. I have an orchard of my own, so wanted it to speak of an old beat up orchard tree, that still has beauty. When it does bloom, there is nothing like it. I may take the right branch back to the first couple of branches, and am considering continuing the carving to the end of that branch as well. berobinson had a great descriptor for this tree, he called it "almost ghastly" (I know he means that in a good way) Haggard can be another. I agree, and think it's the draw to the entire design, the yin/yang of old/beauty.
Thanks for the comments.
 

Dan W.

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Very nice tree Judy!

I picked one up from Diane at WeeTree in Feb. It's a cool tree, BUT after reading Stans commetns I fear I may hve a problem... It took off after I got home because I've had to keep it in the basement due winter weather here... and my new shoots are well over 2" long...lol...like 4"-5"!!!.. Any suggestions? Judy or Stan?
 

ghues

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Quote "the yin/yang of old/beauty".......or perhaps its more like young/old, beauty/ugly(in a good way)...this tree has a lot more character and interest.
I've found a Malus fusca (Pacific Crab Apple) with lower branches that have rooted, which could be clump style (my weekend project).
Cheers G.
 

daygan

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Looking really nice Judy! I kind of agree with the idea of shortening that right-hand branch a little, but I think it's good either way, and can only get better as ramification improves!
 
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