Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Crabapple Tree; Stem Propagation

Photo by:  daryl_mitchell

If you are looking for a flowering tree, that provides fruit for yourself, birds, and other wildlife, consider planting a crabapple tree. This tree is hardy, easy to care for, drought resistant, and it can grow in almost any type of soil. You could go down to your local nursery and buy a crabapple tree already growing. Alternatively, you could also order one from a garden store catalog or online website. Granted, this is the way to go if you want an immediate 3-foot or higher tree to plant in your yard. However, why not save some money and propagate this tree yourself. The hardest part will be in trying to decide which variety of crabapples you want to propagate.

There are different varieties of crabapple trees, so you have choices on how tall a tree you want the leaf and flower color. They can grow to heights of 15 to 40 feet, with an equal spread.   The leaves range from green to purple. In the spring, the red, pink, or white flowers perfume the air with a sweet fragrance.      

If the crabapple tree is on someone else's' property, please ask permission before taking your cuttings. You never know. You may find a good friend, someone that will share other plant cuttings and seeds with you. Before you go out to gather your cuttings, take along a wet paper towel and a plastic bag. This is important because you need to keep the cuttings hydrated if you want them to root.

Examine the crabapple tree for the stems with new growth. They will be green in color. They are pliable meaning that when you bend them, they will not crack, snap or break. 

Cut the stems right below a leaf node using a sharp jackknife or pruning shears. Each cutting should be 5 to 6 inches long. Remove all the foliage on the stem, except for the top three to four leaves at the tip. After you have prepared each stem, wrap the cut end in a wet paper towel. When you are finished, place them into the large plastic bag, and close the opening. This will keep the stems hydrated until you are ready to plant them. 

Prepare the Pots
Gather several 4-inch pots. The pots you use must have drainage holes in the bottom. If they don’t, poke at least two holes in the bottom with a nail. Cover the drainage holes with a coffee filter or small rocks so the soil stays in the pot when you water. Fill the containers with well-drained potting soil. Prepare one 4-inch pot for each crabapple cutting that you want to propagate. You can put several cuttings in the pots, but when the roots develop, they are fragile. As they grow, they become tangled and you risk injuring the stems when separating them.  

Water the soil thoroughly, allowing the excess water to drain away. You’ll want the soil moist, but not soggy or the stems will rot. 

Planting the Stems
Remove one crabapple stem from the plastic bag. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone. Don't use much rooting hormone because it can burn the plants. Only dip 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the cut end stem into the powder. Tap the stem with your finger to remove excess rooting hormone. You don't have to use rooting hormone, but many gardeners believe that it helps the cutting to form roots faster. When propagating crabapples, it is a personal preference. I usually skip the rooting hormone with crabapples because they are easy to propagate. You could try it both ways to see which you have the greatest success in rooting.
Form a hole in the damp potting soil with a dibble or the blunt end of a pencil. Insert the stem end with the rooting hormone into the hole. Firm the soil in place around the cutting with your fingers to hold it upright and collapse air pockets. Place the pots in a tray or pan for easier carrying. Find a large clear plastic bag and insert the tray of pots inside. I've used shopping bags for this tying the top shut with the handles. The bag helps retain moisture and humidity. Find a warm, bright location for your cuttings, but keep it out of direct sunlight or it will be too hot inside the plastic. 

Check for Moisture and Roots
Every other day, feel the soil for moisture. Add water to keep the soil evenly moist. Do not let the soil dry out or water it so much that the soil is soggy because the cuttings will rot. 

Check the cutting for roots. It can take two to three weeks for the roots to form. An indication to watch for is the emergence of new leaves, but this does not always mean that the stem have rooted.. You can remove the cutting from the pot to check for roots, but this may set the cutting back by damaging any roots that may have formed. 

Remove the Bag
When the cuttings have rooted, open the plastic bag an inch or two. The next day, open the bag another inch. Over the next seven days, keep opening the bag until it is fully open. Leave the open bag around the stems for another three days before removing the bag completely. 

Keep growing the crabapple cuttings in the pots until you see roots coming out the bottom drainage holes. Now is the time to transplant the crabapples into the next size pot. Remember to water to keep the soil moist. and continue grow the crabapple trees in containers for one year. After that time, when all danger of frost is past, you can plant them outdoors in the ground.


  1. What an awesome post, I just read it from start to end. Learned something new after a long time…Tree Pruning Near Me

  2. This is really helpful; thank you.