A crabapple tree is a flowering tree that adds lovely color to any landscape. In the fall, the tree also produces edible fruit and often offers attractive fall foliage, which gives it multi-season appeal. You can grow a crabapple tree from seeds or purchase a young tree at a nursery for planting. The most important step in growing a healthy tree, though, is ensuring that it receives full sun and is watered thoroughly.
Mix the seeds with compost. Place a handful of crabapple seeds in a pot or other gardening container. Add two to three handfuls of peat-free compost to the container, and combine the two fully.
You can substitute leaf mold compost if you prefer.
Moisten the mixture. Once the seeds and compost are mixed, add some water to the mixture to moisten it. You want to add just enough that when you squeeze a handful of the seed mixture, only a couple of drops of water emerge.
If you add too much water to the mixture, mix in a little more of the compost to help dry it out.
Place the mixture in a plastic bag. When the seed mixture is properly moistened, transfer it from the pot to a plastic bag. Tie the top of the bag loosely in a knot to close it.
Store the bag in the refrigerator for about three months. Once the seed mixture is sealed in the plastic bag, set it in the refrigerator. The vegetable crisper drawer is an ideal spot to store the seed mixture. Don’t keep it in the freezer. Allow the mixture to chill for approximately 12 to 14 weeks, or until the seeds begin to sprout.
Chilling the seed mixture in the refrigerator for several months helps expose them to cool and moist conditions so they can effectively germinate.
At the 10 week mark, check the seeds regularly for signs of growth. If they’ve begun to sprout, it’s time to plant them.
Ideally, you should time the seed preparation process so the seeds are sprouting and ready to plant in early spring or fall.
Choose a sunny, well-drained spot for planting. When you’re planting crabapple trees, finding the right location is key. They require a site that provides full sun, so avoid shady spots. In addition, the area should have well-drained soil so the roots don’t become soggy.
You can tell if soil is well-drained by digging a hole approximately 12- to 18-inches (30- to 46-cm) deep and wide and filling it with water. If the water drains in 10 minutes or less, you have soil that drains well. If it takes an hour or longer, the soil drains poorly.
Spread the seeds over the area. Once you’ve found the right spot to plant the crabapple trees, rake the area to create small furrows in the soil. Carefully sprinkle the prepared seeds in a thin layer over the area, so they fall into the furrows.
Press the seeds into the soil. After you’ve spread the seeds over the area, run an empty seed roller tool over the spot. That will press the seeds into the soil to increase the likelihood of effective germination.
You can usually rent a seed roller tool from your local home improvement center or garden supply center.
If you don’t have a roller tool, you can press the seeds into the soil with a board.
Cover the seeds with grit. After the seeds are pressed into the soil, sprinkle a layer of horticultural grit over them. Aim for ⅕- to ⅖-inch (5- to 10-mm) layer over the seeds.
Horticultural grit is a sand-based soil amendment that helps improve soil structure and drainage by creating pockets that hold water and air. It is sometimes sold as soil cover or washed sand.
Water thoroughly. When you’ve covered the seeds with grit, use a watering can to water the area. The soil should be moist, but without any standing puddles on the surface.
Find a sunny spot that drains well. A crabapple tree requires regular direct sunlight, so choose a location for it that doesn’t have much shade. Next, make sure that area has well-drained soil to keep the tree’s roots healthy.
Check to see if your soil drains well by digging a hole that’s between 12- to 18-inches (30- to 46-cm) deep and wide. Fill the hole with water, and observe how long it takes to drain. If it drains in 10 minutes or less, the soil drains well. If the water drains in an hour or longer, the soil doesn’t drain well.
Clear the area. Before you plant a young crabapple tree, it’s important to make sure that the spot is free of debris. Remove any rocks, weeds, or other items that might interfere with the tree’s growth.
Dig a hole as deep as but wider than the tree’s root ball. Examine the tree’s root ball before you plant it. Use a shovel to create a hole in your chosen location that’s as deep as the root ball but two to three times as wide.
When you set the tree in the hole, the top of the root crown should be level with or just slightly above the soil.
If you are planting more than one crabapple tree, space them at least 10- to 20-feet (3- to 6-meters) apart.
Mix some compost into the soil. If the soil in your chosen area isn’t in very good condition, it’s a good idea to add some type of amendment to it. Add a small amount of compost to the soil that you’ve removed from the hole to create a healthy mixture for surrounding the tree.
If the soil that you’re planting in is in good condition, there’s no need to add compost.
Set the tree in the hole and fill it halfway with soil and water. Lift the tree out of its container and place it in the hole that you’ve dug. Fill in the hole approximately halfway with the soil, and then water the hole well to help settle the soil.
Wait for the water to drain and fill the hole in with soil. Let the tree sit for several minutes until the water drains completely down into the soil. Next, fill the hole in the rest of the way with the soil so it completely surrounds the base of the tree.
Don’t compact the soil around the tree too tightly.
Apply compost and mulch in the spring. To keep the tree growing healthy, spread a layer of compost beneath it each spring. Extend it out to the dipline, or the area under the tree’s outer branches. Next, apply a 2-inch (5-cm) layer of mulch to help the soil maintain its moisture and prevent weeds from growing.
Keep the mulch 3- to 4-inch (7.5- to 10-cm) away from the tree trunk so the roots don’t become soggy.
Water the trees early in the day. In warm weather, crab apple trees require regular watering if the rainfall is less than 1-inch (2.5-cm) a week. Provide 1- to 2-inches (2.5- to 5-cm) of water once a week during its first year. It’s best to avoid watering the tree later in the day when the temperature is cooler, though, because it may lead to mildew.
After the first year, a crabapple tree doesn’t usually require watering unless you’re experiencing drought conditions.
Check the soil beneath the tree regularly to ensure that it’s moist. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water it.
Prune damaged branches. To prevent disease and other issues, you should remove dead, broken, or diseased branches in late winter. Use a pair of sharp garden shears to prune away the problem branches so your tree continues its healthy growth.