When to Prune Crabapple Trees – Garden Tips 2024

Save for later!

Crabapple trees can appear as if from nowhere and if you have one in your garden it might be overgrown and unruly. With just a few simple steps you can bring it back to its former glory and learn how to maintain it every year.

When to prune crabapple trees: Getting into a routine is important for pruning your crabapple tree as regular maintenance will keep it healthy and encourage it to produce more fruit. Start in late winter or early spring, before leaves have come out. A bare tree is easier to explore and you’ll be able to spot any signs of broken branches or spots of disease. Start at the base and remove any suckers that have sprouted. Then, work your way up to the top. Crabapple trees like to have air circulation, which will prevent a lot of diseases. Clear off smaller, weaker branches that won’t produce any fruit. If there are signs of diseases, cut these branches off and if there are broken branches, remove them.

While you can cut quite a bit at a time, never cut more than a third of the whole tree. Otherwise, you can stress it too much, and thus weaken it irreparably. Get into the rhythm of pruning and you will soon have a healthy and functional crabapple tree.

When to Prune Types of Crabapple Trees

While there are many types of crabapple trees, early springtime is the best time to prune them. Common varieties include Red Jewel, Coralburst, Firebird, and Sparkling Sprite.

All will benefit from regular spring pruning. If you have a different variety and aren’t sure, you can always check with your local arborist.

How to Prune Crabapple Trees

Follow these easy steps to keep your crabapple tree healthy and gorgeous-looking.

Start in early spring

For most trees, pruning in late winter or early spring is recommended, and the same goes for crabapple trees. Even though you can technically prune at different times of the year, unless it is a dire situation, try to keep to this schedule.

Choose a time when your crabapple tree doesn’t have any leaves on its branches. This way, you’ll be able to see exactly what you are doing.

Over winter, storms can break older branches so having a clear view of your tree allows you to get rid of any of these. Not only do broken branches further weaken your tree, but they can fall down, potentially hurting anyone standing underneath the tree.

Start at the bottom

If your crabapple tree is large or seems too overwhelming, simply start at the bottom. It is easier work and will give you a sense of accomplishment right at the start of the task.

If there are any small sprouts near the base of the tree, be sure to prune these right back. They can quickly take over and suck up important nutrients that the rest of the tree needs.

Understand what water sprouts are

Look for thick branches that have really thin branches sticking out of them. These are called water sprouts.

Water sprouts are new branches that are weak and won’t add anything to an established tree. They actually grow from older, dormant buds, and there are many causes of them. They can start to grow after storm damage, drought, or root loss.

You will want to cut these thin sprouts right back to the main branch. This will allow for better growth and again, put a stop to unproductive branches taking important nutrients from the rest of the tree.

Look for damaged and diseased branches

As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to prune your crabapple tree before it produces leaves so you can get a clearer picture of its health. Perform a thorough check as you prune your tree, especially if it is larger.

Be methodical. Start at the bottom and examine each section of your tree.

While broken branches are fairly easy to spot, those with the disease may be a bit harder. Look for white spots on the bark, which may be a sign of a fungus or rot.

Other signs include deep cracks or holes in the bark, and if you do have a tree with leaves on it, they may be discolored.

If you can, cut back any diseased branches. This will stop the spread of the disease to other parts of the tree.

However, if you notice signs of disease throughout the tree, it may be too far gone to salvage. Calling a certified arborist may be your best bet in this situation.

Finish with the top

Safety is paramount so be sure to have a sturdy ladder when you get to the top of your crabapple tree. Use long-handled pruning shears for an easier time.

Other Tips

Don’t top your tree

As trees grow, many people want to stop them from overtaking their front or back yards and dream about simply cutting off the top part of the tree. However, this will destroy your tree.

No certified arborist will ever recommend topping a tree. Instead, cut branches throughout the base of the tree to encourage more light and growth for a bushier-looking tree.

Call an expert

By following our steps, you should be able to prune your crabapple tree on your own. However, don’t be discouraged if it is too overwhelming or too difficult.

A certified arborist can come by and show you what they do. This way you can receive some tips and suggestions for future pruning.

Don’t prune too much

It can be tempting to keep going once you get started but your tree can only handle so much stress. Never cut more than a third of your tree at a time; otherwise, it won’t be able to recover and thus will become too weak.


Early springtime is the perfect time to start pruning your crabapple tree. Start at the base and work your way up, paying attention to any broken or diseased branches. Once you start to prune your tree, each successive year will be much easier.

Related Articles:

Save for later!

Leave a Comment