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Pruning crabapple trees during the dormant season in the Japanese Garden

Louis Rinfret, specialized horticulturist at the Montreal Botanical garden’s Japanese garden, pruning a Malus mandshurica (Manchurian crabapple) during the dormant season.
Credit: Espace pour la vie/Mireille Rico
Louis Rinfret, horticulteur spécialisé du Jardin japonais au Jardin botanique de Montréal, pratiquant la taille en période de dormance d'un Malus mandshurica (Pommetier de Mandchourie).
  • Louis Rinfret, horticulteur spécialisé du Jardin japonais au Jardin botanique de Montréal, pratiquant la taille en période de dormance d'un Malus mandshurica (Pommetier de Mandchourie).
  • Malus floribunda en pleine floraison au mois de mai dans le Jardin japonais. On l'appelle communément le pommier à fleurs ou pommier du Japon.
Pruning crabapple trees during the dormant season in the Japanese Garden

To have beautiful crabapple trees in bloom in spring, don't overlook the importance of pruning during the dormant season. Discover the advice of the Japanese Garden's specialized horticulturist.

Crabapple trees vs. cherry trees in the Japanese Garden

Owing to the lack of hardiness of cherry trees from Japan like  Prunus serrulata and  Prunus subhirtella  we use crabapple trees (Malus) which better tolerate the extreme weather fluctuations that we experience  in Montreal during winter. They produce a similar  visual effect at the same time of year.

Did you know this: the crabapple is the tree emblem of the city of Montréal.

Pruning during the dormant period

At the Japanese Garden pruning is carried out during the dormant season when there is no longer a risk of severe cold. Generally from the beginning of March until mid-April. We also  make sure that pruning is done before bud break (the opening up of buds).

When we prune, we begin by removing suckers and sprouts.

Suckers grow from the tree’s rootstock. If we let them develop, they may form new trunks of a completely different type of tree. This is because the crabapple was grafted onto the rootstock of another variety. Note that the removal of suckers can be done at any time of  the year.

Sprouts are branches that grow upward. They may eventually come into competition with the top of the tree. Besides, they produce no blooms, and therefore no fruit.

The next step is to remove all dead and crisscrossing branches.

Esthetic pruning

Once all the above is done, we move on to esthetic pruning. We  remove branches or parts of them to reveal the natural beauty that the tree has to offer, making sure that the remaining branches are not crowded together. It’s essential to provide space at the heart of the tree. The spread of diseases like scab and fire blight is more frequent when branches are congested.

We also shorten certain branches in order to guide their growth and keep some of them from competing with the top of the tree.

To encourage abundant blooming and subsequent fruit production, it’s good to know how to distinguish flowering buds from wood buds.

Flowering buds are swollen (round) and perpendicular to the branch, while wood  buds are longer, pointed, and usually hug the branch.

Golden rule to respect

The golden rule to  respect: Do not  prune more than one-third of the living  branches.

When pruning, we use appropriate well-sharpened tools disinfected with 70% ethanol or isopropanol, or better still, with the flame of a blowtorch or burner.

This has just been a quick look at what we do in the Japanese Garden when we prune crabapples. It’s imperative that this pruning be conducted every year in a way that ensures balanced development.

Read also:

Pruning fruit trees

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2 Comment(s)
Reiko Stewart's picture
Reiko Stewart

Hello,
Speaking of trees, what about Japanese Maples? When should they be pruned? Can a mature japanese maple be moved?

Georgia Holland's picture
Georgia Holland

When it comes to Japanese Maples, considerations for pruning and hill climb racing moving a mature tree are important.

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