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How to Propagate a Crabapple Tree

Few ornamental trees make a more dramatic visual impact on the landscape than the crabapple. In the springtime, the tree will be loaded with bright pink, white or red blossoms. The small, tart fruit appears in late summer, and in autumn, the leaves will turn to bright shades of orange and red. Start a crabapple tree by taking a softwood cutting between May and July, when the branches are still tender.

Fill a planting tray with a mixture of half potting soil and half peat moss. Put the tray in a shallow pan of water and leave it for at least an hour, until the potting mixture is damp clear through. Set it aside until you’re ready to plant the cutting.

Select a stem on a healthy crabapple tree. To determine if the stem is at the softwood stage, bend it. If the stem bends easily and breaks with a snap, it’s just right for taking a cutting. Stems that bend but don’t break are too tender, and stems that won’t bend at all are too old.

Use a sharp knife or garden clippers to cut a stem about 3 to 5 inches long. The cut should be made about an inch below a leaf node, which is a bump where a new stem or leaf is about to emerge. The cutting should have at least two pairs of leaves.

Pull off the leaves on the lower half of the stem. Leave the upper leaves, but cut them in half widthwise. Smaller leaves will use moisture more efficiently, and will take up less room in the tray.

Use a sharp knife to peel about an inch of outer bark from the bottom of the stem. Rooting will occur at the site of the wound.

Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone, and plant it in the potting mixture. Don’t allow the leaves to come in contact with the soil.

Slide the tray into a milky white plastic bag, and put enough stakes in the tray to keep the plastic off the leaves. Put the tray where it will get bright light, but don’t but it in direct light or on a windowsill, because the sun will magnify in the plastic and burn the cutting.

Remove the bag every other day to make sure the soil is still damp, and don’t allow it to dry out. Water it from the bottom by placing the tray in the shallow pan of water, allowing it to wick up moisture until it’s slightly damp, but not soaked.

Check in about a month to see if the cutting has taken root. You can tell by pulling gently on the crabapple cutting, and if you feel slight resistance, roots have developed. If they haven’t yet developed, check back every couple of weeks.

Repot the cutting into a 4-inch pot. Keep the pot in a warm, sunny spot until the weather warms up in the spring, and then plant it outdoors.

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