Crab Apple Tree Trimming Steps: How To Trim Crabapples, Increase Pollination

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 25, 2023

Man holding small apples wonders if there is a crab apple tree trimming guide that shows how to prune crab apple trees for maximum blooms, how to cut crab apple branches, and prune limbs for more flowers.

If you use Crab apple trees to help increase pollination or for keeping bees, knowing how Crab Apple tree trimming works can ensure that you have the maximum amount of flower blooms each season.

Moreover, it can help keep the trees healthy and looking attractive.

Crab Apple trees are relatively hardy and don’t require a ton of maintenance,5 but pruning still matters.

This guide explains the importance of regular Crab Apple tree trimming, explains how to trim a Crabapple Tree properly, and features answers to frequently asked pruning questions as well as when to call in a professinal tree trimmer service.

How To Prune a Crabapple Tree: A Step-By-Step Guide on Crab Apple Tree Trimming

Whether you want to refine your pruning technique or are brand new to this practice, this step-by-step guide will help you navigate the Crabapple tree trimming process and ensure your trees remain healthy and strong.

Step 1: Start With Dead or Dying Wood

Inspect your tree carefully to identify branches that are rotting, brittle, or colorless. When you find such a branch, remove it at its collar.

Graphics showing a full-grown Crab Apple tree with text description pointing to branches that need to be removed when pruning Crabapple tree.

Not sure if a branch is dead? Use your fingernail to scrape off some of the bark.

Green-white flesh underneath indicates the branch is still alive, whereas brown or black flesh typically means it’s dead.

Step 2: Get Rid of Branches Growing Inward

Sometimes, branches twist in on themselves as they grow and start to reach toward the center of the tree. Getting rid of these branches makes the tree look neater and more symmetrical.

If you notice branches growing inward, saw them off as close to the collar as you can get (without cutting into other branches or the actual tree trunk).

Step 3: Trim Crossing or Crowded Branches

Next, identify branches that cross over each other or seem to be growing too close together.

To get rid of crossing branches, take them both off at the point where they connect to the trunk. If branches are growing close together but haven’t crossed, you can likely get away with just cutting off one.

Pick the branch that seems the weakest or has the most awkward placement.

Step 4: Thin Lower Branches

Low-hanging branches can make it difficult to walk under the tree or mow the lawn. They might also take away from the tree’s appearance.

Cut lower branches off the same way you would any other branch, sawing them off as close to the trunk as you can.

Step 5: Remove Suckers

Suckers are small, invasive branches that sprout up around the base of a mature tree.8 They are thin and weak and can typically be removed with gardening shears alone.

Cut them low, at the point where they come up from the ground.

If you don’t take care of suckers, they can grow into brand-new trees (sometimes with different flowers and fruits). If you remove suckers as soon as you notice them, you redirect energy to the elements of the tree that you want to preserve.

Step 6: Remove Water Sprouts

Water sprouts are similar to suckers, except they grow vertically out of the main tree branches.

Snip them off with gardening shears at the base as soon as you see them; ideally, you’ll do this when they’re young and green. You might even be able to pull water sprouts off by hand, which makes it harder for new ones to grow.

If you don’t eliminate water sprouts, they can crowd out other branches, impact airflow, and contribute to disease, rot, and pest infestations.

Pruning Young vs. Mature Trees

The trimming process for young Crab Apple trees (those under three years old) is a bit different than the approach for mature ones. The table below highlights some of the key differences:

Young TreesMature Trees
Pruning Process
  • Selecting a strong, central leader (main trunk)11
  • Remove competing leaders to avoid dividing the tree’s energy
  • Choose several strong and well-spaced branches, which will serve as primary structural branches
  • Remove branches that will compete with the primary structural branches
  • Begin by removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood
  • Get rid of branches that cross or grow inward
  • Thin out crowded areas for improved air circulation and light penetration
  • Remove low-hanging branches as needed
  • Remove suckers and water sprouts

Take note of these distinctions so you’ll know what to do depending on the size and age of the Crab Apple tree you’re dealing with.

Crab Apple Tree Trimming: What Kinds of Cuts Should I Make?

You can pick between three primary types of cuts when trimming your Crab Apple tree:10

Types of cuts when trimming your Crab Apple tree graphic showing the 3 ways to cut branches which include Thinning cut, Reduction cut, and Heading cut.

Cut TypeDescriptionReasonTips
Thinning CutsRemoving an entire branch or twig to its point of origin, which opens the plant’s interior and allows for better light and airflowThese cuts make the tree canopy less dense but won’t impact its heightMake the final cut just outside of the branch collar. Do not cut into living tissues.
Reduction CutsRemoving a larger branch back to a side branch with a smaller diameterThis cut type is commonly used to train young trees and lower their heightThe angle of the final cut should split the difference between the angle of the branch bark ridge (the dark ridge that separates the branch from the main branch/trunk) and the angle perpendicular to the removed branch.4
Heading CutsRemoving only part of a branch or twig to encourage denser growthThis cut type is typically used to shape a tree and control its sizeCut about one-quarter of an inch above a bud/branch.7 Consider the bud’s direction, as the new branch will grow that way.

How To Cut Off Large Limbs

Start by cutting off large limbs at the point where they connect to the tree stem or trunk.

Notch the underside first, about 4-5 inches from where it and the trunk meet. This cut ensures extra bark doesn’t peel off the tree.

Then, make another cut about 2-3 inches further out, sawing all the way through.

Now, go back and remove the leftover stump at the branch collar;6 the thick section where the branch protrudes from the trunk.

Remember not to cut the branch flush with the trunk. Doing so makes it easier for disease-causing organisms and insects to get into the tree through its open wounds.

What Tools Do I Need for Pruning Crabapple Trees?

You don’t need a lot of equipment or gardening tools for proper Crab Apple tree trimming. Here are some of the most important items to have on hand:

  • Hand pruners: Perfect for small branches about half an inch (or less) wide
  • Loppers: For wider branches with a diameter of up to 1.5 inches
  • Pruning saw or chainsaw: For branches thicker than 1.5 inches

Whichever tool you’re using, make sure they’re sharp and clean. That will help you make more precise cuts and avoid spreading diseases from tree to tree.

How To Stay Safe While Trimming Your Crab Apple Trees

Always wear gloves when pruning trees (or any other plants, for that matter). A long-sleeved shirt is a good idea, too, to protect your arms from scratches and dirt.

Wear safety glasses as well so dust, dirt, and debris don’t get in your eyes.

Are you going to trim branches overhead? If so, put on a hard hat before you get started.

Avoid pruning near power lines, too. Leave that job to someone with the proper experience and equipment.

If a job seems too daunting for you to handle alone, don’t try to push through and tackle it yourself. Call a professional instead.

Crab Apple Tree Trimming: What’s Involved in Proper Aftercare and Maintenance?

If you want to help your tree recover after pruning, take these steps:

  • Water thoroughly to help the tree handle the stress of losing branches.
  • Apply fertilizer to provide additional nutrients that will help the tree grow new branches and leaves.
  • Monitor the tree for signs of disease or pest infestation (fresh wounds can attract pests and make the tree more susceptible to diseases).

Crab Apple Tree Trimming: Why Does Crab Apple Landscaping Matter?

Adhering to a regular pruning regimen offers multiple advantages to your Crab Apple tree, a vital component of landscaping trees, such as:

  • The tree is healthier because you’ve cut off dead, diseased, and damaged branches, which are essential parts of a tree, that drain the tree’s resources and invite pests.
  • The tree looks better because it’s balanced and has a more symmetrical shape.
  • Strategic pruning can boost fruit production by ensuring more sunlight reaches the interior.
  • Pruning controls the size of the tree, prevents it from outgrowing its space, and reduces the risk of hazards like growing into a power line or having a branch break and fall on someone/something.

What Diseases Affect Crab Apple Trees?

Fire blight is one of the most common diseases that can impact Crab Apple trees among other types of trees.2 It is a bacterial infection that harms new leaves and flowers.

Signs of Fire blight include “ashy” branches that look burnt or charcoal-colored. If you don’t take care of infected Crabapple Trees right away by cutting off the affected branch, the disease can spread throughout the tree.

It can also spread to other fruit trees nearby if left to its own devices.

What To Look for in an Arborist

Maybe you don’t feel confident in your Crab Apple tree trimming skills. That’s okay, plenty of arborists (professional tree trimming service) can help you prune your tree correctly.

Eye-level photo of healthy, flowering Crab Apple trees in spring.

(Image: Ted12)

If you’ve never hired an arborist before, these tips will help you ensure you’re choosing the best person for the job:

Make Sure They’re ISA-Certified

The International Society of Arboriculture or ISA certifies arborists throughout the country. To become certified, professionals must pass an in-depth exam that covers a wide range of tree care and maintenance guidelines.

Generally, an ISA-certified arborist will be more likely to provide quality service. They’re also more likely to have stayed up-to-date on the latest techniques and best practices.

Consider Additional Certifications for Your Situation

Depending on your situation, you might need to work with an arborist who has additional training and knowledge. For example, if your tree is close to or obstructing a power line, you should hire someone with line clearance tree trimming experience.9

Look for an Insured Professional

At a minimum, the person you hire to handle Crab Apple tree trimming should be properly insured with general liability and workers’ compensation insurance. If they are insured, that means you won’t have to worry about being held responsible if someone gets hurt or something goes wrong during the tree-trimming job.

Check References Carefully

Ask for and connect with at least a couple of references before you decide to hire a particular professional. Here are some questions you might want to ask when consulting an arborist’s references:

  • When did you work with [insert arborist’s name]?
  • What was your experience like working with [insert arborist’s name]?
  • What did you dislike about working with [insert arborist’s name]?
  • Did you think [insert arborist’s name]’s prices were fair?
  • Would you recommend their services?

A few minutes on the phone or chatting via text/email can help you get a better idea of the quality of the arborist’s work and whether or not they’re a good fit for you.

Compare Quotes

Don’t work with the first Crab Apple tree trimmer you can find. Check references from a few different people and get detailed quotes.

Compare quotes side by side to see differences in the cost of arborist and the specific services provided for that price.

Remember that hiring the person with the lowest prices isn’t always the best choice. If one person’s prices are drastically lower than everyone else’s, that might be a sign that they’re less skilled and won’t provide quality work.

Additionally, you can use a tree trimming cost calculator to get an idea of the expenses for Crab Apple tree trimming.

Take Your Time

It’s okay to take a few days or even a couple of weeks to compare arborists and make a final decision.

Don’t give in to pressure to make a decision right away. If you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on professional Crab Apple tree trimming, you deserve to feel comfortable with and confident in your choice.

Frequently Asked Questions About Crab Apple Tree Trimming

Where Can I Learn When To Prune Crabapple Trees?

Wait until very late winter or early spring for Crab Apple tree trimming.3 This is their dormant period, and trimming during this time reduces your chances of stimulating new growth at the wrong time (when it’s likely to survive and thrive).

How Much Should I Trim?

Avoid trimming more than about 20% of the Crab Apple tree’s branches in a single year. If you overdo it, you could stunt its growth or even kill it.1


1Appleton, B. (2021, March 9). 24 Ways to Kill a Tree. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

2Boyd, J. E., & Jacobi, W. R. (2005, January). Fire Blight. Colorado State University. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

3Foster, J. (2022, November 22). When do you prune crabapple trees? University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

4Jauron, R. (2023). Where should the pruning cut be made when removing a branch? ISU Extension and Outreach. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

5Klett, J., & Cox, R. (2016, January). Flowering Crabapple Trees. Colorado State University Extension. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

6Purcell, L. (2021, June 17). Purdue Landscape Report: Branch Component Identification for Better Pruning Cuts. Purdue Extension – Forestry and Natural Resources. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

7University of California. (2023). Pruning Cuts. UC Marin Master Gardeners. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

8University of New Hampshire. (2021, February 26). Can water sprouts and suckers be prevented on trees? University of New Hampshire Extension. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

9U.S. Department of Labor. (2023). Line-Clearance Tree Trimming Operations. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

10Whiting, D., Cox, R., & O’Meara, C. (2006, December). Pruning Cuts. Colorado State University. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

11Yao, S. (2013, October). Training Young Apple Trees to the Central Leader System. New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

12Crab Apple Trees Photo by Ted / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>