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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - October 25, 2010

From: Mount Holly, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Planting, Transplants, Trees
Title: Transplanting crabapples in NJ
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I purchased a mature Red Baron crabapple in march of this year from a reputable nursery here in southern NJ. The tree was in the ground when I first viewed it, and since it was march and hadn't bloomed, I couldn't tell the true fullness of it. After planting it in my yard and taking care of it for the last seven months,I'm a bit disappointed in its appearance although I'm wondering if its too early in its transplant to judge.The tree obviously is still alive and leafed out on all the branches,however the lack of amount of leaves is what makes it look needy. It did bloom less than a month after planting it,but not as full as Ive seen in on-line photos,and it has the small fruit,but almost not noticeable because there there's not many. Is this the kind of tree I should be able to see right through the middle of? It is about 15 feet tall, 6 feet wide, and 2 or 3"caliper trunk. It is planted in a large mulch bed with good organic soil and the only amendment I made was to add a reasonable amount of "Worm Gold" worm castings to the root ball. Will this tree fill out/in at some point or is this a product of earlier years at the nursery? Its not really attractive to look at a series of 15 foot tall straight vertical branches that are pencil thin with few leaves.Thank you

ANSWER:

Even though your question is accompanied by plenty of detail, it is difficult to give you advice without seeing the plant or photos.  You may get more valuable advice by contacting your County Agricultural Extension Office.

That being said, you mention that the plant is "mature" and that it was "in the ground".  Luckily, it is quite young (it will be 15 to 25 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide when it is) and it sounds like it is actually doing quite well.  The root system of a tree and what is above the ground are in balance ... the top will not grow to be larger than the root system can support and the root system cannot grow without the food supplied by the photosynthesis done by the leaves.  When it is dug up to be transplanted a significant percentage of the root system is lost and there is no longer enough to support the top.  It is normal for the first few years to have foliage that is smaller and sparser than normal as well as fewer flowers and fruit.  Also, if the tree is drought or heat stressed in the first season it may drop the foliage or fruit it feels it cannot support.

You mention very tall, straight vertical branches.  These may be what is known as "water sprouts" which are common on all types of apple trees. They take away from the beauty of the tree's form and do not bear flowers or fruit.  This website has pruning information you may find helpful and this one has diagrams and a video.  You could also inquire at the nursery where you purchased it.

The only real advice we can give you is ... be patient.  It will take about five years for it to start spreading and taking on the form that make crabapples such popular trees.

 

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