Can you propagate a young crab apple tree with branches that were broken off?


We have a four foot tall crab apple tree in our backyard. Some kids were running around and accidentally sat on the tree breaking off three sizable branches. Can I put the branches in water to root/start new trees or what can I do to save the branches and the tree?


Jonathan Foster, Special Project Assistant

I’m so sorry to hear about the damage to the young crabapple, though I suppose kids being kids is just par for the course in a neighborhood garden setting. I’ve certainly lost my fair share of plants to scavenger hunts, hide and seek, and soccer balls!

The bad news is that crabapples are difficult to root from hardwood cuttings, which is what you’re looking at with those branches. Trying simply to plant them would have a very low chance of success. Typically, crabapples can be propagated from softwood cuttings (branch tips with fresh green flushes of growth a bit later in the spring) and you do have a couple of tips there that are getting close. You could put these branches in a bucket of water and see if you can coax some more growth out of the best tips before the branch declines, then cut those to propagate, but I can’t guarantee it would be successful and you’d be essentially starting over with baby trees. If you have a strong attachment to the plant, that would at least give you scions, but it wouldn’t give you a quick solution to the broken sapling in your yard.

Without seeing the remaining tree, I don’t know how it will fare, but if it’s only 4 feet tall as you indicate, this may be a bigger loss of material than it can weather. There isn’t much you can do except water it and see how it goes as the season progresses. Sometimes plants surprise us with their resiliency, but you may simply be in the market for a new crabapple sapling.