Drooping crabapple branches
Over the last couple seasons, several branches of this flowering crab have died back. I've removed the branches, which amounts now to about 1/4 of the crown. Over the winter, we noticed the branches seem to be drooping. The appearance is as if someone let some air out of the tree. This is not a weeping specimen. In full bloom now, the ends of the branches are curling upward in a "J" shape. I realize these trees don't live forever, and this one may be reaching the end of its lifespan. But if there is a way to keep it going, I'm interested.
You don't mention the age of the tree, but it should live for many decades.
Many crabapple varieties have somewhat loose, not vertical, growth. The growth habit of this tree is very graceful and pleasing.
When branches get long and are loaded with bloom, the flower weight can weigh heavily. You may want to prune back the longest drooping branches a bit.
The dead branches are worrisome. You are right to prune them out, back to the branch collar, as they appear. Water your tree during extended droughts if it seems to be struggling, i.e. putting out little new growth at branch tips and smaller than normal leaves. Do not overfertilize, as that encourage excessive weak growth. Established trees do not need fertilizing at all.
Examining the first photo, we cannot see the flare of the trunk at the bottom of this tree. Tree trunks should not go directly into the soil, but normally flare outwards. If soil or mulch has been put around the base of this tree, burying the flare, it may be killing the tree slowly. This problem is like 'planting too deeply'. Read through this publication from our website: http://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_images/programs/hgic/Publications/HG86%20Com... You can always remove soil around the base to uncover the flare.
Thank you for your response. I appreciate the compliment, we try to keep our trees well pruned, and we are very happy with this specimen's shape.
This crab was here when we purchased the house is 1999, and the house was built in 1987. Prior owners had the tree planted, and it wasn't a juvenile then. I would estimate it's at least 35 years old. This droopy habit does differ from previous years, thus our concern.
We don't fertilize the trees per se (but occasionally add N to the lawn when soil tests indicate). We've had adequate water for the other trees on the lot (cherries, redbuds, dogwoods), and this is the first time the tree has appeared stressed.
I like the idea of the root flare (notice the well head nearby, this was once more of a mulch bed). I'll be sure to check that out. And the publication.
I've attached two more photos, closeups of the trunk. I believe the soil level is up and I'll excavate some and check the grade around the trunk area.
Thanks again for your help!
The first photo looks like it could have some slime flux (you can search that on our web site), but the second also shows a wet area on the left side of the photo. Can't see what that is.
Excavate the base and if you find anything more, you can let us know.