Branches dead on crabapple

Asked May 9, 2020, 1:48 PM EDT

A friend planted a crab apple tree 5 years ago. This year just after a full bloom two branches died. Both branches originate from a same spot on the trunk. I see no cankers in that immediate area. The leaves turned orange and red and many , but not all have fallen off. The spent blooms are still attached to the twigs. The tips of twigs are dead (dry easy broken) as well. The remainder of tree seems to be healthy. I scraped some of the dead branch's bark away, not far from the trunk, and wood beneath it is a very dark brown. In various places up and down the branches the bark has small cuts and adjacent bark is slightly lifted and easily removed. There is no evidence of seepage. I saw no insects or boring holes or borer's trails under the branches bark where I pulled the bark away. There are no sign of mites, aphids, or insect casts. The soil beyond the planting hole is heavy clay. The trunk flare is not visible. It does not appear to be holding water at the root ball although I have not checked the roots. I understand the soil surrounding the planting hole was loosened at time of planting. I am at a loss to understand what may have caused only two the branches to die. Can you tell what caused this? Does this indicate the tree has a disease?
Thank you for your help

Queen Anne's County Maryland

1 Response

It is impossible to say for sure what has happened to those branches. That particular limb was stressed somehow, now showing early color and by your description of brittle snapping and black beneath the bark, dieback.
It is possible there is a canker of some sort, but if the rest of the tree looks good, we just suggest pruning out the dead limb at the trunk on a dry day.
Make your cut carefully just beyond the branch collar so that the tree has the best chances of healing over the cut area with new callous tissue. Do not treat or cover the cut surface.
Here is our information on pruning, including proper pruning cuts with photo:

Otherwise, keep an eye on the tree, and be sure to offer supplemental water if we were to enter a period of drought.

One more thing... you mention that you can not see the root flare. That means either that the tree is planted too deeply or mulched too deeply. You should investigate, because either one can kill a tree over a period of years.
You can learn about both of these problems on this page: