Not all apples are orchard type bearing luscious fruits which according to adage will keep the doctor away if we eat them once a day.
There are decorative, small apple trees known for their pink to red flowers during spring and we call them crabapples. If you are a bonsai lover or someone who suddenly got interested in adorning your yard with fruit-bearing decorative plants, then the crabapple can be a good start.
In this article, we will talk about everything about crabapples including how to grow them, maintain them, their significant benefits as well as describe each variety of crabapple. If it stirs interest, it is time to read on.
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What is crabapple?
Of course, it has to start with laying down a fundamental question and that would be asking what a crabapple is. This apple variety is also called crab but you must have heard the name Malus countless times to refer to it. It is not wrong but it is not entirely right too.
Crabapples come in many variants and all of these belong to the genus Malus but at the same time, they also belong in the rose family (Rosaceae). They are native to Asia and North America.
They are sought because of their growth habit making them a compelling sight for fruit and flower displays. They bear smaller fruits that are slightly bitter compared to the common apple. Its fruits are used in apple cider and preserves.
What does crabapple look like?
As have been mentioned, crabapples are smaller in height compared to the common apple tree.
They also have more spines and have stiffer stems and branches.
As a decorative tree, it has very beautiful foliage. It is known for its five petals that come in white, pink, and purple colors. Some variants even have semi-double petals (with 6 to 10 petals) or double petals (more than 10 petals).
Its fruits are winter tolerant too but they are small in size with less than 2 inches in diameter. In general, this is how a crabapple looks.
A flowering crabapple tree.
The small but luscious crabapple fruits.
What are crabapple trees good for?
It is a common misnomer that crabapples are not edible or that they are just decorative trees.
You have to understand that crabapples and common apples come from the same tree genus which is Malus and that says a lot about what they can and cannot be and do. In this case, what are crabapple trees good for?
If you are building a self-sustaining orchard, crabapples are a good addition in the fold, alongside common apples.
Crabapples are tartier than common apples making them a favorite target of honey bees. With cross-pollination in your orchard, crabapples could really help in making your fruit-bearing trees grow larger and sweeter fruits (including its common apple cousin).
2. Pectin and malic acid
With the combination of tarty and slightly bitter, adding crabapples in your homemade apple cider will give a stronger kick and more unique taste and flavor to your apple cider. You can add them to jellies and preserves too.
Nutritionists and researches have already established that the apple family has high pectin, a type of fiber that is good in stabilizing blood sugar, in avoiding colon cancer and in lowering bad cholesterol. It also has a high malic acid content which is used to cure gout, constipation, indigestion and inflammation.
Truth be told, crabapples have more strength and vigor than the common apple.
They have a good reputation in not being infected easily with disease and they can tolerate harsh climatic conditions. As such, their roots are often used as rootstock from which other apple varieties are grafted because of these commendable qualities.
How to identify a crabapple tree
Crabapples are not hard to identify if you know what you are looking for. So we know basic things about them: one, they are smaller in size than common apples; two, they have a widespread and root system; three, they bloom flowers and also bear fruits.
Beyond these characteristics, there are still other ways to identify a crabapple tree.
Crabapple leaves change in color throughout the entire year. They are light green during the spring, dark green in the summer, and yellow-orange or purple in the fall.
The leaf edges are serrated too and grow alternately instead of growing across from each other. They are oval in shape with a pointy end. Leaves form in clusters. Young leaves grow with hairy undersides while old leaves are hairless.
The blooms appear in between April to May. Its flowers bloom in clusters of five petals, semi-double petals, and double petals. The flowers also bloom in one or two colors combinations of white, purple, and pink depending on the variety.
There are also variations in the size of crabapple fruits but they are always two inches in diameter. If it is bigger in size than that, that is definitely not a crabapple.
As medium-sized trees, crabapples grow at a maximum of 15-30 feet.
Types of crabapple tree with pictures
According to research, there are more than 700 variants of crabapples and 35 species of crabapples.
In this post, we will cover more than twenty of them. This will help you when the time comes when you make up your mind to plant one. Because trust us when we say, when that time does come, you will have to decide the best variant for you.
1. Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii)
It is a dwarf, wide-spreading foliage variant that could only grow for 8-10 feet.
It has a distinct irregularly-round silhouette and small, good-scented flowers that start as red during the early spring, pink buds in the mid-season and white buds at the end of spring.
2. Prairifire crabapple (Malus x ‘Prairifire’)
It has a fire in its name because it blooms with bold purple and red blooms from mid to late spring.
It will grow small red-violet fruits after but would be too bitter to even consume. Its leaves are purple in spring, dark green with red veins in the summer and fiery orange in the fall.
3. Royal raindrops crabapple (Malus ‘Royal Raindrops’)
This is considered as one of the newer variants of crabapples bold red-pink blooms during the spring.
Its small red-purple fruits will supply food for the birds during the winter. It is called royal raindrops because the dark green leaves in the summer will turn copper red in the fall.
4. Dolgo crabapple (Malus x ‘Dolgo’)
The Dolgo is always a popular choice. It blooms earlier than the other variants with spreading shape foliage.
It towers with white fragrant blooms that will leave a long-lasting scent around. It could grow to up to 30 feet and bears red fruits that can be eaten raw and could well survive the winter.
5. Lollipop crabapple (Malus ‘Lollipop’)
It has an elegant touch in beautiful yards. It has small, pure white blooms in the spring and a pale-yellow color in the fall. It maintains a circular shape all throughout even after pruning that is why it is named as such.
6. Camelot crabapple (Malus ‘Camzam’ Camelot)
It is also called Camzam, dwarf, white-flowered crabapple that only grows up to 10feet. It is resistant to diseases, bearing red fruits. It starts as red buds that will eventually grow white in the summer with tinges of pink and burgundy.
7. Sugar Tyme crabapple (Malus ‘Sutyzam’ Sugar Tyme)
It is known for being disease resistant with dark green foliage with popping pink buds. The buds will make way for white flowers and a rich red fruit that will just be there for the entire year.
8. White Angel Crabapple (Malus ‘Inglis’ White Angel)
It is a delicate vase-shaped crabapple, opening from pink buds and turns into fragrant, pure white blooms in the spring which drapes in clusters. It will bear small, glossy fruits after that should best be left for the critters in winter.
9. Coralburst crabapple (Malus ‘Coralburst’)
It is distinct for its symmetrical round heads. It opens with coral pink buds and semi-double bold pink petals in the mid-Spring. Bronze fruits will follow after plus it is disease resistant so all good.
10. Snowdrift crabapple (Malus ‘Snowdrift’)
It is called as such because of its pure white, dense bloom clusters. They bloom in mid to late spring and leave a gentle scent in the air.
It will bear red-orange crabapples later (that will never fall on the ground) but it should not be eaten.
11. Profusion crabapple (Malus x moerlandsii ‘Profusion’)
It is also quite the popular choice with its medium texture and spreading form. It is called profusion because of its purple-red leaves in the spring and bronze-green in the summer. Its dark red-purple flowers have these distinct white centers. It is disease resistant too.
12. Red jewel crabapple (Malus Jewelcole’ or Malus ‘Red Jewel’)
Its white, small, fragrant flowers during early April are not the reasons why it is called the red jewel. Its red berries can persist through the winter with a pyramid shape as it matures.
13. Prince Georges crabapple (Malus ioensis ‘Prince Georges’)
It has a rounded shape opening from bold deep-rose pink growing into fragrant, pale pink double petal flowers. Another 60 petals will continue to bloom from it in the late spring.
14. Golden Hornet crabapple (Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’)
It is almost exactly the same with the red sentinel with pink buds turning into white blooms in late spring. The only stark difference is instead of red, glossy, cherry-like fruits, it will bear oval, golden yellow fruits.
15. Robinson crabapple (Malus ‘Robinson’)
It has pink blooms that will spread to up to 15 inches with purple leaves when young, bronze-green in the summer and red-orange in the fall. It will bear fruits that will mature in the fall. It is good for making jellies.
16. Adirondack crabapple (Malus ‘Adirondack’)
This variant is one that you could consider award winning especially when it is used as décor in small garden spaces.
It only grows up to 12ft with large white blossoms blooming during spring and in the fall, it would bear small, glossy red but bitter fruits (which backyard birds will love).
17. Charlotte crabapple (Malus coronaria ‘Charlotte’)
It is also called as the Ballerina tree because it is resistant to shoots and will maintain its shape all throughout even without pruning. Its fruits are distinct for their round shape but flat bottoms and red overcoats. It is best for smaller sized gardens.
18. Chestnut crabapple (Malus ‘Chestnut’)
It has the largest fruit of all crabapples which when tasted will have tinges of pear, honey or vanilla. They are also harvested for wine and cider. They are on displays during May prodding those large white blooms.
19. Tina crabapple (Malus sargentii ‘Tina’)
It is a cultivar of the Sargent crabapple which is distinct for its small leaves. It looks like a candy cane with its white and pink flowers. It is slow-growing but it grows a lot of red-orange berries.
20. Brandywine crabapple (Malus ‘Branzam’ Brandywine)
It is one of the top crabapple choices for years. It has very lush foliage with bright pink double petal flowers.
It has a distinct rounded shape and will stand from 10-20 feet. It will have dark green leaves in the summer and red-orange leaves in the fall. Harvest the yellow-green fruits as they ripen and turn them into jams and jellies in time for winter.
21. Firebird crabapple (Malus Sargentii ‘Firebird’)
It is called the firebird because when it blooms bold colors in the spring, it will stay as it is through the winter. Its parent plant is the sargent and is disease resistant. It is grown in containers.
22. Red Sentinel crabapple (Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’)
It opens from dark pink buds that will grow into white, single petal bloom in late spring. It is called as such because of its cherry-like, deep red, glossy fruits which will turn mushy when unpicked.
How far do crabapple trees grow?
Crabapples typically grow with a smaller stature and require less maintenance work but how far do crabapple trees grow?
The interesting thing about crab apples when it comes to spread would be, the tree’s size is the same as its spread. This means that if you are able to cultivate a ten feet crabapple, expect its spread to be ten feet too. This is the reason why it is not recommended for crabapples to be planted very near each other because they need a wide breathing space for their foliage to spread.
Their root system is also the same as their spread so imagine a ten feet root spread, right? Hence, the most commendable space between crabapples should be at least 15-25 feet away from each other and away from hardscapes and underground pipes and fixtures that they could potentially damage.
When do crabapple trees bloom?
Crabapples can bloom for two straight weeks depending on the crabapple variety and of course the weather condition. Nonetheless, crabapples are expected to bloom around April or May.
Some varieties bloom earlier (during the last week of March), some during mid-season while some crabapple varieties bloom during the third week of May. But take note of this, while still on the bud stage or pre-bloom, crabapples are already stunning to look at making it a pretty cool decorative and fruit-bearing tree at the same time.
How to plant a crabapple tree
Crabapple trees follow a generic process of planting and growing except for the planting time.
The planting time takes into consideration crabapple varieties. For example, bare-root crabapple varieties must be planted in early spring while container-grown crabapples, as well as the burlapped and balled varieties, must be planted during spring, summer and fall. As for the other considerations, here is how you plant a crabapple tree.
The first step to planting is of course locating the best spot. As have been mentioned, crabapples may be small in stature but their height grows commensurate with their spread and roots that is why they need to be planted 8-25 feet away from each other, from hardscapes and underground fixtures.
They must also be planted in a spot where they could get six hours of undisrupted sunlight. The next thing to do is to dig a planting hole with 4-feet diameter.
Around the planting hole should be at least an 8-feet diameter to provide space. If you are planting a container-grown crabapple variety, the tree’s trunk must be planted in the same depth as it was planted in the container before.
Add peat moss and compost to the soil you dug out. Place the tree or seedling in the hole and gradually fill it with the soil, peat moss and compost mix.
When the hole is filled, gently stomp your feet to even the soil. As soon as you do this, water the site and wait for it to drain completely. Add some soil if they get too compressed. Repeat the process until soil compression stops.
Crabapple trees need one inch of water per week for the first year it is planted. Once the tree settles down to its plant hole, watering can be done less frequently unless there is extreme drought.
Crabapples will not die in drought but of course, you need them to have enough water to survive the year’s flowering season and bearing fruits.
If grown in a compact, healthy soil with enough nutrients, extra fertilizer should not be necessary.
Crabapples are natural survivors but if you see stunted growth and pale leaves, a fertilizer intervention will be needed. A 2-5 inch mulch should also be applied every summer to help in the blooms and fruits.
How to prune a crabapple tree
Pruning is also not necessary when it comes to crabapples. They only need to be shaped-up once a year to remove dead leaves, branches and water sprouts as they could be gateways to diseases.
When you see it with the upstart of fungal disease, pruning it will be one of the most immediate recourses as it would aid in air circulation for the trees. One very important advice though, pruning after June will make the next year’s bloom diminished.
How long do crabapple trees live?
Crabapple trees are known to be long-living deciduous trees. Typically, crabapples could live to up to thirty to forty years but of course, a decline in annual flowering and fruit-bearing will be very visible after the fifteenth mark. A few crabapple variants are notable because they get to live for up to seventy years.
How to prevent crabapple shoots?
Although crabapples are quite resistant to other diseases, they are prone to shoots straight from the rootstock. They are bad for our prized crab apples because they drain the energy of the plant.
One of the most common reasons why shoots persist in crabapples would be soil moisture and even irrigation. To address this and avoid the onset of shoots, you need a trowel and look through the soil. If the soil within the outer edge of the foliage is dry down to a four-inch depth, you need deep watering to up to 12 inches.
But to keep the shoots from ever appearing, you need to apply four-inch deep organic mulch at the base of the tree (but at least 3 inches away from the trunk).
Minimal shoots will still form and it is best to cut them off as soon as they even sprout. Herbicides are not an option because the chemicals will contaminate the main plant since the shoots are connected to it.
How big does a crabapple tree get?
While there are dwarf varieties of crabapples, the typical height for crabapples would be 15 to 30 feet. And for medium-sized trees like crabapples, 30 feet is more than enough for these types of trees.
Crabapples are distinct because they are often resistant to common diseases, unlike the others. But of course, they are not invincible. You would be glad to know though that there are only three common crabapple diseases.
1. Botryosphaeria canker
You would know that canker is already on the tree if the leaves start gradually wilting or dying.
The wilting and dying leaves will be covered with pimple-like structures, dark brown to a black color, and dark brown wood under the bark. Pruning infected branches and irrigating would address the problem.
2. Apple scab
This is common to a lot of fruit-bearing trees. An apple scab would be characterized by green, velvety fungi build-up which develops on the leaves’ surface during spring.
Infected fruits will have rough spots on the surface and leaves fall prematurely making it look bare and thin. The Fungicide will be the best recourse as soon as the flower buds take color. Applying fungicide for three weeks will stop it.
3. Frogeye leaf spot
Leaf Spots are purple in color forming in the margins after the leaves unfold. Old spots will turn gray following a pattern.
The leaves will also turn to yellow and will fall prematurely. Pruning the dead leaves and twigs will do the trick but they should be removed away from the tree at all costs.
Are crabapples edible?
The short answer to can you eat crab apples is yes.
Crabapple fruits are tarty and a bit bitter if you eat them raw but when used for other foods like jellies, preserves, ciders and others, you are in for a gustatory ride. But across variants, the taste will be different.
The smaller the fruit, the sourer it could get. Of course, it still has toxic value too like its cousin, the common apple. Stay away from eating its stem and seeds and you will be okay.
How to use crabapples?
There are a lot of ways to put crabapples into good use and here are some of them.
1. Natural shade
They have a good foliage spread, sturdy trunk and strong root system. Having crabapples around the vicinity are good sources of natural shade especially during the hot seasons of March to May (which by the way are the months when they bloom).
You can ferment crabapples and make pectin out of them. Aside from being an organic recipe to add flavor to anything, you could get a lot of health benefits from pectin.
3. Crabapple juice and liqueur
For the juice, just add sugar and cream of tartar. For the liqueur, just add sugar and vodka and leave it in a jar for two weeks to add kick.
4. Crabapple wine
This will come in handy as you would only mix crabapples, lemon juice and a bit of raisins. Just leave it in a bottle for two months and you will have your own crabapple wine.
5. Crabapple sauce
You might have had one during Thanksgiving. It is easy to make with just two ingredients: crabapples and sweeteners. Just drain and mash.
These are just at the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the other things you can make out of crabapples:
- Crabapple butter
- Pickled crabapples
- Crabapple fruit leather
- Crabapple bread and muffins
- Crabapple syrup
- Crabapple jellies
- Crabapple cider vinegar
- Crabapple pie filling and tart
You see, crabapple is a well-rounded tree. It offers natural décor, shade and display. It is so beautiful to look at when it blooms. It gives fruits that could be processed to make a lot of recipes of food and beverages alike, to enjoy with family and friends.
On top of it all, crabapples are low maintenance trees that you could use for many functions and could stay with you for a long time. The bottom line? Go and plant one now because you are in for a lot of treats.