Crabapple trees are stunningly beautiful

October 3, 2012
Plant your crabapples in full sun, though they can stand light shade.

The uninvited guest can be bitter indeed.  Eris, the goddess of discord and chaos, was so mad she was not invited to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus that she tossed the Apple of Discord into the wedding party.  Paris had to choose which goddess would receive the apple, inscribed with “To the prettiest.”  Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, insulting both Hera and Athena, setting off no less than the Trojan War.
Like beautiful but ill-tempered goddesses, the crabapple can be sour and leave a bad taste in the mouth.  So why put up with them?  Like Greek goddesses, they are stunningly beautiful.   Crabapple blossoms appear in April to May, depending on variety and climate.  Crabapple flower buds develop color even before they open.  These buds can be a darker shade than the later open flowers, giving the landscape two colors on one tree, with deep maroon buds opening to shell pink or white.
A number of crabapple varieties follow the spring flower show with flashy fall leaf color, with yellow, orange-red, and purple leaves. Even the twigs can be colorful, with young bark that is often yellow to reddish brown when young. Mature crabapples can have striking mottled bark that is interesting even in winter.
Crabapple trees are closely related to full sized apple trees, differing mainly by fruit size.  Crabapple fruit is two inches in diameter or less.  Because of their small size and copious blossoming, crabapples are great for pollinating regular apple trees; their pollen does not affect the taste of the larger apples.
The small to medium size trees are perfect for smaller spaces, used for privacy screens, even growing under power lines.  The fruit is useful to wildlife, including many songbirds.
There are dwarf crabapples you can plant in containers. For large pots or containers, try dwarf varieties such as Camelot, Cinderella, Guinevere, Lancelot, Lollipop, Madonna, and Sargent Tina.
You can even have yellow crabapples.  Golden Raindrops Crabapple is a small, low maintenance tree covered with white blossoms followed by small, bright yellow apples.
Crabapples grow well in almost any soil, but do best in clay loams and sandy clay loams with a soil pH of 6.0 to 8.0.  Fall is an excellent time to plant all trees because the roots will continue to grow until freezing, and the tree will make fantastic growth next spring.
Dig a hole deep and wide enough to fit the roots without bending them.  Pack the soil firmly down and water well to eliminate air pockets.  No fertilizer is needed.
Plant your crabapples in full sun, though they can stand light shade. Too much shade can lead to fewer flowers, less fruit and problems with powdery mildew. The trees need very little pruning, but if you must prune them, try to finish before June, so you do not cut out next season's flower buds.
Besides jellies and preserves, crabapples such as Dolgo and Evereste add a pleasant bitter-sharp flavor to apple ciders.
Whether you plant crabapples for flowers or fruit for jellies and cider, your carefree, small trees may just be the apple of your eye.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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