- Fruit On A Crabapple – Do Crabapple Trees Produce Fruit
- Do Crabapple Trees Produce Fruit?
- When Do Crabapples Fruit?
- Are There Fruitless Crabapple Trees?
- What Is a Crabapple?
- Types of Crabapples
- Are Crab Apples Edible?
- How to Use Crabapples
- Foraging for Crabapples
- Can you eat crab apples? Three favourite crab apple recipes
- Crab apple jelly
- Crabapples come in many different varieties (some aren’t even crabby)
- Best Crabapples for Your Yard
- Edibility of Ornamental Tree Fruit
Fruit On A Crabapple – Do Crabapple Trees Produce Fruit
Home gardeners usually select crabapple trees to complement the landscape with a compact tree, for flowers or for pretty foliage, but like other ornamental trees, crabapple fruit will appear in the right season.
Do Crabapple Trees Produce Fruit?
Crabapple trees are great ornamental choices for a variety of settings, and most are hardy across a wide climate range. Most people choose crabapples for their smaller size and for the pretty white or pink flowers that they produce in spring.
Of secondary consideration is the fruit on a crabapple tree, but most will produce them. By definition, a crabapple is two inches (5 cm.) or less in dimeter, while anything larger is just an apple.
When Do Crabapples Fruit?
The fruit on a crabapple tree can be another layer of ornament in your yard. The flowers are often the first draw for this kind of tree, but crabapple fruit comes in a variety of colors and add visual interest when they form in the fall. The foliage will also turn color, but the fruits often persist long after the leaves come down.
Fall fruit colors on crabapples include bright, glossy red, yellow and red, yellow only, orange-red, deep red, and even yellow-green depending on the variety. The fruits will also keep birds coming to your yard for fruit well into late fall.
Of course, crabapples aren’t just for the birds to enjoy. Are crabapples edible to humans as well? Yes, they are! While on their own, they may not taste that great, several varieties of crabapple fruit are wonderful for making jams, jellies, pies and the like.
Are There Fruitless Crabapple Trees?
There is a variety of crabapple tree that does not produce fruit. If you like these ornamental trees but aren’t interested in picking up all the rotting apples from underneath them, you can try a ‘Spring Snow,’ ‘Prairie Rose,’ or ‘Marilee’ crabapple.
These are unusual for being fruitless crabapple trees, or mostly fruitless anyway. Except for ‘Spring Snow,’ which is sterile; they may produce a few apples. These fruitless varieties are great for walkways and patios, where you don’t want fruit underfoot.
Whether you like the idea of crabapple fruits in your garden or not, this compact ornamental tree is a beautiful and flexible option for landscaping. Choose from several varieties to get the flowers and fruit you like best.
“If I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree.” Martin Luther.
My grandmother’s crabapple jelly was made from the fruit of a “scruffy” tree growing in the corner of the yard. In my mind I still smell the sauce bubbling on the wood stove and taste the tart, flavorful jelly.
Crabapples are commonly thought of as ornamental, not fruit trees. The difference between an ornamental and an edible crabapple is the size of the fruit. Edible varieties bear fruit that are about 2 inches in diameter, ornamentals have smaller or no fruit.
Eatable crabapples, with proper preparation, are excellent for making jellies, jams, sauces, and pickling. Fruits from ornamentals are yellow, orange, or red, lending color to a long, monochromatic winter but are not suitable for human food as the flesh is sour and bitter, fit only for birds. Additionally, many of the double flowered ornamentals rarely produce any fruit. Some folk tales falsely allude to crabapples being poisonous, stories that originated when kids ate too many fruits and got stomach aches.
Cultural requirements are the same for all varieties such as full sun, a well-drained soil, and pruning in the winter to prevent spread of fireblight. With some exceptions, most varieties require another tree to produce fruit. Fruit can be messy when dropped on sidewalks or lawns. Bloomers have several crabapple varieties that grow well in our climate.
Dalgo is the perfect combination of ornamental and fruit tree, growing to 35 feet. It is ideal for home landscapes with excellent resistance to fireblight and apple scab. It’s fruit can be eaten fresh, is excellent for jellies (a deep red due to the bleeding skin), sauces, and is a great amendment to sweet and sour ciders .
Whitney Flowering Crab (Whitney Edible Crabapple), grows to 16 feet at maturity and is suitable for planting in sites where a tall tree is not desired. Whitney produces sweet, edible fruit perfect for canning, preserving, pickling, and spicing. It also produces beautiful pink and white blossoms and is self pollinating. Whitney is an excellent choice for attracting birds, is cold tolerant, heat resistant, and has some disease resistance. Leaves turn a beautiful yellow in the fall and the rough brown bark is picturesque.
Centennial Crabapple is lauded for the quality of its fruit and is fair to highly resistance to scab. It’s considered to be a semi dwarf, growing to 8 feet on semi dwarf and 15 feet on standard rootstock. Trees produce an abundance of red flower buds that open to a showy white, an excellent pollinator for other apples or crabapples. The bright orange-red fruit, sweet enough to eat right off the tree, grow to 2 inches; the crisp, juicy white flesh has a sweet flavor good for canning, jelly, apple butter, or spiced apples. The foliage is a dark green but has no outstanding fall color.
Chestnut Crabapple grows to 20 feet and produces large white flowers and has some disease resistance. It’s considered to be an excellent pollinator for other apples and is a good self pollinator when a single tree is grown. The 2 inch yellow fruit has streaky red blushes and some russeting. The flesh is crisp with a sweet nut-like flavor good for fresh eating, cooking, sauce, or jams. The fruit will store until Halloween if kept refrigerated. The foliage is a dark green but does not have outstanding fall color. Chestnut is considered to be cold hardy and adapts well to different soil types.
Hopa Flowering Crab is one of the biggest (25 feet), oldest, and toughest (USDA Zone 2a) crabapples. This older variety produces abundant clusters of fragrant, rose pink flowers in the spring and colorful red fruit in the fall. The leaves are dark green, turning yellow in the fall. Hopa tends to be more susceptible to disease than other crabapples, in particular apple scab and fireblight. The fruit tends to be large and can be used for jams and jellies.
Pink Spires Flowering Crab grows to 15 feet. It’s a relatively new and popular variety, having a narrow upright and columnar growth habit. Showy rose-pink flowers emerge before leaves and produce red fruit in the fall, a good bird attractant but not good for jams or jellies. The interesting foliage emerges as a red color, becomes bronze-tipped and dark green, then turns yellow in the fall.
Prairie Fire is a “show off” tree that grows 15 to 20 feet. The prolific red blooms are followed by an intense maroon foliage that matures to a reddish green then turns red, orange, and purple in the fall. The glossy, persistent red fruit are an excellent food source for birds but are not good for jams or jellies. Prairie Fire is very disease resistant to scab, rust, fireblight. This variety is prone to suckers and waterspouts that must be pruned when the tree is young.
Red Splendor Flowering Crab grows to a height of about 20 feet. This old variety is a “traditional” crab with its abundant pink flowers, persistent red fruit and red-tipped dark green foliage that turns burgundy in the fall. The fruit is a good bird attractant but is not palatable to humans.
Royalty Flowering Crab grows to 20 feet, with purple foliage that turns crimson in the fall. Keeping with this variety’s color scheme, it produces purple flowers and dark red to purple fruit. This is a very hardy variety that tends to be susceptible to disease and requires more frequent pruning than other varieties.
Snowdrift Flowering Crab only grows to 15 feet but spreads out to 20 feet. This is an exceptionally showy ornamental tree that is bathed in white flowers in the spring and orange-red fruit in the fall that attracts birds and butterflies. The fruit is not good for jams or jellies. The foliage is a glossy-green with no striking fall color. This variety has some susceptibility to scab and fireblight.
Spring Snow Flowering Crab grows to 25 feet and has an interesting tight oval growth habit. It is often described as narrowly upright and columnar, a positive attribute in a landscaping scheme. It’s a highly regarded ornamental that becomes covered in snowy white flowers but produces no fruit. The foliage is a dark green that turns a stunning yellow in the fall. Trees tend to be very clean and tidy. This variety is one of the best ornamental trees for home landscape use and gives a “formal” appearance to a yard.
Mother’s Day is coming. Bloomer’s will custom plant into any container a customer brings in. If planted now they will be ready for Mother’s Day. There will also be pre-planted containers available. More on container gardening in the May 18 Garden Column.
Email Robert Nyvall at [email protected]
It’s a question as old as time. Surely our ancestors asked themselves this same question, though they didn’t use the word we use today.
It’s a question is still asked by gardeners around the world, especially if they see their child pick up something from the ground and go for a huge bite:
Can you eat crabapples?
This question is often quickly followed by other related questions:
- “Are crab apples safe to eat?”
- “How is crabapple fruit different from regular apples?”
- “What is a crabapple, anyway?!”
Rest assured, there are answers to these questions. Let’s start with the last one…
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What Is a Crabapple?
In his essay on “Wild Apples,” Henry David Thoreau said:
“The apple-tree has been celebrated by the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians. Some have thought that the first human pair were tempted by its fruit. Goddesses are fabled to have contended for it, dragons were set to watch it, and heroes were employed to pluck it.”
The domestic apple came from Kazakhstan and has been around some 6,000 years. Most of the apples we know of today, like Gala, Fuji, and Pink Lady, are hybridized from two originals: Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. Domestic apples are large and sweet compared to wild apples.
Comparison of a Cox’s Orange Pippin (left) with a Chestnut Crabapple (right). source
What does a crabapple look like? Well, the term “crabapple” doesn’t refer to a specific species. It’s merely a reference to size as wild apples are usually small. Their mature colors run from red to orange to yellow. In other words, crabapples are just miniature apples.
Types of Crabapples
While there are some differences between crabapple trees that are ornamental and those that are edible, each one will have its own special characteristics that make it perfect for whatever you are looking for in a tree.
- Dolgo grows to approximately 35 feet and can be ornamental or edible when used in jellies, sauces, and ciders. Its resistance to some diseases like scab and fireblight make it very friendly for home landscaping. You can actually eat these fresh as they are larger and sweeter as far as crabapples go. White flowers in spring and yellow leaves in fall make this one a pretty sight anywhere.
- Whitney Flowering Crab is a good choice when you need a shorter tree as it reaches 16 feet in maturity. The pink and white flowers attract birds and self-pollinate as well. Another type that produces larger and sweeter fruit than usual crabapples, this one is great for preserving, canning, and pickling.
- Centennial Crabapple is a semi-dwarf, measuring about eight feet, though it can reach about 15 feet on standard rootstock. What it lacks in autumn colors it makes up for in fruit good for spicing, jelly, apple butter, or eating straight off the tree.
- Chestnut Crabapple tolerates cold pretty well and produces a sweet, nutty-flavored fruit. It’s very friendly and helpful to other trees as a pollinator. It does well in jams, sauces, and other cooking.
- Hopa Flowering Crab blooms as fragrant pink-rose flowers with white stars in the center. While it is a bit more susceptible to diseases than other crabapple trees, it is still one of the toughest trees, good for Zone 2a. It is also one of the biggest at 25 feet.
- Pink Spires Flowering Crab grows a bit narrower than other trees to about 15 feet. It attracts birds with its flowers and shows off several colors in the fall, including bronze-green, red, and yellow. This one is better as an ornamental tree as the fruit doesn’t do so well in jams or jellies.
Are Crab Apples Edible?
The short answer is: yes, they are edible. For a more detailed answer, read on.
What do Crabapples Taste Like?
There are many types of crabapple trees, hundreds of hybrids even. And the taste varies across the line. Several of the larger kinds will produce fruit that is tasty enough right off the tree.
Some of those more edible types are mentioned above but there are many that are too sour and bitter even after the cooking process to eat. Perhaps if your children are prone to eating things found on the ground, a nice, sour one will cure them of those ills.
Are Crabapples Toxic?
The flesh of the crabapple itself doesn’t have any toxicity associated with it. However, like its cousin the apple, the seeds do contain cyanogenic glycosides, also known as cyanide!
Simply avoid eating the seed, the stem, and the leaves and you should be just fine, like eating any other apple. Even if you swallow a few seeds, they will most likely pass through your system without even breaking down. You would have to chew up a lot of seeds to get sick, about 200.
What About Side Effects?
The sourness of some crabapples may lead to a bit of sour stomach after eating. The symptoms of cyanide poisoning are more serious, such as shortness of breath, seizures, and loss of consciousness. But you don’t have to worry about that — just lay off the seeds, okay?
Are They Safe for Pets?
A lot of things that seem harmless to us are a more dangerous to our beloved furry friends. Crabapple consumption will most likely just cause some tummy issues for the family dog but the danger lies in the fact that some dogs will eat the apple in its entirety, leaves, stems, and seeds included. And they might not stop at one or two. If your dog is one of those canine vacuum cleaners, keep a careful eye on him when outdoors.
There is a higher danger for cattle and horses who eat these types of foods on a regular basis. Keep your fields fenced and your trees out of their reach and they should be dandy.
Final Thoughts on Eating Crabapples
Much as I would like to claim the superpower of looking into objects and being able to tell right away how yummy they are, I’m not necessarily going to be right every time, unless it’s my grandmother’s cheesecake. There’s no way to tell just by looking at a crabapple how sour or sweet it will be. If you know what type of crabapple it is, your luck will be greater for selection.
How to Use Crabapples
Though some of these apple miniatures appear better suited to a dollhouse kitchen, and probably taste just as wooden, there are several edible crabapple uses.
Jelly is made with apples and sugar so even the not-so-sweet crabapples will do well in this form. If you can up a lot of them, you also have gifts for every single relative on your Christmas list. And these gifts aren’t going to come back to haunt you like your aunt’s decades-old fruitcake.
I’ll admit apples aren’t the first thing that come to mind when I think of pickling things. Don’t knock it until you try it, especially when it means you might miss out on something delicious.
Rescue the deer from getting too fat on your crabapples to run from hunters and make crabapple sauce with some cinnamon and sugar. The deer don’t appreciate all the mouthwatering dishes those little fruits can make anyway.
Another novelty gift is apple butter. Crabapples will give it a pretty pink color and a different sweet-tart flavor than boring, old yellow butter.
If jam is your thing, give this video a look-see and a taste, then send me a jar for my birthday:
From now on, you can rest at ease whenever your kids grab a crabapple from a tree when you visit the uncle’s farm. Though you may expect a few tears if the ones they grab are quite crabby in flavor, it certainly won’t do them any harm and might teach them a life lesson or two.
I hope you also consider adding a few crabapple trees to your landscaping for the beautiful colors they bring and the appetizing (or potential for appetizing) fruits they bear. Don’t forget my birthday!
Please share this article with your friends and family and make sure to comment if you have any lingering questions. Thanks for stopping by!
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Foraging for Crabapples
By Erin Huffstetler | 07/30/2013 |
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Another family walk proves fruitful … while we were out exploring the other night, I happened to spot a group of crabapple trees that I had never noticed before. They’re on public land (so they’re fair game), and the fruit on a couple of the trees is close to ripe. Looks like I’ll be making crabapple jelly, crabapple bread and all other manner of crabapple goodness over the next few months.
My parents had a crabapple tree when I was growing up, but we never did anything with it. I can’t wait to experiment with this new-to-me fruit (I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes).
How to Identify a Crabapple Tree:
Crabapples are in season late summer into fall (August-October), and they’re fairly to identify. Here’s what to look for:
- They have oval leaves that come to a point
- Leaves are light green in the spring, darker green in the summer, and turn a yellowish-orange or reddish-purple in the fall
- The edge of the leaves are serrated
- The backsides of younger leaves are hairy. Older leaves are hairless
- The leaves and fruit form in clusters
- Leaves alternate on the limb, rather than growing directly across from each other
- When the tree flowers in the spring, the blooms can be white, light pink, dark pink or purplish in color (depending on the variety)
- The fruit grows on long stems, much like a cherry. It will have a sepal on the end as it grows, but this sometimes falls off when the fruit is ripe
- The size of the fruit varies, but is between 1/4-inch and two inches. Anything bigger than that, and it’s considered an apple – not a crabapple
- Crabapples are medium-sized trees, and typically reach a max height of 15-30 feet (though dwarf varieties do exist)
When to Pick Crabapples:
Some crabapples turn red when they’re ripe, while others turn a yellowish-orange. The easiest way to tell if the crabapples from a particular tree are ripe is to cut a few open at the equator. If the seeds are brown, the fruit is ripe and ready for picking. Ripe crabapples will also have a bit of give when you squeeze them.
There are over 1,000 varieties of crabapples, and they each ripen at their own time. Start watching any trees that you find in August, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t ready until sometime in the fall.
Uses for Crabapples:
Crabapples are much more tart than regular apples, so you probably won’t enjoy eating them straight off the tree (though some people do). Use your crabapples to make crabapple butter, jelly, sauce, pickles and pie; toss them into bread or muffin batter; Freeze some to use in your Thanksgiving stuffing, or invent your own use for them.
Facts About Crabapples:
Crabapples are …
- closely related to apple trees
- loaded with pectin. Skip the store-bought pectin when you use them to make jelly because you won’t need it
- A good source of Vitamin C, potassium and manganese
It’s important to note that crabapple seeds contain cyanide (just like regular apple seeds), so it’s best to remove them before eating.
- Avoid picking in areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides
- Also avoid picking along busy roadways, where trees may have been contaminated by vehicle emissions
- Always seek permission before picking on private property
- If you aren’t 100% sure of what you’re picking, take a leaf and fruit sample to your local ag extension office for a positive identification
Can you eat crab apples? Three favourite crab apple recipes
Crab apple jelly
This is a taste bud-tingling amber-pink jelly. It’s perfect for serving with meats. You can pep up the recipe by adding a few chillies, a cinnamon stick, coriander seeds or star anise to the pan.
- As many crab apples as you want to use
- Enough water to just cover them
- White sugar – 450g for every 600ml of strained juice
Tip crab apples into preserving pan (no need to cut them up). Add enough water to just cover them. Bring to the boil, simmer and stir now and then until the fruit has turned mushy.
Allow to cool a little and then pour into a jelly bag and leave to strain overnight into a large bowl. Don’t squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy.
Measure the strained juice and pour back into the preserving pan and heat slowly. Add 450g sugar for every 600ml of juice and add to the juice. Stir on a low heat until the sugar dissolves and then bring to the boil.
Boil rapidly until setting point is achieved (test by dropping a spoonful of mixture onto a fridge-cold saucer, as it cools it should wrinkle on the surface). Pour hot jelly into hot sterile jars and seal immediately.
Crabapples come in many different varieties (some aren’t even crabby)
Crabapple branches drenched in white, pink or red blossoms are a strong enticement to go out and buy one of these trees. First, however, put a little thought into which variety you plant.
There are about 900 varieties on the market, and planting a crabapple is a decision that lasts for decades.
To begin with, think beyond just the blossoms. For all their beauty, they are with us only a week or two each year. Crabapple fruits can be almost as decorative as the blossoms. And you also might consider the tree’s form, eventual size, and leaf color both in summer and fall.
But hold on: Before you are swayed by any of these shows of beauty, make disease resistance — yes, disease resistance — your first consideration in choosing a variety to plant.
Crabapples, like eating apples, are generally susceptible to fire blight, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust and scab diseases. A tree with splotched, curled or dead leaves is not a pretty sight. And if severe, a disease can actually kill your plant.
Fortunately, a number of beautiful crabapple varieties are resistant to one or more of these diseases. Unfortunately, a number of disease-susceptible varieties are too readily available. Steer clear of disease-susceptible varieties such as Almey, Eleyi, Red Silver and Hopa. Disease, poor form and short-lived flowers are all reasons to “kick the Hopa habit,” as my old horticulture professor used to say.
Consider the fruits
With the field narrowed to disease-resistant varieties, focus next on the fruits. Fruits of some varieties offer months of pleasure, as the golden or scarlet orbs dangle from the stems from autumn well into or even through the winter. The variety Calocarpa, with the unwieldy botanical name Malus x Zumi var. Calocarpa, clings to its glistening, half-inch-in-diameter fruits from late summer through December. Indian Summer is another variety notable for showy fruits, and, in this case, rosy red flowers and good fall color also.
You might also enjoy the sight of birds in late fall and into winter, flitting around the branches as they enjoy the fruits of some varieties. Birds particularly relish the small, red fruits of Sargent crabapple, a relatively small tree that is also pest-resistant.
Although the “crab” in crabapple means “sour,” a number of varieties bear fruit good enough to eat, and surely good enough to make into jelly, especially if they are large enough to justify the effort. The variety Dolgo is widely available, and if you grow it you’ll have to decide whether to enjoy the sight of the fluorescent red fruits dangling from the branches or the taste of them in the jelly jar. Other good cooking varieties include Cranberry, Hyslop, Transcendent and Redflesh, the last with fruit that is red right to the core.
In fact, a crabapple fruit does not even have to taste sour; the only thing that makes a crabapple a crabapple is fruit size. Any apple less than 2 inches across is by definition a crabapple. Centennial, Chestnut, Kerr and Wickson are crabapples that you will want to chomp into. The fruits are small for apples but large for crabapples.
As for form and leaf color, some crabapple trees are upright and large; most are rounded and medium-size. If you want a dainty dwarf tree, plant Coralburst, which has double pink flowers followed by small, reddish-orange fruits. How about White Cascade for a weeping crabapple, this one a waterfall of white blossoms that are followed by pea-size, yellow fruits? Royalty has the most dramatic leaf color: glossy purple in spring, greenish purple in summer, then brilliant purple in fall. The flowers are few, but are dark crimson, almost purple, and followed by — you guessed it — purple fruits.
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They hang like lanterns or Christmas baubles, a whole tree heavily laden with fruit when all else is bare. Where many crab apples have lost their fruit by November, a few species and cultivars will hold on to theirs well into the new year.
If you nibble one – and a nibble is often all you can do as many are the size of cherries – you’ll find they are tannin rich, stripping your mouth of moisture, though sometimes they have beautiful flavours beneath that. It takes many cold nights and sharp frosts before these apples soften and become desirable to birds, hence why they persist on trees deep into winter.
In spring, crab apple trees are covered in blossom, often scented, and some have fantastic autumn colour. They are perfect for front gardens, offering dappled shade in summer but shedding so winter light can flood in when it’s most needed.
Expect to pay about £30 plus delivery for a four- to five-litre pot, a tree 40-60cm tall. That 60cm tree will very quickly catch any semi-mature tree: I planted a whip, a single stem about 60cm high, in my front garden four years ago and it’s now almost three metres tall.
Plant throughout winter, as long as you can work the ground. Tree roots will start exploring the soil as soon as it warms up, and until the tree is established you will have to water throughout dry periods. Mulching around the base in spring will help keep weeds down and lock in moisture.
Larger trees also need staking; any good nursery will have suitable stakes. It’s worth asking about rootstock: many trees are grafted on to different rootstock to determine the size of the tree and whether it is suitable for your garden. If they can’t give a good explanation, buy elsewhere.
Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ is much-loved for its brilliant butter yellow fruit. ‘Comtesse de Paris’ is harder to get hold of, but the fruits are a cleaner yellow and persist even longer. M. x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ is popular for its white flowers in spring and clusters of deep red fruit that remain long into winter.
M. transitoria is a slender, elegant tree from China with small yellow fruit and beautiful autumn colour. Good if you need a tree that won’t spread: perfect for front gardens, courtyards or as a street tree.
M. ‘Indian Magic’ and ‘Liset’ are some of the best deep-pink-flowered forms, followed by red fruit that lingers on in the new year. ‘Indian Magic’ likes to spread outwards, so is not good for confined spaces.
M. ‘Jelly King’ from New Zealand has white flowers and large, persistent orange pink crab apples that taste fantastic and make a beautiful pink jelly. Once established it often produces so heavily there’ll be plenty for the kitchen, and still some on the tree.
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Best Crabapples for Your Yard
Everyday I pass a roadside row of old crabapples on my way to work. They are beautiful trees in all seasons.
The bronze-green foliage turns a deep maroon in autumn, the tiny red apples decorate the gnarled bare limbs for most of the winter, and in the springtime the trees are loaded with blossoms in varying shades of pink.
These dependable old trees bloom right on schedule each year, just in time for Mother’s Day.
There is so much variation among flowering crabapples that there is a perfect one for almost every situation. Along with different heights, there are shapes like oval, round, spreading, and weeping forms to choose from. Blossoms can be single, semi-double, or double (the singles tend to be the most fragrant) and the flowers come in colors ranging from pure white to pink, red, and purple.
Often the buds are a darker shade than the flower giving the tree more than one color as they open. Leaf colors vary from dark green which turns gold in the fall to bronze, red, and dark purple-red leaves that mature to a deep burgundy in autumn.
Bear in mind that some experts say the dark-leaved varieties are more susceptible to disease. Crabapples are subject to the same problems as regular apple trees. Scab, fire blight, powdery mildew, leaf spot, rust, aphids, spider mites, webworms, and Japanese beetles all conspire to spoil the fun to say nothing of nibbling mice, rabbits, and deer.
Technically any apple tree bearing fruit smaller than 2 inches in diameter is a crabapple. Most of these tiny apples are too tart to eat but with enough sweetener they make a flavorful jelly. Fruits also come in a range of colors including green, red, orange, yellow, burgundy, maroon, or purple. If cleaning up fallen apples is a chore you’d rather not deal with, there are sterile cultivars like ‘Spring Snow’ that have gorgeous blossoms but bear no fruit.
Crabapple Tree Varieties
Here are 7 trees recommended by the International Crabapple Society:
- ‘Louisa’ is a graceful, weeping tree with pink flowers and golden fruit. It is disease resistant and grows to be 12-15 feet tall and wide. Left unpruned, its branches can reach the ground.
- ‘Molten Lava’ grows to be about 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It has white flowers that open from dark pink buds, bears red fruit, and has interesting yellow bark.
- ‘Adirondack’ is a slender, columnar shaped tree reaching 12 feet in height but only 6 feet wide. It has bright pink buds that open to white flowers and bears red fruits that persist on the branches into winter.
- ‘Prairiefire’ is a traditionally-shaped, round tree that grows to be 20 feet tall and wide. It is one of the few red-leaved crabapples that is disease resistant. It has white flowers and deep purple, 1/2 inch fruits.
- ‘Ormiston Roy’ is an old-time cultivar that is tops for disease resistance. It grows 20 feet tall and wide, and puts on a spectacular display of white blossoms and orange fruits.
- ‘Golden Raindrops’ is an unusual crabapple with lobed leaves that grows to be 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It has small white flowers and tiny golden fruits.
- ‘Tina’ is a dwarf crabapple growing only about 6 feet tall. It is one of the earliest to bloom and bears 1/4 inch red fruit.
Crabapple Growing Tips
- Once you have decided on the perfect crabapple for you, plant it in a sunny spot in well-drained, average garden soil.
- The soil doesn’t have to be overly enriched.
- Bear in mind the tree’s mature height and width so you won’t have to move it later.
- If you have room you could plant early, mid-season, and late blossoming varieties to prolong the season of bloom.
Crabapples are easy to grow and have everything you could want in an ornamental plant—a nice shape, fragrant flowers, attractive foliage, fruit, and hardiness. If you have other apple trees, you can use a crabapple as a pollinator for them.
Branch out and plant a flowering crab!
Edibility of Ornamental Tree Fruit
Ornamental trees, such as crabapples and chokecherries, are planted in the home landscape for their flowers or colorful foliage. While chiefly ornamental, these trees also produce fruit resembling those on fruit trees. As the fruit matures, questions concerning their edibility often arise.
Fruit from ornamentals, such as crabapples and chokecherries, are not poisonous and can be eaten. In many cases, however, it’s not worth the effort. The fruit of many ornamentals is sour or bitter. Some have very small fruit with little flesh or pulp. Others make excellent jellies and preserves. If you decide not to harvest the fruit, they won’t be wasted. Birds and other wildlife will eagerly eat the fruit.
The crabapple is an example of a common ornamental that also produces edible fruit. Apples and crabapples are differentiated strictly on the size of their fruit. Crabapples are defined as those varieties with fruit 2 inches or less in diameter. Those with larger fruit are apples. The fruit on crabapples vary from yellow to orange to bright red. Some crabapple varieties color and ripen in August, others mature in the fall. (The colorful, persistent fruit of many of the newer crabapple varieties are actually an important ornamental characteristic.) While all crabapple fruit can be used in making jellies and preserves, large-fruited varieties, such as ‘Whitney’ and ‘Chestnut’ are the best.
A word of caution. If you are uncertain of the identity of a tree or shrub, don’t eat the fruit. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
This article originally appeared in the July 18, 1997 issue, p. 113.