Mini crab Apple tree

Why is my crabapple tree losing leaves?

Why are my crabapples looking so bad? This question has been asked repeatedly by folks contacting the Michigan State University Extension Lawn and Garden Hotline this summer. The fungus, Venturia inaequalis, known as apple scab, is a leaf spot disease that can cause serious leaf drop on susceptible crabapple trees.

Lengthy periods of rain this past May provided conditions for apple scab spores to develop. Scab-infected leaves from the previous season, left on the ground around the tree are the source of fungal spores that can infect the crabapple the next spring. Spores from these old leaves are carried on air currents to new developing leaves. This primary infection produces olive colored spots on leaves.

As the fungus grows on the leaves, new spores are produced starting a secondary infection of leaves and fruit. Damaged leaves become curled and yellowish with lesions, eventually turning brown. Heavy disease pressure leads to premature leaf drop. Fruit infected by apple scab develops raised scab-like lesions and severely infected fruit will drop from the tree.

Crabapple varieties can vary greatly in their susceptibility to apple scab (Venturai inaequalis). Susceptible trees are often nearly without leaves by August, reducing the plant’s ability to produce and store energy for future growth. This weakens the tree and reduces its vigor and ability to overcome environmental stresses. A tree in my old backyard in Livonia would lose nearly all of its leaves during the summer, but still continued to produce beautiful flowers every spring. It survived the impact of apple scab for over 50 years. Sitting in the back corner of the property it was easy to overlook the lack of leaves during the summer.

What to do about apple scab

A few questions need to be considered when deciding how to manage this leaf spot disease. Does it occur every year? If it does occur every year, how serious is the impact? Does the tree retain most of its leaves?

Of course one way to manage it is to do nothing. This works well if you have a crabapple like the one in my backyard, where the loss of leaves was not so noticeable and it did not outweigh the beauty of the spring flowers. For trees that are susceptible and retention of leaves is the goal, this would require applying fungicides at the correct time. Fungicides work best as preventative treatments with a spray program that starts at the first sign of leaves in spring and continues through the humid weather and moderate temperatures of spring into early summer. University of Minnesota Extension provides detailed information on managing apple scab at “Managing apple scab on ornamental trees and shrubs”.

Whether you decide to use a fungicide or not there are a few steps that may help reduce the spread of the fungus. Trim trees in early spring to allow good air circulation, which reduces the time plants remain wet after a rain or from dew. Evaluate the surrounding landscape for overgrown trees and shrubs that are shading, growing into or are crowding the susceptible crabapple. Do some plants need to be trimmed back away from the tree to increase light and air circulation? Also, make sure sprinklers are not wetting the leaves of the crabapple creating conditions where apple scab thrives.

Sanitation can help reduce the source of the fungus. Pickup and dispose of leaves and fruit infected by the fungus that drops from the tree. This will not eliminate all sources of the fungus since spores can be carried by the wind from apples and crabapple leaves in neighboring yards, but it may reduce the early impact of the disease.

Another choice would be to remove a very susceptible crabapple and replace it with a resistant variety. With over 100 varieties available in the nursery industry, you can pick and choose the size and shape of the plant, flower and fruit color, fruit size and also resistance to the apple scab pathogen. For a list of apple scab resistance crabapples see the Purdue Extension publication “Crabapples Resistant to Apple Scab and Japanese Beetle in Indiana”.

What Can I Do if the Leaves on My Crabapple Tree Are Turning Yellow and Brown and Are Covered with Dark Spots?

Your crabapple (Malus) may simply be suffering transplant shock. It’s not unusual for a recently transplanted tree to develop a few yellow leaves. Unless the problem progresses, you may not need to do much. Keep the tree adequately watered for the first growing season. You may need to water it several times a week until the new roots expand into the surrounding soil. Check the planting hole for moisture. If the soil feels dry an inch or so below the surface, it’s time to water again.

It is also possible that your tree has apple scab — a fungal disease common on apple and crabapple trees that is ugly and prevalent in many parts of the country. Humid, rainy, and warm spring weather promote the growth of the fungus, which begins as olive green spots on the foliage. The spots soon turn black, elongate, and develop a velvety appearance. In midsummer, the leaves turn yellow and drop, leaving an unsightly skeleton of a once-lovely tree. If your tree is susceptible to scab, it will need preventive fungicide sprays in future years. For best results, begin spraying in early spring just before the flowers bloom and the leaves unfurl. Multiple applications are necessary to keep one step ahead of the disease. See the fungicide label for instructions. The best way to avoid scab is to plant a cultivar that is resistant to the disease.

Fungus causes crabapple tree to lose leaves

Q. I have a flowering crabapple tree that is losing leaves. All during the spring the tree flowered and was beautiful. Now, the leaves turn yellow then fall. I’ve watered and fed regularly with tree food stakes. The dead leaves sometimes have black spots on them. I’ve checked for insects and there are none. What do you recommend?

A. From the symptoms it sounds as if your crabapple has apple scab caused by the fungus Venturia inaequalis that also infects eating apples. The fungus can live through winter within infected leaves and spread in the spring when spores are released during rainfall, are carried by wind, and infect new leaves. In a severe scab year trees may lose most leaves by early July.

The disease can be controlled by planting scab resistant cultivars and by a combination of cultural and chemical controls.

Resistant cultivars

The best way to avoid apple scab is to plant cultivars with high resistance such as Japanese Flowering, Prairie Maid, Prairiefire, Red Jewel, Sinai Fire, and Sugar Tyme. Check at a local nursery for cultivars that do well in your location.

Cultural controls

Because the fungus resides on fallen leaves, rake and destroy leaves soon after they fall and before they dry and crumble. Fungus can still be released and spread from tiny leaf fragments. Prune trees in late winter to maintain an “open” structure that allows for good air circulation and drying.

Chemical controls

Spraying crabapple trees annually with a fungicide in April and May is very effective. A total of three or four sprayings (on a seven- to 10-day schedule) in spring usually controls apple scab. The first spraying should be done just before the blossoms open. You can spray the tree yourself but, depending on the size of the tree, it may be best to hire a tree service. Before the spraying is done get an accurate diagnosis from an arborist or take leaf samples for diagnosis to your local Extension Office.

Fungicides effective in controlling apple scab include: captan (sold as Captan); chlorothanonil (sold as Daconil 2787); thiophanate-methyl (sold as Halt); and myclobutanil (sold as Immunox.) Check with a nursery to find a product available and recommended for your area. If you do the spraying yourself, make sure to follow all the directions on the container.

Even though fungicides are chemicals they do not harm honeybees and can be applied when the tree is blooming.

• Provided by Mary Boldan, Mary Moisand and Donna Siemro, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Send questions to Ask a Master Gardener, c/o Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 W. Algonquin Road, Des Plaines, IL 60016, (847) 298-3502 or via e-mail to [email protected]

Crab Apple Trees | Malus Trees

Choosing & Growing Crab Apple Trees

Crab Apple trees are modest in height and it is this, along with their strong spring and autumn features, that make them so popular in small gardens. Originally from temperate regions in the northern hemisphere, Crab Apple trees grow well in virtually all soils (other than waterlogged or very dry) in sun or partial shade. With around 40 species and hundreds of hybrids of Malus, there is a huge choice of both features and size/form of these trees.

Crab Apple trees come in rounded, upright, weeping and dwarf forms. Malus ‘Sun Rival’ and ‘Royal Beauty’ are amongst the best weeping varieties, whilst Malus ‘Red Obelisk’ and tschonoskii are excellent upright varieties. Malus ‘Coralburst’ and sargentii ‘Tina’ are dwarf varieties ideal for the smallest of gardens.

Crab Apple trees are named after the compact size of their fruits, which vary from 1cm to 5cm in diameter (any larger and they would be considered a normal apple). Varieties with large fruits are both highly decorative and productive, producing crab apples suitable for culinary use – some examples include Malus ‘John Downie’, ‘Rosehip’ and Marble. Flowers can be white through to dark purple, with bright pink buds being a feature even on some white flowering varieties. For unusual double flowers, look at Malus ‘Snowcloud’ and for large pink flowers, look at Malus ‘Rudolph’.

Many Crab Apple trees have green leaves similar to those on apple trees, but there are a number of varieties with lobed, bronzed or purple foliage. Malus toringo ‘Aros’ is a dwarf variety with particularly rich dark purple foliage, wheras Malus toringo ‘Scarlett’ has deeply lobed foliage.

Uses & Benefits of Crab Apple Trees

Beyond being decorative, there are many other uses of Crab Apple trees. They are particularly beneficial to wildlife, with the flowers attracting many types of bee who come looking for the nectar and the fruits are eaten by birds. As mentioned above, the larger fruits are also suitable for culinary use such as making crab apple jelly or chutney. Crab Apple trees produce huge quantities of pollen so are used as pollinisers in orchards. They are sometimes also used for practicing the art of bonsai.

Mythology & Folklore of The Crab Apple Tree

Folk lore states that if you throw crabapple pips into a fire whilst saying the name of the person you love you can discover if it really is true love as the pips will explode. If they don’t explode, it means that sadly, that person is not meant for you. In Celtic culture, the wood was burned during fertility festivals as a good luck charm.

Crabapple trees have been regularly mentioned in literature, with Shakespeare incorporating them into both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour Lost.

Crabapple Trees are a wonderful addition to a backyard or garden for a whole host of reasons. They are easy to care for, requiring very little maintenance aside from watering during the early years, and occasional pruning. As they mature, they become drought tolerant and need very little care or attention. They provide year-round interest in a garden, with a changing look every season.

In spring, Crabapple Trees tend to be among the first to bloom. Depending on the variety, they flower in shades of pink, red, white, orange, cream, and burgundy. The fragrant blooms seem to burst into life all at once, creating a colorful feast for the eyes against the backdrop of the green foliage. After around four weeks, the flowers transform into fruits, which can also appear in a variety of colors.

From late summer, fruits can appear in yellow, orange, red, green, pink, or a combination of these colors. In fall, the oval leaves become vibrant shades of orange and red, until they fall off in winter, leaving nothing but the fruit of the tree on bare branches and stems. Even without any foliage, this tree looks stunning, with its colorful fruit contrasting against a backdrop of snow or frost.

Crabapple Trees are available in a number of varieties, with various features. They are suitable for planting in almost any garden because you can choose a cultivar that will grow to a size that suits your situation. Crabapple Trees can grow to full size of anywhere from 8 feet tall to 40 feet tall, making them very versatile in terms of where they can be planted. Some Crabapples can even be grown in containers.

Crabapple Trees are typically grown for their ornamental value, as well as the fragrance they give off in a garden. Little thought is given to the fruit. However, Crabapples are edible, and there are many ways you can utilize the fruit from this beautiful tree.

Crabapple Quick Overview

Crabapple Quick Facts

Origin North America, Europe, and Asia
Name Crabapples, crab apples, or wild apple
Family Rosaceae
Watering Plenty of water when young. Resistant to drought once mature
Soil Moderately fertile & well-draining soil
Light Thrive in full sun
Temperature Like warm summers and cold winters
Varieties Malus ‘Brandywine’, Malus ‘White Angel’, Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’, Malus ‘Coralburst’, Malus ioensis ‘Prince Georges’, and etc.
Diseases Powdery Mildew, Fireblight, Cedar-Apple Rust, Apple Scab
Are Crabapples Edible? Yes. The flavor varies depending on the type of tree

Caring for Your Crabapple Tree


When your Crabapple Tree is young, it will need plenty of water. Aim to keep soil continually moist, though ensure soil is well-draining to avoid root rot. A good watering once or twice a week should be sufficient, though pay more attention to the condition of the soil surrounding your tree than to a schedule. Adding a few inches of mulch to the soil around the base of your tree will help to contain the moisture and prevent it from evaporating, so you won’t need to water as frequently.

Once a Crabapple Tree is established, it will be resistant to drought, and you will need to pay much less attention to watering it. As a mature tree, most of its moisture needs will be met by rainfall, with some supplemental watering in dry seasons.


Crabapple Trees like a moderately fertile soil which is well-draining. To improve the content of your soil before planting your Crabapple Tree, you can mix organic compost into it to provide the tree with essential nutrients. This will also improve its draining ability, or alternatively to improve drainage you can mix some sand into the soil.

To maintain fertile soil, you can top-dress it annually with a nutrient-dense compost or organic mulch. If you do this, then the nutrients will gradually make their way down into the soil with watering, and provide a steady release of nutrients to the roots of the tree. This will prevent having to use a fertilizer for feeding and will help to gradually improve the quality of soil over time.


Crabapple Trees need to be planted in a position of full sun. Without this, they will struggle to produce the abundance of flowers we have come to associate with flowering Crabapple Trees. This tree in a shaded position will, therefore, produce much less fruit, and it will grow into a much less attractive shape, the branches stretching out to find a source of light, instead of forming a dense mass.

When planting your Crabapple Tree, ensure it will have access to direct sunlight throughout the day in order to truly get the best from your tree. There are some varieties of Crabapple Tree that can survive in partial shade, though they will still need a few hours of full sun throughout the day.


Crabapples prefer areas with warm summers and cold winters

Crabapple Trees don’t grow well in hot climates, preferring areas with warm summers and cold winters. They typically do well in the northern United States and Canada, as well as England and other mild regions of Europe.


Crabapple Trees are fairly easy to maintain and don’t require any special pruning routine. Simply remove suckers as soon as they appear and cut away any dead or damaged branches periodically.

The fruit of a Crabapple Tree comes from the flowers, so if you want plenty of crabapples, you will need to encourage lots of blooms. This can be done by applying an organic mulch to the top of the surrounding soil or feeding the tree with slow-release fertilizer annually. The crabapples are edible, but the flavor varies depending on the type of tree. Most crabapple trees produce quite bitter or sour fruits, but they are well suited to making delicious apple sauce, jams and jellies, and flavored liquors, among other things.

The fruits hang onto the tree well beyond when the foliage falls. However, they will eventually fall to the ground. For this reason, it is best not to plant a Crabapple Tree near a walkway or patio area because the ground will become strewn with any unused mushy apples, and you don’t want those underfoot. If you like the Crabapple Tree but would prefer not to have to deal with the mess on the ground from the fruit, there are particular varieties of this tree you can buy that don’t produce fruit. However, even the ‘fruitless’ varieties may produce occasional crabapples, but not enough to cause a mess.

Types of Crabapple Tree

Malus ‘Brandywine’

Malus ‘Brandywine’ – Credit toDavid J. Stang

This is a medium-sized variety of Crabapple Tree, growing to a mature height of between 15-20 feet (Better Homes and Gardens). It features a stunning array of colors all year round. In spring the leaves start out a bright cherry red, then turning to a deep green as they age. The flowers of this tree are double blooms in vibrant shades of pink and red, and they appear in the middle of spring and have a good run of around four weeks.

The fruit of the tree is yellow, but does not hang on for as long as some other Crabapples, and can make a mushy mess on the ground if allowed to drop. Leaves turn a deep shade of purple-red in autumn before they fall. This variety of Crabapple Tree has very good resistance to powdery mildew and enjoys full sun and fertile, well-draining soil.

Malus ‘White Angel’

This variety of Crabapple is quite tall, growing up to 30 feet in height. As the name suggests, this tree has beautiful white flowers that bloom from delicate pink buds. The fruits of this tree measure around a quarter-inch across and are red in color. They hang onto the tree for a substantial time, and can usually still be seen dangling from the bare branches in winter. This tree has excellent disease resistance. It is rarely affected by powdery mildew, apple scab, cedar-apple rust, and leaf spot, and is moderately resistant to apple blight.

Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’

Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ – Credit toAcabashi

This tree is commonly grown among other fruiting trees because it has such an abundance of flowers that it is ideal for providing a source of pollen to fertilize nearby apple trees. The flowers of this try start out as pink buds and open into luscious white blooms. They are quite late in flowering for a Crabapple Tree, typically blooming in late spring. The fruits of this tree are where it gets its name, as the crabapples grow in a bright golden yellow. The are oval in shape, and quite petite at around 1 inch long. This tree likes a moderately fertile soil composition and can grow in both positions of full sun and partial shade.

Malus ‘Coralburst’

If you’re looking for a compact Crabapple Tree, then the Coralburst is a great option. At a mature height of just 8-10 feet, this makes a great ornamental tree even in very small gardens. Its pink flowers bloom en masse from coral colored buds, making a spectacular impact on the dense tree during mid-spring. Rust-orange fruits appear at the end of summer and hang around until late fall. They are also compact, measuring around half an inch across. Another benefit of this tree is that it is disease-free, particularly of apple scab which destroys a lot of Crabapple Trees. It is very hardy, and drought tolerant once mature. It likes to grow in a position of full sun in well-draining soil, and due to its size can be grown in a container.

Malus ioensis ‘Prince Georges’

This is another compact example of a Crabapple Tree, growing to between 10 and 15 feet. It has an additional feature of being fruit-free, so if you like the look of Crabapple Trees but don’t want the clean-up that goes along with a fruit-bearing tree, then this could be the one for you. It also produces incredible flowers in pale pink to cream, blooming from deep pink buds. Each flower is quite sizeable considering the small stature of the tree, at around 2 inches across. The double flowers can have up to 60 petals each, giving them a very full and luscious look. With a dense and rounded form, this moderately disease-resistant tree is ideal for any sized garden.

Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’

Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ – Credit toRasbak

This compact Crabapple Tree grows to ten feet tall. It has won the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and features white flowers that bloom from deep pink buds. This tree flowers later than many other Crabapple Trees, blooming in late spring at around the same time as the leaves appear. The fruits of this tree look almost like cherries. They are vibrant red color and have a glossy exterior. The fruits are approximately 1 inch across and will hang onto the tree right into winter until they turn soft and fall or get devoured by birds. Another benefit of this type of Crabapple Tree is that it is resistant to apple scab, which is a problem for many apple trees.

Malus ‘Camelot’

This disease-resistant tree is of a compact size, at 10 feet tall. It features white blossoms that bloom from bright pink buds, and eventually turn to dark purple fruits. The thick leaves of this tree emerge in spring with a purple hue, before becoming green and then finally turning orange in the fall. The foliage has a leathery texture, providing a sturdy background to the abundance of flowers. This tree grows easily in positions of full sun in well-draining soil. It requires minimal maintenance, just occasional pruning of dead or damaged branches.

Malus ‘Charlottae’

This medium-sized tree features large pastel pink flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer. The fruit arrives in shades of yellow and green, measuring just a quarter to half an inch each. The fruit is especially attractive to birds, and much of it will get eaten by them and not make it to winter. This type of Crabapple Tree does have a habit of spreading, and as it matures, the branches can stretch out. It likes to be in a position of full sun and is susceptible to disease.

Malus x moerlandsii ‘Profusion’

This tree can grow to heights of 30 feet tall, with a rounded form and a spreading habit. It features red buds which bloom into showy pink blossoms in the middle of spring. Berry-sized fruit follows in a deep red color, which matures in the fall and persists into winter. Very little of this tree’s fruit drops to the ground, as it is a major source of food for wildlife throughout winter. Due to this, this type of Crabapple Tree may be a good option for people who enjoy fruit-bearing trees but don’t want to deal with the mushy mess they can create on the ground. The foliage of this tree seems to go through a rainbow of colors throughout the year. The leaves start out burgundy before turning to rust-brown and then green in summer. As fall sets in they transform to yellow, orange, and finally red, before falling off in winter.

Crabapple Diseases

Powdery Mildew

You can identify a case of powdery mildew from the patches of powder that can appear on both the leaves and fruit. The powder can vary in color from white to gray and is typically found on Crabapple Trees in midsummer.


The name of this disease comes from the visual damage it causes to the tree. Affected trees exhibit areas of the trunk, blossoms, and branches that look scorched and brown. If the disease does spread to the trunk, then it can kill the tree, so if you spot signs of it, then it needs to be addressed immediately.

Cedar-Apple Rust

This disease is a result of cedar trees and Crabapple Trees being planted too close together. Damage comes in the form of bloated orange spots on the branches, apples, and foliage.

Apple Scab

If the leaves of your tree turn brown and fall off in midsummer, then your Crabapple is probably suffering from apple scab disease. It is a common but very harmful disease and is most prevalent in areas that experience moist springs. Leaves usually start by turning gray with a velvety texture and some exhibit green spots. They will eventually turn brown and drop prematurely. Fruit will also become misshapen and unattractive when affected by this disease.

Are Crabapples Edible?

Absolutely! They are most often devoured by birds and wildlife, but they can be used in recipes to make delicious food for us humans, too. Crabapples are typically ripe by fall, but when eaten raw, they can be bitter and unpleasant. Instead, use them in recipes to bring out their sweet apple flavor. Crabapples have a high pectin content, which is what sets jams and jellies. They can be added to other fruit jams to help set them, or you can make Crabapple jelly by itself if you enjoy apple flavored preserves.

Crabapple Recipes

Crabapple Jelly

You will need:

  • As many crabapples as you like
  • Enough water to cover over the fruits
  • Sugar

To make this jelly, start out by washing and then adding all of your whole crabapples to a pan and covering them over with water. Bring the water to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow the fruit to simmer. Stir occasionally until the fruit is soft and mushy. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool before putting it into a jelly bag over a large bowl and allowing it to strain overnight. Resist the temptation to squeeze the bag as this will make the jelly cloudy.

The following day, measure your strained juice and return it to a pan, adding sugar. You should add around 7 parts sugar to 10 parts juice. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil while stirring, dissolving the sugar. Then, boil the mixture rapidly until it reaches setting point. You can test this by dropping some of the mixture onto a cold plate; it should wrinkle on the top once cool. You can now pour the mixture into warm sterile jars and seal immediately. The jelly works great served with meats (Woodland Trust).

Crabapple Whiskey

You will need:

  • Roughly 750g crabapples
  • 70cl whiskey
  • 5 tbsp sugar or honey
  • 3 slices of fresh ginger

Halve the crabapples after washing and load into a 1-liter jar. Cover over the crabapples with all of the whiskey. Add the sugar or honey, and the ginger. You could substitute the ginger for other spices if you prefer, such as cardamom or a cinnamon stick, or a combination of spices. Secure the lid once the apples are fully covered over by the whiskey, and set the jar aside. The whiskey will infuse, and the longer you can leave it, the better. Ideally, make it during fall when the crabapples are ripe and allow it to infuse until Christmas, when you will have some rich and festively spiced crabapple whiskey. You can leave it for up to five years for a more intense infusion.

Slow-Cooked Crabapple Chutney

You will need:

  • Approximately 3lbs crabapples
  • 1 cup raisins
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (or 1 cup fresh)
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2 large oranges
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 and ½ cups apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp dried ground sage
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp ground cloves

Halve the crabapples and remove the stems and seeds. Dice the onions, mince the garlic, and add all ingredients to a slow cooker except for the oranges. Cook on a low setting for between 8 and 10 hours, stirring well to break up chunks. If the chutney is too thin with high liquid content, remove the slow cooker lid and cook for a further 2 hours. After cooking, add the juice and zest of the oranges. Fill warm and sterilized jars with the chutney and seal them immediately (Port and Fin).

Crabapple trees flowering in April.
Joey Williamson, ©2013 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The crabapple (Malus species) is a beautiful spring-flowering tree that is valued for its flowers, fruit and variations in growth habit and size. The hardiness depends upon the species, but all should be adapted to all of South Carolina except the coastal region from Charleston south to Savannah, Georgia.

Mature Height/Spread

There is a wide variety of tree sizes and forms of crabapples. The height and width of the crown or canopy can range from 10 to 25 feet. Most are trees of various forms, but some are mounded and shrubby.

Growth Rate

The growth rate is slow to moderate (about 8 to 10 inches per year), depending on the species.

Ornamental Features

Malus ‘Donald Wyman’ (crabapple) flowers.
Joey Williamson, ©2013 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The ornamental flowering crabapple is valued mainly for its flowers and fruit. The blooms, which come out before or with the leaves in the spring, range from white to red. Some crabapples bloom heavily only every other year.

The fruit, which appear in summer, vary in size, but are less than 2 inches in diameter (fruit larger than 2 inches are considered apples). The color of the fruit may be red, yellow or green. While all crabapples are edible, fruit of many ornamental crabapples are not palatable without first cooking and sweetening the fruit. Some crabapples have outstanding fall color, while others do not – it depends on the cultivar. The unusual branching of most crabapples creates a strong silhouette in winter when the leaves are absent.

Landscape Use

The crabapple can be used in a home landscape as a specimen or patio tree. Because of its small stature, it is a good selection as a street tree under utility lines. A characteristic of many crabapple cultivars is that the fruit will drop upon ripening. However some cultivars will retain their fruit (persistent) on the tree throughout the winter. Large-fruited types, such as ‘Callaway,’ can create maintenance problems with rotting fruits falling to the ground.

The tree is adapted to most sites, but should be placed in full sun for best flowers and fruit. The soil should be moist, slightly acid (6.0 to 6.5 pH) and well drained. While it requires medium fertility, over-fertilization may make it more susceptible to fire blight.

Pruning is recommended for opening the center of the plant to air and light, removing unwanted branches, shaping the tree and removing suckers. Do this in late winter or early spring before bud-break.


Crabapples may be susceptible to fire blight, powdery mildew, cedar-apple rust, cedar-hawthorn rust, apple scab, several leaf spots, canker diseases, Japanese beetle and caterpillar foliar feeding, borers, scale and aphids. Resistance to fire blight, powdery mildew, rust and apple scab varies, depending on the cultivar of the tree and where it is grown. During springs with abundant rainfall, fire blight and rust may become significantly worse, and during summers with abundant rainfall, foliar leaf spots may become significantly worse. Cultivars highly susceptible to leaf spot may experience complete defoliation by late summer. It is important to use a cultivar that has been proven to be resistant in the area where the tree is to be planted. Disease resistance means that infections are few, do not progress very far or do not occur. For more information on disease and insect problems on crabapples, refer to HGIC 2000, Apple & Crabapple Diseases; HGIC 2001, Apple and Crabapple Insects; HGIC 2208, Fire Blight of Fruit Trees and IC 119, Insect & Disease Management for Home Grown Fruits & Nuts.


Japanese Flowering Crabapple (M. floribunda) – This is an old favorite introduced from Japan in 1862. It is an annual bloomer with red buds that open to white flowers. The fruit is yellow to red. It grows 15 to 25 feet tall. It is slightly susceptible to scab and powdery mildew and moderately susceptible to fire blight.

Tea Crabapple (M. hupehensis) – This is one of the most elegant crabapples. It is vase-shaped and grows 20 to 25 feet in height and width. The buds are dark pink, turning to white flowers and small red fruit. It is susceptible to fire blight.

Sargent Crabapple (M. sargentii) – This is a mounded, densely branched, shrubby species, growing 6 to10 feet tall. Buds are red, turning to white flowers. The small fruit is red. It has good disease resistance, although it is slightly susceptible to scab, fire blight and leaf spot.


Malus ‘Profusion’ (crabapple) flowers.
Joey Williamson, ©2013 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Over 800 cultivars are known, with more being developed each year. The following list represents some that are more disease-resistant.

  • ‘Adams’ – This tree grows 20 to 25 feet with a round growth habit and greenish-red foliage. The annual buds are red, the flowers are dull pink, and the fruit is red, persistent and grow to 5/8” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to scab and rust, good resistance to powdery mildew, and good to excellent resistance to fire blight.
  • ‘Adirondack’ – This tree grows 18 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The annual red buds open to white flowers, and the fruits are orange-red and grow to ½” in diameter. It has a strong upright form and a heavy flower display. It has excellent resistance to scab, rust, powdery mildew and fire blight.
  • ‘Centurion’ – This tree grows 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. The red buds open to rose-red flowers, the fruit grow to 5/8” in diameter and are glossy cherry-red. It has good resistance to scab, and excellent resistance to rust, powdery mildew and fire blight.
  • ‘Donald Wyman’ – This tree grows to 20 feet tall and wide with a rounded growth habit. The pink buds open to white flowers, and the fruit are bright red, grow to 3/8” in diameter and are persistent.
  • ‘Molten Lava’ – This tree has a weeping form and grows about 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The annual deep red buds open to white flowers. The small fruit is red-orange and grow to 3/8” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to rust and scab, and good resistance to fire blight and powdery mildew.
  • ‘Pink Princess’ – This is a naturally dwarf, red leaf tree that grows to 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide with a low spreading form. The flowers are pink, and the small fruit are deep red and reach ¼” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to rust, scab, powdery mildew and fire blight.
  • ‘Prairifire’ – This tree grows 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide with an upright spreading form and reddish-green foliage. The red buds open to dark pinkish-red blooms, and the small fruit is dark red to red-purple, persistent and 3/8 to ½” in diameter. It has excellent resistant to scab, rust and powdery mildew, and good resistance to fire blight.
  • ‘Professor Sprenger’ – This tree grows 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide with an upright spreading form. The pink buds open to white flowers, and the small fruit is orange-red, persistent and grow to ½” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to powdery mildew, rust and scab, and good resistance to fire blight.
  • ‘Profusion’ – This tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide with a rounded growth habit. It has deep pink flowers and maroon-red persistent fruit that grow to ½” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to scab and powdery mildew, good resistance to rust, and good to excellent resistance to fire blight.
  • ‘Red Baron’ – This tree grows about 18 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide with a narrow, upright growth habit. The deep red buds open to pink flowers, and the fruit is dark red and ½” in diameter. It has fair to good resistance to scab, good to excellent resistance to powdery mildew, good resistance to fire blight, and excellent resistance to rust.
  • ‘Robinson’ – This fast growing tree reaches 25 feet tall and wide with an upright spreading growth habit. The foliage is a reddish, bronze-green. It has crimson buds that form deep pink blooms, and the small fruit are dark red, persistent and 3/8” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to scab, fire blight, rust and powdery mildew.
  • ‘Sugar Tyme’ – This tree grows to 18 feet tall and 15 feet wide with a rounded growth habit. Pale pink buds open to white flowers, and form red fruit that are persistent and ½” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to scab and powdery mildew, and good resistance to fire blight and rust.
  • ‘Tina’ – This is a low-spreading dwarf selection of Sargent crabapple that grows to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The pink buds open to white fragrant flowers, and the ¼” in diameter fruit is red. It has excellent resistance to powdery mildew, rust and scab, and good resistance to fire blight.
  • ‘Velvet Pillar’ – This tree grows to 20 feet tall with an upright spreading growth habit. It has pink flowers that form reddish fruit that reach 3/8” in diameter. It has excellent resistance to rust and powdery mildew, good resistance to scab, and good to excellent resistance to fire blight.

Varieties of Crabapple Trees

The crab apple tree species is well known for its varieties. With over 35 specific species of crab apple trees plus countless cultivated varieties, the crab apple tree is a beautiful addition to any landscape. Crab apple trees require little maintenance, provide white, pink or red flowers in the early spring and are excellent for pollination of trees and plants surrounding them.

Siberian Crab Apple

Choose the Siberian crab apple tree ( Malus baccata) if a large crab apple tree is desired. The Siberian crab apple tree can reach up to 50 feet tall. This variety is hardy in zones 3 through 7 and produces small, glossy red fruit that adds an additional beauty to this majestic tree. In the spring the flower buds are a dark pink; as the season progresses the flower ends with a snowy white bloom. Siberian crab apple trees should not be planted near cedar trees, juniper shrubs or cotoneaster plants for optimum performance.

Japanese Flowering Crab Apple

Select the Japanese Flowering crab apple tree if located in zones 4 to 8, according to the US Department of Agriculture hardiness zone map. The Japanese Flowering crab apple grows to 20 feet high and 30 feet wide at maturity. The flowers bud at a deep red color, turning reddish pink, then eventually turning completely white at the end of the two week flowering period. The Japanese Flowering crab apple tree provides 1/3-inch apples that attract birds and squirrels in the late summer. The Japanese Flowering crab apple tree is the most commonly used variety to create hybrid crab apple trees.

Tea Crab Apple

Plant a Tea crab apple tree in walkways or near sidewalks in the landscape. The shape of this variety makes it easy to walk under while it adds beauty to the landscape. The Tea crap apple tree will reach 20 feet or more. The flower buds are typical of a crab apple tree, beginning deep pink in color and eventually turning white with a delicate sweet scent. The apples are 1/2″ in diameter and excellent for feeding birds and squirrels.

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