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
|Origin||North America, Europe, and Asia|
|Name||Crabapples, crab apples, or wild apple|
|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.
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
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’
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.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You will need:
- As many crabapples as you like
- Enough water to cover over the fruits
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).
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).
How do you use Crabapples? Post your ideas and recipes below. We’d love to get some new ideas! And while you’re at it, let us know what variety of Crabapple Tree you have and whether you’ve ever had any problems with it. Finally, don’t forget to share this page with other people you know who have Crabapples so that they can enjoy it too!