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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.