Flowering Crabapple (Malus sp.)
American Crabapples, also known as Flowering Crabapple, Wild Crabapple or Sweet Crabapple, may be shrubs, dwarf trees or full-sized trees. Most flowering crabapples average less than 20 feet tall. Dwarf types grow only 6 to 8 feet in height. Crabapples have many different growth habits including upright columnar, upright oval, upright rounded, horizontally spreading, or pendulous weeping, ranging from small- to medium-sized trees, and having either a single-trunk or being multi-trunked
Crabapples are deciduous; their leaves drop in the fall and new ones emerge in the spring. The leaves grow in alternate positions along the branches. They have finely toothed edges and are shorter and narrower than regular apple leaves, which give the foliage a finer texture. Most crabapple trees have green leaves, although some varieties have a subdued red-bronze color in summer. Unfortunately, those with purple leaves tend to be more vulnerable to disease. Only a few crabapples turn color in the fall, and that often has more to do with climatic conditions than the nature of the tree. Trees with a southwestern exposure may show some fall color.
Crabapple flowers are beautiful even when in bud. Often the buds are pink, or even red and white before they develop into flowers that are white or pink that fade to white. Most have single flowers with 5 petals, but some crabapples have double or semi-double, and even double flowers with up to 10 petals. Typically individual flowers are 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches across and are fragrant. They bloom in mid May lasting from 2 days to almost 2 weeks. When you have a number of different cultivars you can have blooms for up to four weeks if you time it properly.
Although most regular apples require pollinators such as bees to set fruit, crabapples are self-pollinating. Fruits are miniature apples, ranging from pea-size to 2 inches in diameter. They may be red, pink, green or yellow, with every shade in between. While most are too sour to eat raw, those from ‘Chestnut’ crabs are eating quality. ‘Dolgo’ and ‘Ralph Shay’ make excellent preserves due to their high pectin and high acid content. Nothing like a bunch of sugar to make almost anything taste good. They develop anytime from August through September, and in some varieties persist into the winter. When the tree reaches bearing age, short twigs or "spurs" develop on the branches. These spurs bear the fruit for 10 or more years and should not be disturbed. Crabapple trees may bear fruit for 30 years or more.
American Crabapple Choices
There are hundreds of Flowering Crabapple cultivars with single or double, red, pink, or white flowers, and varying fruit color and size. Many are cultivars of Siberian Crabapple (Malus baccata) or Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda) . Since disease resistance can vary depending on where a particular cultivar is grown, be sure to choose a cultivar which has been shown to be resistant to disease in your area. There are several cultivars that unfortunately are quite popular but really are not desirable in terms of their disease resistance. You might want to avoid planting Almey, Hopa, Eleyi, Bechtels, or Red Silver.
Red Jade - This is a desireable crab with a weeping habit, white flowers and red fruit. It will grow to 8 to 10 feet and spread 12 to 15 feet. Hardy to zone 4a. It is quite effective in raised planters or near edge of water. It is a good accent or specimen plant. Pink buds open to white flowers. Has abundant glossy red 1/2" fruits. Foliage is medium green. Has excellent resistance to cedar-apple rust, fair resistance to fireblight and mildew. Not very resistant to scab, but does retain its foliage fairly well even when affected.
'Royalty’ Zones 4-8. Single purplish-red bloom. Very striking dark purple leaves contrast nicely with green-leafed trees & shrubs. The leaves are purple-red in spring, purple-green in summer and brillant purple-bronze in fall. Small 3/4” fruit is dark red, ornamental. Very cold hardy. Small tree with rounded, mounded crown, grows moderately to 15’ tall x15’.
‘Prairiefire Crabapple: The Prairiefire Crabapple is a beautiful species. In May, innumerable crimson buds open to dark purplish-red 1½" wide flowers that do not fade. The emerging sharp-toothed leaves, a deep red-purple when young, mature to a dark tawny green for the growing season. As fall approaches the foliage changes to an outstanding orange, a perfect foil for the ½" diameter, shiny, red to purple persistent fruit, a favorite of songbirds. A four-season plant, its dark red, cherry-like bark is prominent against the monotonous gray and white of winter.
Planted in any well-drained soil, the Prairiefire Crabapple is somewhat upright when young, becoming a low, dense, broadly rounded tree to 20' high and as wide. The Prairiefire Crabapple is not only magnificent in flower, fruit, foliage and form, it is also virtually disease free. (In the world of ornamental crabapples that means it does not suffer from apple scab, a fungus that attacks fruit and leaves, often defoliating a tree by August.)