Flowering crabapples (Malus spp.) are ornamental trees that produce showy blossoms and brightly colored fruits. Their fruits usually aren't sold by grocery stores, but you can grow and harvest crabapples from your tree to eat or add to recipes. The characteristics of crabapple trees make them popular among gardeners for decorating and providing shade. Their distinct features are useful for identifying the trees.
Habitat for Crabapple Trees
Crabapples are deciduous and, depending on their species and variety, are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. About 30 crabapple species and hundreds of varieties exist, which makes identifying a particular crabapple tree difficult.
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Common species include Japanese flowering crabapple (Malus floribunda), Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii), and tea crabapple (Malus hupehensis). Japanese flowering crabapple and Sargent crabapple are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7, and tea crabapple is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Crabapples grow in residential and commercial landscapes from New England to parts of California. The trees require full sun for healthy growth. They can adapt to a variety of soil conditions but do best in well-drained, moist soil.
Foliage, Bark, and Growth
Crabapple stems have an alternate leaf arrangement, with the leaves not directly opposite each other on the stems. The leaves develop an oval shape and serrated edges. Some crabapple species have green leaves while others have leaves that are shades of purple.
Crabapple flowers develop during spring and are pink, red, or white. The flowers tend to be small but bountiful, making the trees colorful sights during spring. In addition, the flowers have a subtle, sweet scent.
The bark of crabapples tends to be grayish brown and scaly, making it simple to peel off. Crabapple trees generally grow 15 to 25 feet tall with an equal canopy width, providing gardeners with mid-size trees that don't tower over their homes. The trees grow 8 to 10 inches per year, depending on the species or variety.
Fruit Size and Edibility
The fruits of a crabapple tree are green, red, or yellow at maturity, with the color varying among the species and varieties. Each fruit tends to be under 2 inches in diameter. The fruits of some kinds of crabapples fall when ripe while others stay on their trees through winter.
Varieties that produce edible fruits include Dolgo (Malus x 'Dolgo') and Donald Wyman (Malus 'Donald Wyman'), both of which are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8. Most crabapples' fruits aren't edible directly from the trees; they need to be cooked and sweetened to be palatable. Some people use the fruits to make preserves and cider.
Pests and Diseases
Crabapple trees aren't resistant to pests. Pests that attack the trees include the Japanese beetle, borers, mites, and aphids. Also, mice and rabbits chew on the trees' bark during winter.
The trees are also susceptible to powdery mildew, scale, fire blight, rust, apple scab, canker, and leaf spot. Fire blight is a serious problem that can destroy affected trees. Certain crabapple cultivars, however, are resistant to some diseases.
Propagation and Landscape Uses
If you want to propagate a crabapple tree, the best methods for growing a new plant include budding and grafting. Trees also can be grown from softwood cuttings. Because of their size and abundant foliage, crabapple trees are useful as ornamental trees for privacy yet don't grow tall enough to interfere with overhead utility wires. Planting rows of the trees will shield your property from the view of passersby.
- University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Flowering Crabapples for Maine
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Malus Sargentii
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Malus Hupehensis
- The Morton Arboretum: Japanese Flowering Crabapple
- California Polytechnic State University, Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: "Dolgo" Crabapple
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Malus "Donald Wyman"