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How to Grow: Crabapple
Learn about growing crabapples, including how to plant, fertilize and grow them.
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Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Spring in flower colors such as white, pink, and rose with yellow fall foliage color
Mature Height x Spread
6 to 25 feet x 6 to 20 feet
fall color, attracts beneficials, edible
Crabapples are probably one of the most popular flowering landscape and street trees in New England. Some would say they are actually overused as they seem to be everywhere from private developments to industrial complexes. But there’s a reason for this popularity. Crabapples are hardy, tough trees that flower reliably each spring with an amazing show of color. Trees can be covered in white, pink or red blooms. Some varieties have colorful leaves as well. There are many different tree shapes, too. This tree can grow into a medium-sized shade tree or be a small dwarf depending on the selection. In fall, the crabapples are edible and colorful for birds and people. Plus, some varieties have great fall color. No wonder they’re everywhere!
When, Where and How to Plant
Crabapples are hardy throughout New England. Purchase trees from a local garden center. Plant from spring to early fall in full sun in well-drained, fertile, loamy soil. S Depending on the selection, space trees 10 to 20 feet apart.
Water young crabapple trees well. Create a mulch ring around trees grown in the lawn with wood chips or bark mulch. Replenish the mulch each spring to keep the soil moist and to create a barrier to reduce trunk damage from string trimmers and mowers. Fertilize in spring with a tree plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Prune crabapples to remove dead, broken or diseased branches anytime of year. Prune to remove suckers and water sprouts, crowded branches in the tree center and twiggy growth that doesn’t flower well in late winter. Protect the trunk of young trees from mice and voles with tree guards in fall. Apple scab, rust and powdery mildew diseases can plague crabapples. Select resistant varieties or spray an organic fungicide, such as Serenade, in spring.
Companion Planting and Design
Large varieties of crabapples make great focal points in your yard. Plant shade-loving annual flowers, such as impatiens; or perennials, such as lamium, under the tree for added color. Select dwarf trees to anchor a perennial flower garden. Plant crabapple trees in a mixed tree hedgerow as a wildlife planting with other berry producing shrubs and trees, such as viburnum and serviceberry.
The key to selecting crabapple varieties is getting the right size and shape tree and one with good disease resistance. ‘Sargent’ crabapple grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide with pink buds and white flowers. ‘Sargent Tina’ is similar, but only grows 5 feet tall. ‘Donald Wyman’ grows 20 feet tall with white flower and bright red crabapples in fall. ‘Prairie Fire’ grows 20 feet tall and wide with dark red flowers, dark red fruits, and cherry-like bark. ‘Purple Prince’ is similar to ‘Prairie Fire’ but has burgundy colored foliage. ‘Golden Raindrops’ grows 20 feet tall with white flowers and small, yellow fruit.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
Apples are as common to our landscape as maple trees. But one type, in particular, has multiple uses. This apple goes by odd names such as scroggy, bittersgall and sour grabs. The fruit were roasted and added to wassail. The Norse word for this apple means “scrubby” because the original varieties had thorns and multiple stems. We know this tree as the crabapple.
Crabapples are great landscape trees for their small size, attractive shapes, beautiful spring flowers and colorful fall fruits. The key to selecting any crabapple, though, is to buy ones with resistance to the dreaded apple scab, rust, fireblight, and powdery mildew diseases. Here are some good ones. For white flowers try ‘Sargeant’, ‘Centennial’ and ‘Harvest Gold’. For pink or red colored flowers try ‘Strawberry Parfait’ and ‘Prairiefire’. While most crabapples grow 15 to 25 feet tall in a round or oval shape, ‘Louisa’ and ‘Red Swan’ are weeping types, that are great for small space gardens. ‘Dolgo’ has large fruit good for making preserves, ‘Harvest Gold’ has attractive yellow colored fruits and ‘Spring Snow’ is usually fruit-less.
Grow crabapples in full sun on well-drained soil. They’ill tolerate a little shade, but won’t flower or fruit as well. For plantings close to your house or walkways, grow fragrant flowered varieties such as ‘Prairiefire’ and ‘Spring Snow’.
Prune crabapple trees now. Unlike regular apples, you don’t need to prune severely, since you’re mostly interested in flower production. Prune out dead, diseased, broken, crossing, and errant branches along with root suckers and water sprouts. Some crabs will produce lots of twiggy growth in the center of the tree that should be removed. Prune to open up the tree while keeping its natural shape.