What is a Crabapple? You might be surprised to learn that a Crabapple tree is just an Apple tree that bears fruit smaller than 2 inches in diameter. Both belong to the same genus, Malus, in the family Rosaceae.  Grown mainly as ornamental trees, Crabapples are low maintenance, fairly drought tolerant  and extremely popular for planting near schools, parks, highways and homes.

The 30-35 species of Crabapple are mostly deciduous trees and shrubs. Growing anywhere from 6 feet to 50 feet tall, most fall in the 15-25 foot range. Crabapple trees are popular in the Northern  and Midwest areas of the United States. They tolerate the cold winters and heavy soil well, growing as far north as zone 4. With over 700 cultivated varieties, a Crabapple tree can be found to fit just about any area. In addition to the wide range of sizes, trees also can be found in many different shapes, with different colors of flowers and fruit.

Crabapple trees flower in the spring, anywhere from late April to mid-May. Flowers come in 3 types, single, semi-double and double, depending on how many petals they have. Single has 5, semi-double has 6-10 and double has more than 10. White, pinks and red are the most common colors, but some can also be found with salmon or coral flowers. Sometimes the bud is colored differently than the flowers, which gives the tree 2 different looks during blooming season.

The fruit of Crabapple trees is rarely eaten raw because it is sour, bitter or woody. Crabapples can be used to make jams and jellies or added to apple cider to kick up the flavor. The Chestnut Crabapple is an exception, having sweet fruit with a good texture. Crabapples are mainly red, but can also be green, orange, yellow, or purple and range in size from ¼ inch to 2 inches. Some types of trees drop their apples in Autumn and others have apples which hang on the trees through the winter, feeding the birds.

Crabapples trees do not require much maintenance. They can be planted in any spot that has well drained soil and receives at least 8 hours of sun per day. Pruning is necessary only to remove dead limbs and keep the shape of the tree. Make sure you prune before early June. Starting mid-June and continuing to July, the tree is forming buds for next year. Crabapple trees cannot pollinate themselves, they require another apple tree and also insects to carry pollen between them. Usually this job is done by bees, who are interested in getting nectar from the Crabapples.

In the past Crabapple trees have had a bad reputation because they are plagued by many insects and diseases. Newer varieties are much more resistant, but not perfect. Before you buy one, I’d recommend you do a little research to learn what you can expect. I didn’t have that chance with our first Crabapple tree which was already full grown when we bought our house. It has dark pink buds which open to medium pink, single flowers. Some years, it is very beautiful and other years it has few flowers. It seems to have fewer apples each year. Several years ago, we planted another Crabapple, a dwarf variety. It is only about 6 or 7 feet tall, has medium pink buds which become pale pink flowers, and it does not  produce any apples. When it blooms, it is covered with flowers and looks wonderful.


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