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Why choose a crab apple tree for your garden?

Here's six reasons why a crab apple could be the tree for you!

If you have the desire to plant a tree in your garden, and, let's face it, there's are fewer more rewarding tasks, why should you consider the humble crab apple? The retort is why not?. There are so many benefits to this tree that it soon becomes obvious: you've just got to have one!


Here's six wonderful features of a tree that's so easy to please:

Winter fruits can stay on a crab apple tree right through January, depending on the weather and the needs of wildlife (and human foragers).

Spring brings the welcome sight of pink or white blossom. This is truly a tree that offers something for every season.

Seasonal interest

Crab apple trees are a truly special species. It's all about seasonal interest. Here's a tree that looks good all year round and attracts wildlife as well as providing you with edible fruits. It seems almost too good to be true to hope that spring flowers would be on offer too. But this is a tree that also delivers blooms rather beautifully in pink or white.  Some crab apples have simple, single flowers and others have fluffy  candyfloss blooms that are almost as eye-catching as ornamental cherries.

Malus 'Profusion' and 'Profusion Improved'have beautiful, deep pink blossom followed by coppery red foliage, turning a dark forest green in summer. The fruits are a deep, purple wine colour. The flowers are produced in 'profusion' from April.

Malas 'Donald Wyman' is a rather special crab apple that has pink buds, white flowers and dark green foliage. It also produces abundant, small, bright red fruits which persist well into February in most years. Grows up to 6m tall, so ideal for a small to medium garden.  

So much choice!

Malus in all its various forms, ticks all the boxes as a tree for small gardens and large. There are hundreds of different species and cultivars, so it pays to do a bit of research rather than indulging in an impulse buy. The most important features to consider are the size; the position available to the tree and preference in terms of flower and fruit colour. Then there's the form, i.e. standard, multi-stemmed or weeping and the leaf colour which could be green, bronze or purple.

The foliage of Malus 'Profusion Improved' is quite different from the majority of crab apple trees.

Malus 'Comtesse de Paris' produces delicate white blossom followed by lush green leaves. It then bears an abundance of refreshingly yellow fruit that are slightly pointed. They are vibrant in autumn that can often last until after Christmas. It is sometimes compared with the better known 'Golden Hornet', but it considered to have better disease resistance. It holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Benefits to wildlife

This is an area in which the wild apple form of Malus, otherwise known as crab apple, excels. It belongs to the same family as the domestic apple tree and therefore plays an important role during pollination of both types. The spring flowers attract bees and a host of other beneficial insects. They are drawn to the blousey blossom as the creatures emerge from winter slumbers. The leaves provide fodder for moth caterpillars including the eyed hawk-moth and the pale tussock. In fact there are at least 90 insects associated with these charming trees. Also mammals including mice, voles, foxes and badgers.

Malus 'Jelly King; has bright orange/red fruits that are not only great for wildlife, but also for humans too! The autumn fruits, for which crab apples are renowned, bring birds flocking when times are tough and these include robins, fieldfares, blackbirds, thrushes and more. It makes a great spectacle during frosty and snowy times as the fruits are at their most desirable towards the middle and end of winter.

Malus 'Golden Hornet' is a popular choice, and the yellow fruits look amazing during winter.

A visual feast of flowers and fruit

  Crab apple flowers can rival those of ornamental cherries (Prunus), if you select a variety that excels in this department. These trees are often called 'flowering crab apples' as modern varieties have been bred with this attribute in mind. But unlike flowering cherries, there's more to come! After the spring blooms have fallen, it's no time at all before the crab apples themselves are swelling in gorgeous clusters. The foliage emerges as fresh as a daisy. Colours vary enormously according to the variety and the tree will be cloaked in shades of green, bronze or even purple leaves. The fruit is ready to steal the show after the autumn leaf fall when this amazing tree reveals there's enough for man AND beast. Share the crop with birds who flock after frosts to enjoy winter fodder fit for a king.

Malus 'Coralburst' is a tiny tree! This is ideal for a patio and can even be kept in a large pot. It has been top worked at just 45cms but still produces fruit!

Eat the fruit!

Crab apples themselves can be turned into jelly,  jams, wine and desserts. How do you use the crab apples? These fruits are relatively small, (although some trees produce larger fruit) and they are sour, with high pectin and acid content. This makes the perfect setting jam. Crab apple jelly or bramble and crab apple jams are delicious!

Malus 'Rosehip' is named because the fruit looks rather like large rosehips. An interesting red, round fruiting form with red flesh. Makes amber crab apple jelly. How to do it? You'll need to prepare the fruit by washing, then boil it up in a saucepan and leave it to simmer for at least 30 minutes.  The pulp needs to be poured into a jelly bag and left to drip through the filters into a pan. Don't be tempted to squeeze as it makes the jelly go cloudy.  Then add sugar at a suggested ratio of 10 parts juice to 7 parts sugar. Add lemon, bring to the boil for 40 minutes and pour into containers when it is capable of setting.

Jam making with crab apples is a rewarding way to enjoy the fruits of your labour. These fruits can also be used in gin in the same manner as sloes and they can even be used in fruit wines.

Grow your own wine and then drink it too!

Disease resistant and easy to maintain

Crab apple trees are so easy to please that you'll reap all the benefits without any drawbacks. The modern cultivars have been bred to be disease-resistant. This means that scab and other problems are few and far between. The shape of the tree is generally compact and manageable. It can be pruned easily to keep it tidy and it's a wonderful location in which to hang bird feeders too. Plant a crab apple in fairly moist, well-draining soil in sun or part shade. It will be happy, and so will you!

Malus x robusta 'Red Sentinel' is highly popular, and it's easy to see why. It has single white flowers in spring but the autumn and winter show is what gives it the brilliance!

Which one will you choose?

Now there's the problem. To choose just one (or two) from so many tempting varieties is a truly tricky task. Two of the most popular are Malus x robusta Red Sentinel and the yellow fruited Malus x zumi Golden Hornet. But there are plenty of others too!

Malus 'Rudolph' is aptly named for the winter season! And isn't it beautiful in spring, when it produces these vibrant pink flowers? The winter fruits are fairly small, coloured red and orange, so this is one for the birds rather than the jam pot. How about the seasonally-appropriate Malus 'Rudolph' for example (pictured above)? It has the most exquisite single pink flowers of any Malus variety; purple-green foliage and red fruits. It's nicely compact too, reaching a height of up to 6m when mature.  Then there's Malus 'Jelly King' with its spectacular large orange-pink fruit that stays on the tree for much of the winter and is great for making pink crab apple jelly. This small tree has strong white blossom and a tremendous appeal.

Malus 'Jelly King' produces great fruit for eating, and the birds like the little apples too. It has white spring flowers and grows to a height of only up to 4m.

There's more!

Another good crab apple for eating is Malus 'Pink Glow' which is a small tree that has white blooms and large, dark pink fruits.

Malus 'Pink Glow' refers to the fruit, rather than the flowers. It's a popular early-flowering crab-apple, the profuse white blossom appears quite early in the spring and the large deep pink crab-apples are perfect for a pink crab-apple jelly. Then there's Malus toringo 'Scarlett' which is great for all seasons. It has rich, pink blossom and purple/green lobed leaves which (unusually for a crab apple) turn scarlet in the autumn. It has small purple fruits which stay through much of the winter.

Malus 'Toringo Scarlett' is a superb all seasons tree combining good leaf, flower and fruiting features. The rich pink blossom contrasts well with the emerging purple, deeply lobed leaves which turn to glossy dark green in the summer and then rich scarlet with purple tints in the autumn, very rare for a Malus. The persistent small purple fruits remain long after leaf fall. A small tree growing up to 4m/13ft after 10 years.

Want to weep?

There are weeping forms such as Malus 'Louisa' and the traditional Malus 'Pendula', which make picking the fruit a breeze.

Malus 'Louisa' is a graceful tree, one of the best weeping forms. It grows into an umbrella shape with green, glossy leaves and rose coloured buds opening to true pink flowers. Small lemon-gold ripening to golden-orange fruit festoon the branches in the autumn. Also, tiny compact trees which have been top-worked on 45cm stems including the charming Malus 'Tina'. If you have more space, you might prefer to go for the larger Malus John Downie.

Malus 'John Downie' is one of the very best Malus varieties for crab apple jelly due to the size, flavour and pectin level of its fruit. The tree will eventually grow up to 7m tall. There are so many reasons to want this delightful tree, crab apples really are the bees'knees of the tree world!  

By Perfect Plants


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