“If I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree.” Martin Luther.
My grandmother’s crabapple jelly was made from the fruit of a “scruffy” tree growing in the corner of the yard. In my mind I still smell the sauce bubbling on the wood stove and taste the tart, flavorful jelly.
Crabapples are commonly thought of as ornamental, not fruit trees. The difference between an ornamental and an edible crabapple is the size of the fruit. Edible varieties bear fruit that are about 2 inches in diameter, ornamentals have smaller or no fruit.
Eatable crabapples, with proper preparation, are excellent for making jellies, jams, sauces, and pickling. Fruits from ornamentals are yellow, orange, or red, lending color to a long, monochromatic winter but are not suitable for human food as the flesh is sour and bitter, fit only for birds. Additionally, many of the double flowered ornamentals rarely produce any fruit. Some folk tales falsely allude to crabapples being poisonous, stories that originated when kids ate too many fruits and got stomach aches.
Cultural requirements are the same for all varieties such as full sun, a well-drained soil, and pruning in the winter to prevent spread of fireblight. With some exceptions, most varieties require another tree to produce fruit. Fruit can be messy when dropped on sidewalks or lawns. Bloomers have several crabapple varieties that grow well in our climate.
Dalgo is the perfect combination of ornamental and fruit tree, growing to 35 feet. It is ideal for home landscapes with excellent resistance to fireblight and apple scab. It’s fruit can be eaten fresh, is excellent for jellies (a deep red due to the bleeding skin), sauces, and is a great amendment to sweet and sour ciders .
Whitney Flowering Crab (Whitney Edible Crabapple), grows to 16 feet at maturity and is suitable for planting in sites where a tall tree is not desired. Whitney produces sweet, edible fruit perfect for canning, preserving, pickling, and spicing. It also produces beautiful pink and white blossoms and is self pollinating. Whitney is an excellent choice for attracting birds, is cold tolerant, heat resistant, and has some disease resistance. Leaves turn a beautiful yellow in the fall and the rough brown bark is picturesque.
Centennial Crabapple is lauded for the quality of its fruit and is fair to highly resistance to scab. It’s considered to be a semi dwarf, growing to 8 feet on semi dwarf and 15 feet on standard rootstock. Trees produce an abundance of red flower buds that open to a showy white, an excellent pollinator for other apples or crabapples. The bright orange-red fruit, sweet enough to eat right off the tree, grow to 2 inches; the crisp, juicy white flesh has a sweet flavor good for canning, jelly, apple butter, or spiced apples. The foliage is a dark green but has no outstanding fall color.
Chestnut Crabapple grows to 20 feet and produces large white flowers and has some disease resistance. It’s considered to be an excellent pollinator for other apples and is a good self pollinator when a single tree is grown. The 2 inch yellow fruit has streaky red blushes and some russeting. The flesh is crisp with a sweet nut-like flavor good for fresh eating, cooking, sauce, or jams. The fruit will store until Halloween if kept refrigerated. The foliage is a dark green but does not have outstanding fall color. Chestnut is considered to be cold hardy and adapts well to different soil types.
Hopa Flowering Crab is one of the biggest (25 feet), oldest, and toughest (USDA Zone 2a) crabapples. This older variety produces abundant clusters of fragrant, rose pink flowers in the spring and colorful red fruit in the fall. The leaves are dark green, turning yellow in the fall. Hopa tends to be more susceptible to disease than other crabapples, in particular apple scab and fireblight. The fruit tends to be large and can be used for jams and jellies.
Pink Spires Flowering Crab grows to 15 feet. It’s a relatively new and popular variety, having a narrow upright and columnar growth habit. Showy rose-pink flowers emerge before leaves and produce red fruit in the fall, a good bird attractant but not good for jams or jellies. The interesting foliage emerges as a red color, becomes bronze-tipped and dark green, then turns yellow in the fall.
Prairie Fire is a “show off” tree that grows 15 to 20 feet. The prolific red blooms are followed by an intense maroon foliage that matures to a reddish green then turns red, orange, and purple in the fall. The glossy, persistent red fruit are an excellent food source for birds but are not good for jams or jellies. Prairie Fire is very disease resistant to scab, rust, fireblight. This variety is prone to suckers and waterspouts that must be pruned when the tree is young.
Red Splendor Flowering Crab grows to a height of about 20 feet. This old variety is a “traditional” crab with its abundant pink flowers, persistent red fruit and red-tipped dark green foliage that turns burgundy in the fall. The fruit is a good bird attractant but is not palatable to humans.
Royalty Flowering Crab grows to 20 feet, with purple foliage that turns crimson in the fall. Keeping with this variety’s color scheme, it produces purple flowers and dark red to purple fruit. This is a very hardy variety that tends to be susceptible to disease and requires more frequent pruning than other varieties.
Snowdrift Flowering Crab only grows to 15 feet but spreads out to 20 feet. This is an exceptionally showy ornamental tree that is bathed in white flowers in the spring and orange-red fruit in the fall that attracts birds and butterflies. The fruit is not good for jams or jellies. The foliage is a glossy-green with no striking fall color. This variety has some susceptibility to scab and fireblight.
Spring Snow Flowering Crab grows to 25 feet and has an interesting tight oval growth habit. It is often described as narrowly upright and columnar, a positive attribute in a landscaping scheme. It’s a highly regarded ornamental that becomes covered in snowy white flowers but produces no fruit. The foliage is a dark green that turns a stunning yellow in the fall. Trees tend to be very clean and tidy. This variety is one of the best ornamental trees for home landscape use and gives a “formal” appearance to a yard.
Mother’s Day is coming. Bloomer’s will custom plant into any container a customer brings in. If planted now they will be ready for Mother’s Day. There will also be pre-planted containers available. More on container gardening in the May 18 Garden Column.
Email Robert Nyvall at email@example.com.