Lollipop® crabapple. Photo: Spring Meadow Nursery.

If you’re looking for a compact, versatile tree that provides interest nearly year-round, you can’t do much better than the crabapple. In addition to dazzling you with breathtaking buds and blossoms in spring, crabapples are also handsome foliage plants in summer and fall, and provide bountiful displays of fruit that linger on the branches well into winter. What’s more, they come in a range of sizes and forms (most no taller than 20 feet) to accommodate nearly any space constraint.

There are hundreds of crabapple varieties, but those featured here are particularly gardenworthy, bred for superior flowering, good fall leaf color, and attractive fruit. Even better, they resist apple scab and other common diseases that have beset crabapples in the past, making them reliable performers year after year.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care & Pruning | Pictures | Design Tips | Frequently Asked Questions

CRABAPPLE BASICS

Botanical name:

Malus

Zones:

4-8

Size:

Most grow 15 to 20 feet tall and wide. There are also dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that range in height from under 5 feet to 10 feet.

Forms:

May be rounded, spreading, columnar, vase-shaped, or weeping, depending on the cultivar.

Exposure:

Full sun, minimum 6 hours per day.

Bloom Time:

Mid to late spring, with the length of bloom ranging from 1 to 2 weeks.

Flowers:

Single, semi-double or fully double in white, pink, magenta, or red. Very fragrant. Many varieties have darker buds that lighten in color as the flowers reach full bloom.

Foliage:

Usually green, but some varieties have foliage with purple, red, or bronze tones. Fall leaf color may be orange, red, gold, or bronze, depending on the cultivar.

Fruit:

Ripens from late summer to mid-fall and often clings to the branches through winter. Usually the fruit is red, resembling small cherries, but some cultivars produce yellow, maroon, or orange fruit.

Growth rate:

Moderate

PLANTING CRABAPPLE TREES

Crabapple tree fruit. Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery.

When to plant:

The best time to plant a crabapple tree is in the spring or fall, when the soil is moist and temperatures are cool. (See What to Plant in Your Fall Garden). However, if you avoid freezing temperatures and extreme heat, you can plant a crabapple almost any time of year.

Where to plant:

Crabapples thrive in full sun but don’t like hot weather, preferring climates with temperate summers and cold winters. They adapt to most soil conditions, as long as they are planted in well-drained soil. To avoid foliar diseases, plant in a location that offers good air circulation.

How to plant:

Follow the general rules for planting trees: Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the rootball and center the tree within the hole with the top of the rootball slightly above ground level. To enrich the soil, mix in some peat moss or compost. Stake if needed, and water deeply after planting.

CARE & PRUNING

Watering:

The first year after planting, provide supplemental watering during dry weather so the tree receives at least 1 inch of water per week and up to 2 inches during hot spells. After the roots become established, you will only need to water during prolonged dry periods. To reduce watering frequency, apply a few inches of mulch around the base of the tree (but not touching the trunk) to help retain soil moisture.

Amendments & Fertilizer:

If planted in good, moderately fertile soil, crabapples usually don’t need extra fertilization. However, if you notice poor blooming and fruit production, you can improve soil fertility by top dressing with compost in the spring or by applying a slow-release fertilizer before new growth emerges.

Pruning:

Occasional pruning will help keep crabapple trees healthy and maintain their lovely silhouettes. Crabapples are particularly prone to water sprouts (shoots that grow upward from tree branches) and suckers that form at the base of the tree, which can grow large enough to become additional trunks. These growths should be removed, along with any dead, diseased, or crowded branches.

Pruning is best done in late winter or before flowering in early spring. Avoid over-pruning. Trees need time to form callus over a wound, so it’s best to remove only the branches that need it. Get more pruning advice: Pruning a Crabapple Tree.

Diseases:

Apple scab, cedar apple rust, fire blight, and mildew are the most common diseases to afflict crabapples, particularly non-resistant varieties. Apple scab - a fungal disease that often develops in cool, wet springs - is the most serious problem and can cause leaf spotting and defoliation. These can be avoided by planting newer cultivars bred to resist these diseases and by replacing disease-prone trees with resistant varieties. Any branches that become defoliated due to disease usually leaf back out the following spring.

CRABAPPLE PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery.

Lollipop®
Malus 'Lollizam'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: Up to 8 feet tall and wide

Form: Rounded

Color: White flowers; bright red fruit

Very symmetrical and globe-shaped (just like a lollipop!). Compact size makes it a perfect choice for smaller formal gardens.

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery.

Show Time™
Malus 'Shotizam'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: Up to 25 feet tall; 15 to 20 feet wide

Form: Pyramidal

Color: Fuchsia flowers, cherry red fruit

A heavy bloomer, with especially large fuchsia-red flowers. Dark reddish-green foliage turns orange and bronzy red in fall.

Photo by: Zydree / Shutterstock.

Prairifire
Malus 'Prairifire'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet tall and wide

Form: Rounded

Color: Deep pinkish-red flowers, purple-red fruit

Magenta-pink, nearly red flowers pop against purple-tinged foliage in spring. In fall, the leaves turn a fiery orange, creating a striking contrast with the dark red crabapples.

Photo by: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia.

Profusion
Malus 'Profusion'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet tall and wide

Form: Rounded, slightly spreading

Color: Violet-red flowers, maroon fruit

Named for its profuse bloom and fruit production. Foliage changes color from reddish purple when young, fading to bronze when mature, and finally mellowing to golden amber in fall.

Photo by: Bertrand Dumont / Millette Photomedia.

Robinson
Malus 'Robinson'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: Up to 25 feet tall and wide

Form: Rounded, slightly spreading

Color: Reddish-pink flowers, red fruit

Puts on an impressive display of crimson buds and reddish-pink flowers in early spring. Attractive oval leaves are purple when young and turn bronzy green with red veining as they mature. A beautiful specimen or shade tree.

Photo by: BlackFarm / Shutterstock.

Royal Raindrops®
Malus 'JFS-KW5'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet tall, 10 to 15 feet wide

Form: Upright rounded to vase shaped

Color: Magenta-pink flowers, maroon-red fruit

Photo by: Ellen McKnight / Shutterstock.

Donald Wyman
Malus 'Donald Wyman'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet tall, up to 24 feet wide

Form: Rounded

Color: White flowers, bright red fruit

A reliable, disease-resistant cultivar with attractive glossy-green foliage that turns gold in fall. The fruit is among the most enduring of all the crabapples, providing nice winter interest.

Photo by: ristovicmilosh / Shutterstock.

Prairie Rose
Malus ioensis 'Prairie Rose'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 15 to 20 feet tall, 12 to 18 feet wide

Form: Rounded

Color: Deep pink flowers

Large, abundant double pink flowers resemble rosebuds when they emerge in spring. This fruitless hybrid is perfect for gardeners who want beautiful blooms but don’t want to bother cleaning up the fallen fruit.

Photo by: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia.

Louisa
Malus 'Louisa'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 10 to 12 feet tall, up to 15 feet wide

Form: Weeping

Color: Pink flowers, yellow fruit

This elegant umbrella-shaped weeping crab bears red buds that open to cascades of soft pink flowers, followed by lovely blush-tinged yellow fruit. Sought after for its graceful form and glossy, dark green foliage.

Photo by: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia.

Tina
Malus sargentii 'Tina'

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 4 to 5 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet wide

Form: Low and spreading, with pendulous branches

Color: White flowers, bright red fruit

The smallest of the Sargent crabapples (a dwarf species), with stunning dark pink buds that give way to petite white flowers and tiny pea-sized fruit. A popular choice for Asian gardens.

DESIGN TIPS

Because crabapple trees come in an array of sizes, growth habits, and flower colors, they are suitable for a wide range of applications. Here are some ideas for using them in the garden:

  • Plant larger varieties for use as specimen or shade trees.
  • Use dwarf types in small groupings or as focal points in Asian or cottage gardens.
  • Line parkways or sidewalks with trees that have narrow, upright silhouettes.
  • Use varieties with symmetrical, rounded forms in formal gardens and courtyards.
  • Train to use as an espalier (learn how).

Keep in mind that the fruit of crabapple trees can stain walkways or patios. To avoid that problem, choose a non-fruiting cultivar, such as ‘Prairie Rose’.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Are crabapple trees related to apple trees? Yes. Both trees share the same genus (Malus) and many of the same characteristics. However, a crabapple has smaller, tarter fruit, ranging in size from ¼ inch to 2 inches in diameter.

Do all crabapples bear fruit? While most flowering crabapples develop fruit, there are some “non-fruiting” cultivars that produce very small fruit or none at all.

Is the fruit edible? Unlike apples, most crabapples are too tart and mouth-puckering to be eaten out of hand, but they are perfectly edible and often used to make jams and jellies. In winter, they are a great source of food for many types of birds and other wildlife. In general, the smaller the fruit, the more sour the taste.

Why isn’t my crabapple tree blooming? Some crabapples are alternate flowering, meaning they will bloom heavily one year and sparsely or not at all the next. Older trees that are past their prime may also stop flowering every year. Lack of enough sunlight can also result in few or no flowers.

RELATED:

Flowering Trees
Colorful Fall Foliage

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