ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END, but this year the crabapples did so a little too quickly. Days of near-90 temperatures will do that to a flowering tree that popped open expecting 65 or so. Talk about a rude awakening. Their 2010 moment week before last, albeit fleeting, was spectacular, and in their now-fallen honor, some thoughts on why to grow them and which variety to select. A slideshow, and more:
Crabapples, Malus species, are generally easy to grow, bird-friendly plants that show off in more than one season (spring flowers, fall fruit, and sometimes a great winter silhouette, too, in the best of them, or even wine-colored summer foliage in certain varieties). But choosing the one for your garden can be dizzying, with hundreds (some references say 700) of kinds to choose from.
- Select for disease resistance. Crabapples can be severely affected by various diseases, from cedar-apple rust to scab and more. (Disease details.)
- Know what size and form you want. Crabs can be shrubby (under 15 feet) to upright (30-foot trees) or much wider than high (my favorites, usually having Malus sargentii “blood” in them).
- What flower color suits your landscape? Select from white to all shades of pink to vivid purple and reddish.
- What about fruit size and color, and its persistence (winter staying power) in your climate? Fruits range from quarter-inch to 2 inches (after that, it’s technically an apple, not a crab) and from hot red to orangey and yellow to wine-colored (especially after frost). Yellow fruits, in particular, can quickly go a nasty, rotten-looking brown in some zones where freezes come early.
- And what about foliage—since green to burgundy are both possible.
Where you live is also important, as with any plant, so I’ve gathered some of the best lists of recommend varieties out there for various regions, with the disclaimer that more than one come from Midwestern experts. Crabapples have been much-studied at Ohio State, the University of Illinois, Michigan State, and the University of Wisconsin, among other places, and there are important collections of them at arboreta there, too. I’ll leave it to you to choose your source(s) among these good ones:
- Dawes Arboretum list of best crabapples (PDF)
- Morton Arboretum (Illinois) recommended crabapple list
- Crabapples for the Midwest, from Iowa State
- Colorado State best crabapple list
- Washington State University best crabapples list
- Kansas State crabapple list and growing information
- Michigan State selection and growing guide
- North Carolina State best crabapples list and details
Click on the first thumbnail to start the slideshow, then toggle from image to image using the arrows beside each caption. Enjoy.