Crazy about Crab Apples.

If I had to choose just two trees for the garden I would have a magnolia and a crab apple. I adore crab apples, they give you wonderful blossom, lovely foliage and beautiful fruit. They are great for wild life as the flowers are high in pollen; they produce ten times as much pollen as culinary apple trees and the fruits keep birds going into the winter. They are also useful for pollinating apple trees. If I had a huge garden I would have a grove of crab apples, in fact I once did have space for what I grandly called my ‘arboretum’ and I did indulge my love of crab apples. Now I have limited space but I have still managed to accommodate several lovely trees. They come in various sizes, Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ which was here when we came is huge. It has yellow fruit, but I wouldn’t have chosen it. If I was to choose a crab apple for its yellow fruit I would go for ‘Comtessa de Paris’ which hangs on to its yellow fruit into the winter, whereas the fruit of ‘Golden Hornet’ tends to turn brown. Still the blossom looks lovely against the shrimp coloured leaves of Acer brilliantissimum.

Malus ”Golden Hornet’

But maybe you are looking for a smaller tree. You can get dwarf crab apples that will easily fit into a smaller garden. There is a dear little dwarf one called ‘Tina’ or then there is ‘Coralburst’ which is even smaller. There is such a variety of shapes to choose from; some are upright, almost columnar ,others are round-headed and others are weeping. My pride and joy is Malus transitoria which I grew from seed. It took about 15 years to get to this size. Most crab apples don’t come true from seed but this one does. It comes from China and it is an attractive little tree with finely cut leaves. In May it has clouds of starry white flowers and in the autumn it has yellow fruit hanging like beads from the branches.

Malus transitoria

Also with snow white blossom I have Malus brevipes ‘Wedding Bouquet’ which has masses of shell- like flowers. Later it has small, translucent red berries which persist into December.

Malus brevipes ‘Wedding Bouquet’

I have another white flowered crab apple which I don’t have a name for. I bought it for Β£15 because it didn’t have a label. Maybe I will be able to identify it when it has fruit. Meanwhile it has pretty white blossom.

Some crab apples, like ‘Red Jade’ have white flowers opening from pink buds which makes it look like the usual apple blossom. It makes a pretty weeping tree.

Malus hupehensis is a bit later flowering and is still in bud. It too has white flowers opening from pink buds, they are lightly fragrant. It comes from China where the leaves are used to make tea. Like Malus transitoria it comes true from seed, although I haven’t tried growing this one from seed. It has bright cherry- red fruit.

I have already written about my amazing Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’ which is sometimes known as simply ‘Cardinal’. It is a variety of Malus hupehensis and in my eyes, it is peerless if you want a crab apple with dark pink flowers. It has dark red leaves which are hardly visible amongst the abundance of blossom. I have featured it in my header picture. Later it has dark red fruit.

Malus ‘Princeton Cardinal’

Another tree with dark pink blossom is ‘Laura’. She is a dwarf tree with an upright habit so handy for a limited space. I love the dark pink blossom with a white stripe. The fruits are large and a maroon colour.

Malus ‘Laura’
Malus ‘Laura’

Having said that ‘Princeton Cardinal’ is my favourite, a close runner up is my latest indulgence. I went to a nursery to take photographs of crab apples for this post but quite forgot to take any because I fell in love with Malus ‘Van Eseltine’ and I could think of nothing else but how to fit it into my small car. I managed with difficulty and as you can see it has fabulous double pink flowers.

Malus ‘Van Eseltine’
Malus ‘Van Eseltine’

Of course, the other advantage of growing crab apples is that the the fruit has a high pectin content and so is ideal for making crab apple jelly if that is the kind of thing you like. Personally, I prefer to leave them for the birds because I am not keen on sweet things. But it is simple to make.

Crab Apple Jelly.

1lb washed, sliced crab apples.

1 pint water.

Simmer until the fruit is a pulp.

Strain through a jelly bag, do not squeeze if you want clear jelly, you have to be patient.

Add 1lb of sugar for each pint of juice.

Boil for about 5 minutes until it reaches setting point.

Bottle and store.

Throw away in a year’s time if you are me. Or else give away jars to friends, they make nice looking presents, specially if you get pretty, rustic labels and lid covers. And then your friends can throw it away in a year’s time. Or do some people actually eat the stuff?

Anyway, that is my collection of beautiful crab apple trees; please remind me that I really do not have enough room for any more if I start talking about them again. After all, I have other obsessions that have to be accommodated. We are coming up to peony time and then there will be roses. And I shall definitely need more roses. I always do.

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33 Responses to Crazy about Crab Apples.

  1. pbmgarden says:

    Interesting post. I had no idea there were so many crab apples from which to choose. My mother’s first cousin invited us over to her house every spring to see her crab apple in bloom and always shared jelly with us. I have a sentimental fondness for the jelly but actually, not sure we ever ate much of it either.

  2. What a relief to know nobody eats it, but the flowers are utterly lovely!

  3. M.B. Henry says:

    All of these are very beautiful! πŸ™‚

  4. snowbird says:

    Hahaha, crazy plant lady! Oh, I just adore your crab apples, they are so beneficial to wildlife, I love that about them. I have a self seeded one, I bit into the fruit once and found it monstrous, I certainly won’t be making any crab apple jelly. I love how quickly the trees are stripped by birds. This was such a wonderful post.xxx

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Dina. Yes, crab apples are perfect for wildlife. The apples are inedible that is why you have to cook them with so much sugar to make them platable.

  5. Kris P says:

    Although crabapples don’t grow in my area, I so wish I had room for more flowering trees. Your property always looks huge to me but I guess there’s always a limit on what can be squeezed in.

    • Chloris says:

      My property is an acre and as I have had encroaching hedges removed and pushed back I have expanding boundaries. But I don’t think they will expand any more… except for an old footpath at the end of my property which no one uses as it has been diverted.
      . Now that has possibilities.

  6. My mother also made crabapple jelly. You have a wonderful selection. Other than ‘Red Jade’ most of these are new to me. I love ‘Wedding Bouquet’. Have you ever seen the dwarf crabapple, M. sargentii? There are also a few North American crabs such as M. ioensis. I have never tried to plant it because it is fairly susceptible to disease.

    • Chloris says:

      Oh yes, the dwarf ‘Tina’ is a variety of Malus sargentii and utterly delightful. A lot of the older varieties are suscptible to disease but modern hybrids are very healthy and trouble free.

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    You’ve got a wonderful collection, Liz. Like you, I adore apple blossom and can never resist sticking my nose into their luscious scent. I don’t know how you manage to fit so many great plants into your plot!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Eliza. Yes, the scent of apple blossom is light and elusive, you have to stick your nose right in the flowers to catch it. My garden has elastic boundaries.

  8. I have never made crabapple jelly, but I should try it one of these years. I’d have to agree with you on the benefits of crabapple trees. I love ours here, and they’re so beautiful all around town.

  9. tonytomeo says:

    The main problem that I encounter with flowering crabapples (those that are grown mainly for their bloom, rather than fruit) is that no one here knows how to prune them! The Santa Clara Valley used to be famous for orchard production, so only a few decades ago, there were plenty of us who knew how to prune fruit trees, and ‘some’ who knew about pruning ornamentals. The cultivars of flowering crabapple that were available here were the sort that developed sloppy structure if not occasionally thinned. Some of the modern cultivars are less reliant on major pruning, although the common ‘Prairie Fire’ is almost as sloppy as more traditionally popular sorts. Those that are more closely related to their straight species would be even more practical, but are not available.

    • Chloris says:

      Most of the modern hybrids seem to make pleasing shaped trees without too much pruning. And they are relatively disease-free. Having said that, I wish somebody had pruned my ‘Golden Hornet’ before it got so wild and woolly. ‘Prairie Fire’ is so pretty in bloom, but I have never seen a mature one.

      • tonytomeo says:

        It seems to me that some of the modern cultivars are actually less extensively bred than the older sorts. That seems rather backward. Of course, those that are straight species were likely selected without breeding.
        Prairie Fire might disappoint those who like bronze foliage, but the rich floral color more than compensates. Incidentally, I like it because it does not look like a modern cultivar. It is similar to an old flowering crabapple that I grew up with. Unfortunately, it is a bit sloppy, almost like the old sorts, so needs a bit of pruning as it develops. I get to work with two of the, although one is not in good condition. There are two more across the road that are rather large; but unfortunately (!), they are ‘maintained’ by gardeners who pollard them precisely as the floral buds begin to show color. Every year, I hope that the ‘gardeners’ will be late, but they are very punctual about removing ALL of the bloom before it blooms.

  10. Heyjude says:

    They are all wonderful and I am envious of your acre garden. Which ones would you recommend for a container, and how large a container? I have room on my ‘car park’ but can’t plant trees etc because it is a soakaway, nothing to stop me having containers though.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Jude.. Yes, I think you could grow a crab apple in a pot as long as you choose a dwarf tree like ‘Tina’ or ‘Coralburst ‘.You will need a very big pot, probably 60cm circumference, otherwise it will be a problem providing enough water and nutrients. My son grew a couple of dwarf eating apples in pots on his jetty.

  11. Brian Skeys says:

    I agree with you about crab apple trees and Golden Hornet. I planted it because Rosemary Verey recommended it in one of her books. The birds don’t eat the fruit unless it is a very hard winter and then, as you say turn brown and don’t fall off. There is a wonderful avenue of crab apple trees at the Yeo Valley Organic Garden in Somerset.

    • Chloris says:

      I suppose in Rosemary’s day, lovely yellow- fruited cultivars like ‘ Butterball’ or ‘ Contessa de Paris’ weren’t available. I think an avenue of crab apples is a lovely idea.

  12. Malus transitoria is lovely, quite unusual to have star-shaped blooms on a crab, and how amazing that you grew it from seed, respect! After much thought, as there was only space for one new tree, I recently acquired Malus Evereste and am v happy with it πŸ™‚

    • Chloris says:

      I forgot to include Evereste, I have that one too, it is a very pretty one. I am thrilled with my Malus transitoria with its masses of starry flowers.

  13. Cathy says:

    Oh I so enjoyed reading your post Chloris and it elicited a degree of giggling 😁 Have to confess that I do not make jelly from my crab apples (Golden Hornet – bleh! Royalty – don’t even notice them, Evereste – too pretty) but adore fruit jellies with meat (especially cold – chicken/turkey sandwiches with redcurrant jelly…mmm!) – redcurrant, damson, whatever I have spare of. Interesting to read about the pollen variation, and the different varieties. I shall be looking for a space (albeit small!) for Laura, so thanks for introducing her πŸ‘

  14. Anna says:

    Oh you have some beauties there Chloris and your crab apples must look a picture in both spring and autumn.The birds and bees must appreciate them just as much as you. I chuckled at the thought of you coming away from the nursery with just one more when your mission was taking photos and am sure that it will not be the last one you purchase. I’ve never made crab apple jelly either πŸ˜‚ Does the nursery you visited sell online?

  15. bittster says:

    Well now you have me thinking. It would be very nice to have a crab apple, but I always think of them as disease magnets in this climate… at least that’s what my “disease resistant” apple is. But you know maybe that shouldn’t matter and I should try it first and worry later.
    A friend joked that his new garden mantra is ‘more mistakes, faster’, and I think it’s perfect.

    • Chloris says:

      Oh, do try one. Modern crab apple cultivars are reasonably disease resistant. Anyway, that is a good philosophy, ‘more mistakes, faster’. I have just bought my third Halesia monticola, I will see how quickly I can kill this one and then I can accept that I just can’t grow them and move on.

  16. πŸ˜„ Funny! I share a love for crabapples too, although I only have two. Such a beautiful and interesting post!!

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