Flowering Crabapple Trees: Four Seasons of Beauty
Flowering Crabapple Trees: Your Garden's Giving Tree
Crabapple trees are one of the most giving trees in the garden. They start in spring, clothing themselves in massive billows of bright blooms, filling the air with their welcome fragrance. In summer, their sturdy branches provide a safe home for birds and their young, and shade for delicate flowers in the garden. In the fall, many varieties blaze with color before they drop their leaves. In winter, they provide a source of food for birds and other animals.
I am passionate about crabapple trees, their beauty, and their wonderful giving nature. I hope to encourage others to plant one in their yard by sharing this lens with you. Please share it with others if you find it useful or inspiring.
Glory in Spring
Blooms, glorious blooms!
Crabapple trees are known for their beauty as an ornamental tree in the home landscape. They cover their branches in blooms for two to three weeks every spring, if undisturbed by wind or rain. Their early flowering provides a welcome source of food for bees and butterflies, after a long, lean winter. White flowering trees look stunning against homes with dark exterior paint schemes. Pink and red blooms enhance homes with white or light color pallets. We have one of each. The picture in the introduction is of our deep-pink flowering "Profusion" in the front of our light-colored house. We have a lovely white tree in the back, where it is mostly seen against the green of the backyard lawn.
Golden Raindrops Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lush Foliage in Summer: Home to Birds and Butterflies
Crabapple trees develop a thick canopy of leaves in summer. Many varieties have the added interest of leaves that are in colors other than green, or of unusual shapes. Our "Profusion" tree out front has lovely bronzy-red colored leaves in late spring, and turn rich green in summer. It looks great against the tan color of our house. Our "Golden Raindrops" tree out back has the most beautifully shaped leaves I have ever seen on a crabapple tree. They are deeply lobed and look almost like an oak leaf. This gives a beautiful, lacy look to the tree in summer.
Birds find the limbs to be very friendly and love to set up house on their branches. The dense growth of the leaves provides protection from the rain and conceals the nest and growing family from unfriendly eyes. I have also noticed that butterflies seem to enjoy crabapple trees, even after the flowers are gone. I'm not sure what the attraction is, but they can be seen flitting among the branches from leaf to leaf. Perhaps the leaves give off a pleasant aroma that attracts the butterflies or maybe they can pick up traces of minerals or sweetness from the leaves? Whatever the reason, butterflies love my crabapple trees in summer
Crabapple Tree GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Blazing Colors of Fall
Crabapple trees have done their duty for the summer, hosting families of robins, warblers, and hummingbirds in their branches. In the fall, many varieties clothe themselves in brilliant color in farewell to their feathered friends. Our "Profusion" tree out front turns a rich red before it drops it's leaves, leaving behind an abundance of small, ruby-red fruit. Our "Golden Raindrops" tree out back is simply breathtaking! The oak-shaped leaves literally glow in a brilliant golden-yellow with each leaf neatly trimmed with a bright red rim. When the leaves fall, the golden glow remains in the form of small golden fruit covering the branches. You can almost see the birds drooling in anticipation of the feast to come. The fruit is hard still, and it will need a few frosts before it is soft enough for the birds to eat.
You can pick crabapples for canning or making jelly. They are naturally rich in pectin and make good jelly. They also add dimension and tang to homemade cider. It is, in fact, the secret ingredient of one of the best cider houses in Vermont, Cold Hollow Cider Mill. If you plan to use crabapples for cider or jelly, large-fruited varieties are best. Small fruits just don't have enough juice to be worth the effort. Leave the small crabapples for the birds to help them through winter.
A Banquet for Wildlife in Winter
In winter, crabapple trees become a banquet for wildlife when food is scarce or difficult to find due to snow cover. The best varieties for winter-feeding have small fruit that stays on the branches all winter. Trees that drop their fruit when ripe only benefit wildlife briefly in the fall. Their fruit will litter the ground, making it available only for a short time.
The fruit soon rots, benefiting only the tree as fertilizer. People also view the dropped fruit as an unsightly mess. Trees that hold their fruit, however, are a different story altogether. The fruit retains its color for a long time, adding interest to the winter landscape. It also softens in the cold weather, making it easy for birds to eat. Most of the fruit will stay on the tree, but some will fall, feeding the ground-dwelling animals as well. Our crabapple trees have become a focal point of the wildlife in our neighborhood. The animals that I have seen enjoying the fruit are; birds, deer, rabbits, possums, and many more that leave their tracks, but that I never see.
Crabapple Trees in Winter: Who Is Coming for Dinner?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Crabapple Trees in Winter Continued
Many people don’t realize that even bluebirds will stay through winter if they have a consistent food source and shelter. We have a pair of bluebirds that live in our yard year-round, even though we live in the cold Northeastern United States. We don’t usually think of bluebirds as fruit-eating birds, but they eat from our crabapple trees all winter. We also leave our birdhouses up to shelter them from icy winds and snow.
The full value of a crabapple tree that holds it’s fruit through the winter is revealed as winter melts into spring. Food is very scarce at this time, just as birds begin returning from the south. Our trees are the first stop for birds returning from their southern wintering grounds. I have counted up to a dozen or so robins in the tree at one time, in early February, feasting on the crabapples still hanging on the tree. We had a new visitor this year, a possum. He would come in broad daylight and spend a couple of hours lounging in the branches and daintily eating crabapples. He was the thrill of the neighborhood children since possums are usually more secretive and nocturnal.
A Possum Dines in Style
Choosing Your Crabapple Tree
So, now you are excited and ready to buy your crabapple tree. What should you look for in order to choose a tree that is best suited for your home environment? Here is the basic information you should be aware of to select a tree that will be successful in your garden.
Zones: Crabapples can be grown in most areas of the United States. Generally, they are winter hardy to zone 4 and can tolerate the heat up to zone 8. Some varieties have been specially developed to grow and bloom beyond those zones. Most local nurseries will only stock trees that will grow successfully in your area. If you are buying from a catalogue or online, check the growing zone information carefully before you purchase your tree.
Color: In general, choose a tree that will complement the color of your home. Trees with dark blooms look better with light color houses and visa-versa. Most people think only of flower color when determining what crabapple tree to buy, but there are many more things to consider about color besides the blossoms.
Some trees have interesting colors in their leaves. Our “Profusion” tree out front starts out with reddish-bronze leaves in spring that compliment its pretty, pink flowers. The leaves change to deep green in summer, setting off the ruby-red fruit. Some trees, like our “Golden Raindrops” give a spectacular show in fall, with blazing gold or red leaves.
There is also the color of the fruit to consider. For trees that hold their fruit over the winter, red or golden fruit can add interest to an otherwise bleak landscape.
Height and Spread: Most crabapple trees do not get very tall, making them a nice accent for the front of your home. They also usually spread in proportion to their height. Some grow in weeping or dwarf forms giving you an even more compact look for tighter spaces. One tree even grows like a column, spreading very little over time. Make sure that the tree you pick will fit in the spot you are going to plant it in, taking into account room for future growth.
White Flowering Crapapples
White Flowered Crabapple Trees
- "Golden Raindrops" - Pink buds to white blooms - Golden fruit - Oak-shaped leaves turn gold in fall
- "Red Jade" - White blooms - Red fruit - Lovely weeping form
- "Molten Lava" - Red fruit - Weeping habit with pretty yellow bark
- "Sargent" - White blooms - Red fruit - Shrubby dwarf variety - Sometimes blooms and fruits profusely in alternate years
- "David" - Pink buds to white blooms - Red fruit - Blooms heavily alternate years
- "Lancelot" - Red buds to white blooms - Golden fruit - Dwarf variety with golden yellow leaves in the fall
Pink to Red Flowering Crabapples
Pink to Red Varieties
- "Centurion" - Rosy red - Red fruit - Unusual columnar form that spreads a little with age
- "Indian Magic" - Deep pink flowers - Orange-red fruit
- "Indian Summer" - Rosy red blooms - Bright red fruits - Bronzy Green foliage turns orange-red in fall
- "Louisa" - Pink blooms - Yellow fruit - Lovely weeping dwarf variety with a true umbrella shape
- "Prariefire" - Red buds to purplish red blooms - Purplish-red fruit - Green leaves blaze orange-red in fall
- "Profusion" - Deep pink flowers - Maroon fruit - Interesting change of color in leaves over the season from purple to bronzy-green
- "Radiant" - Red buds to pink blooms - Red fruit - Foliage starts purple in spring changing to green in summer
- "Robinson" - Deep pink blooms - Red fruit - Fast growing tree with unusual bronze leaf color
- "Thunderbird" - Rosy pink blooms - Purplish-red fruit - Unusual purple leaf color
My Crabapple Tree Was Hit Hard by a Wet Spring
My poor Profusion crabapple tree. It has been languishing all summer one year. I noticed there was something wrong in early summer when it appeared that the tree didn't have any fruit. At first, I thought that maybe the blossoms didn't get pollinated, due to the unusually long, wet spring we had that year (2011). It wasn't until later in the summer, when all the leaves were turning yellow and dropping off that I got truly alarmed. I noticed that nearly all the red-flowering crabapples in the area (that I knew about) were suffering the same fate. An investigation and a little research determined the cause: Apple Scab. It is a fungus that can develop in wet weather, can cause fruit not to set, and leaves to fall. It seems that red-flowering trees are especially susceptible to this disease.
It made me so sad to see my beautiful tree looking like this. I was especially concerned about the birds and animals that used this tree for food in the winter. Our Golden Raindrops crabapple in the back (a white-flowered tree) was fine and will bear fruit. I was thinking of making a feeder for the birds to provide raisins for them in lieu of the crabapples. If your tree has suffered from Apple Scab, you might want to do this too.
For more information on diseases of crabapple trees, click on the link below. Most fungal diseases can be fought, and are usually not lethal to the tree. Bacterial diseases will kill your tree. It is important to know how to prevent conditions that foster the growth of pathogens. It is also important to know if the tree you want to buy is susceptible to any diseases before you buy.
Crabapple Tree Weather Report 2012
This year was hard on my poor "Profusion" crabapple tree out front. We had an early warm-up in the Spring of 2012 that brought on early flowering. A week later, we had snow again. This killed most of the buds, and as a result, we had few crabapples that year. That was the second year in a row that we had little to no crabapples on the tree due to weather.
Again, our "Golden Raindrops" tree out back was completely unaffected. It bloomed about two weeks later than the pink flowering "Profusion," so it completely missed the deadly warm-up/freeze cycle we had that spring. It bloomed fully and was loaded with tiny, golden crabapples for the birds this winter.
Advice: The pink flowering crabapple is beautiful, and I love it, but I am beginning to favor my white-flowering "Golden Raindrops" crabapple tree. It has come through two difficult springs unscathed, and in fact, is thriving. If you are thinking of planting crabapple trees for winter food for local wildlife, consider using white-flowering crabapples, or at least a mix of white and pink. This would ensure the best chance of a healthy crop of crabapples for the birds to enjoy through the winter.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
My neighbors planted 5 crabapple trees on the property line this spring. I do not know what kind but they mentioned they had pink blooms. Two of these have limbs poking through my privacy fence already. My main concern is that I have a small dog that is all white in color, and am concerned about him getting into the mess that falls onto my property. Plus the fact that I read too much consumption could cause death. Should I really be concerned?
First of all, these are basically apples. Dogs can eat apples, so I'm not sure where you are hearing that this is bad for them. Talk to a vet to get more information on that. There are several routes you can take with your other concerns. As for mess, it really depends on what type of crabapple trees have been planted. Some trees drop all their fruit and make a tremendous mess. Others hold their fruit through winter and make very little mess. Talk to your neighbor and see what kind they have. Let them know about your concerns. Next, talk to your town authorities to see what your rights are in regards to a neighbor's trees intruding on your property. Some municipalities will let you trim whatever growth crosses the property line. Hopefully you and your neighbor can work together to address your concerns. You don't want to start a neighbor war over this.Helpful 23
My prairie fire crab branches are too heavy and I lost a large branch. Can I lighten up the others in first week of September?
You don't want to do any pruning in the fall. Wait for spring while the tree is still dormant. If you need to help sagging branches (it was a good year for my trees this year too...VERY heavily laden with crabapples), try propping them up for now. Give a good pruning to your tree next spring.
Sometimes, you can save a branch that split. Use a method similar to grafting branches onto trees. We saved a branch this way once. I think my husband used screws, glue to dress the wound and keep bugs out, and propped up the branch. There are lots of good websites on how to do this if you do a Google search.Helpful 4
Does the Robinson hold its fruit for the winter?
It does seem to hold it's fruit through winter. The descriptions I found say that it "fruit may persist into winter," that the red fruit is a color interest in winter (which means that the fruit doesn't drop), and that it is a good food source for wildlife, which also usually means that the fruit is persistent.Helpful 3
Can crabapple trees live over forty years and still bear fruit?
Yes! We had friends in Vermont that had a tree that was over 100 years old and bore the most luscious, delicious fruit!Helpful 3
Are there crabapple trees that don't drop anything?
Yes! There are many varieties. The two I mentioned in the article, Golden Raindrops and Profusion both hold their tiny apples all winter. This is an excellent winter food source for birds and other wildlife. When picking a tree, ask if the trees holds its fruit.Helpful 2
© 2011 Diane Cass