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Flowering Crabapple Trees: Four Seasons of Beauty

Diane is a lover of all things beautiful; music, art, antiques and nature. Her guides bring insight to topics she cares passionately about.

Pink crabapple tree, "Profusion."

Pink crabapple tree, "Profusion."

Flowering Crabapple Trees: Your Garden's Giving Tree

I am passionate about crabapple trees, their beauty, and their wonderful giving nature. Through this article, I hope to encourage others to plant one in their yard. Why? Because crabapple trees are one of the most giving trees in the garden all year long:

  • In spring, they clothe 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, plus 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.

Crabapples 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.

Butterfly on Crabapple Tree

Butterfly on Crabapple Tree

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 turns 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.

Attracting Wildlife

Birds find the limbs to be very friendly and love to set up houses 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.

Blazing Fall Colors

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 its 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.

Can You Eat Crabapples?

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.

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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.

Possum in the Crabapple Tree

Possum in the Crabapple Tree

What Animals Enjoy Crabapples?

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.

Bluebirds and Robins

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.