One of the most diverse groups of ornamental trees is the crabapples. They truly are a plant that offers four seasons of beauty to your landscape. But chances are when you think of crabapple you think of the spotted, diseased foliage and big gnarly fruits that you must mow around or else rake up. That image is certainly true of the old varieties but not so anymore.
The real issues with crabapple are three major diseases (apple scab, cedar apple rust and fire blight) that in most years cause early defoliation and fruit injury. It doesn’t look great when your tree is leafless in August. Although fungicides are available that will control diseases, they require repeated applications, which is neither practical nor an environmentally sound practice.
Newer cultivars however have resistance to these diseases making crabapple worth a second look.
Most gardeners select crabapples based on the bloom color and while that is certainly a great characteristic, I think the fruit display shouldn’t be missed. During the winter, adding color from the fruit can really enhance your landscape and the fruit persists for months compared to only a few weeks of flower show in the spring. The trick is to find crabapples that don’t have large messy fruit that have to be raked up. Also, disease resistance to apple scab, cedar apple rust and fireblight is crucial.
The following three crabapples seem to have it all – excellent resistance to all major diseases, a showy spring flower display, and small 3/8” diameter or less, persistent fruit for winter. As a bonus they are all dwarf varieties making it possible to include them in practically any landscape.
‘Firebird’ Crabapple is a compact selection with a rounded, spreading form growing only 8 feet tall with 10 feet spread. The foliage is dark green. The spring flowers are white, opening from red buds. Its annual fruit display is a 3/8” diameter bright red fruit that is more persistent than any other natural dwarf crabapple.
‘Pink Princess’ Crabapple has a low, spreading form 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide. It differs from Firebird in that its blooms are rose pink and new foliage emerges purple, gradually becoming bronze green. Its fruit is deep red and ¼” diameter.
‘Sargent’ Crabapple is the parent of both Firebird and Pink Princess. A natural dwarf only 8 feet tall with horizontal spreading branches to 12 feet. Its foliage is dark green and blooms with a profuse showing of white fragrant blooms in the spring. The fruit is small, ¼” diameter, dark red and persists through winter.
For more information, contact the Christian County Cooperative Extension Service, 270-886-6328.