The different varieties of flowering crabapple trees are among Mother Nature's most striking plants. Delicate spring buds open in eye-catching white, pink or red floral displays. Soft green summer leaves and gray sculpted bark create a backdrop for the crabapples. Emerging in lime green, they develop a scarlet blush complementing the autumn foliage. Winter reveals a crabapple tree's intriguing structure. Tolerant of most soils, low-maintenance crabapples provide four-season garden appeal.
Growing wild in the American woodlands from Florida west to Texas and as far north as New Jersey, southern crabapple (Malus angustifolia) is a small, spreading tree seldom exceeding 30 feet in height. Southern crabapple fills the landscape with clouds of fragrant pink blossoms between March and May, blooming earlier in its southern range.
Reddish green leaves follow the flowers, with yellow-green apples appearing in late summer. Trees in locations with mild winters may keep some leaves all year. Birds and small mammals feed on the fruit.
Plant southern crabapple in part shade and moist, well-drained soil high in lime. Although they are native to the American south, says the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, high humidity reduces this tree's disease resistance. Space them so they have adequate air circulation.
American crabapple (Malus coronaria), found from central New York to Georgia and west to Arkansas, is smaller than southern crabapple. Standing between 20 and 30 feet, it has branches covered in May or June with pink-tinged white flowers. Double-flowered varieties of American crabapples put on an even more impressive show with bigger, more vivid blooms.
These are wild woodland trees. From September to November, they produce green-and-red fruit. Its high pectin makes it good for preserves. Fall foliage is scarlet. Plant trees in part shade and moist soil. They tolerate soils of any type and pH. Highly susceptible to rust, trees may drop their leaves in very wet springs or if planted near juniper, an alternate rust host.
Less common than southern and Americana crabapples, prairie crabapple grows primarily in the upper Midwest's eastern Mississippi Valley. Like other members of the rose family, prairie crabapples sometimes develop thorns. Trees can reach up to 35 feet. Their white or pink flowers appear in May or June, before the dark green leaves. Double-flowered varieties are available.
White down covers the leaves' undersides and new twigs. Autumn foliage is rich crimson. Like that of southern crabapples, this tree's September and October fruit feeds birds and small mammals and makes good preserves and cider. For best performance, plant prairie crabapple in full sun and moist, well-drained loam with a neutral pH. Remove root suckers to prevent single trees from forming thickets.