The crabapple tree (Malus species) produces an abundance of flowers from April to May. Numerous varieties offer fragrant flowers that quickly fill an entire yard with fragrance. Following flowering fruit develop. Widely used in pies and jellies, the berries also offer fall color and early winter food to songbirds. Currently, around a 1,000 crabapple varieties exist, but only 100 are widely planted throughout the U.S., according to the Colorado State University.
Prior to 100 B.C., the only apple trees that existed in Europe and Britain were the crabapple trees. The Romans cultivated apples from around the world, according to the Purdue University. During their travels, they introduced the apple to Eurupe. The British wild crabapple tree is believed to be the parent tree of all modern day cultivated apple trees, as the wild crabapple tree provided the stock for grafting apple trees that had been brought into the region by the Romans.
Height sizes on the crabapple range from 10 ft. to 25 ft. depending on the varieties. All crabapple trees offer slow growth. Most will only attain 8 in. to 10 in. per year. Both single and multistemmed varieties are available. Many singular stemmed varieties require regular pruning to keep them trained to one trunk.
Each spring the crabapple tree displays a profusion of blossoms. Most varieties produce flowers before the foliage, but a few produce both similutaniously. Buds appear darker in color then the actual flowers. Flower colors appear in shades of pink, red or white. Flowers offer single, semi-double and double petals. The blooming period for each tree runs approximately two weeks.
Fruit and Fall Color
Crabapple tree fruit measures between 1/4 in. up to 2 in. in diameter. Fruit colors are orange, yellow, red and purple. A few varieties drop their fruit once it is ripe but most crabapple varieties retain their fruit into the winter. Many crabapple trees offer abundant fall colors of red, orange and yellow. Once the leaves drop, they offer wintertime interest with their reddish brown, green, yellow or tan bark colors interspaced with the few remaining crabapples that cling to the tree.
The tree requires full sunlight for maximum fruit and flower production.Excessive shading can cause the tree to develop powdery mildew of the leaves. It prefers well draining soil with abundant humus content. A pH between 5.0 to 6.5 is ideal for the trees growth. Once established, the crabapple tree only requires 15 to 20 inches of annual rain per year, according to Colorado State University.
Many varieties and cultivars of crabapple trees are bud grafted on root stock. This means that the top growth of the tree is different from the tree's root system, and the two are joined at a bud union near the soil level to form a complete tree. Because the root system is different then the top growth any suckers that arise from the root growth are true to that apple tree and not the top crabapple. Sucker growth on bud grafted crab trees must be promptly removed to prevent the root stock from overtaking the top growth.
Fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) is a common occurrence in crabapple trees in regions that suffer ongoing outbreaks of the bacteria. The disease appears when the temperature hovers around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with ongoing rain and humidity. Leaves turn brown and appear scorched by fire. The stems turn black on the tree and cankers develop. Prompt removal of contaminated wood is required to slow the disease spread.