By Jennifer Olvera, Garden Guides Contributor
As a whole, crabapples,a genus of deciduous trees or shrubs that grow to be 6 to 50 feet tall,are among the most ornamental fruiting trees around with 2-inch, bitter fruits and broad, flat and lobed leaves. Crabapples come in weeping, columnar, spreading, vase-shaped and pyramid-shaped varieties. Their main appeal is the clustered, 5-petaled pink, white or red blossoms that they produce in early spring before the young greenery appears.
Crabapples have a reputation for being disease-prone; scab, mildew and fire blight are among the potential problems. They also are susceptible to pests like the Japanese beetle. However, many varieties that are resistant to these problems now exist.
Flowering crabapples, while adaptable, thrive in rich, loamy soil (a combination of clay, silt and sand), so it's best to adjust the planting site to reflect this. Select a well-drained area with moist, slightly acidic soil and full sun (at least 8 to 2 hours of direct sun daily).
Choosing a Variety
Pick crabapple varieties that are resistant to or tolerant of disease.
Think about the potential size of the crabapple tree, when it flowers and if it flowers annually (preferred) or biannually. Remember that flowers can be single, semi-double and double and can range in color from white to red. Double flowers have a longer display time but are lacking in fruit display.
Crabapples prefer moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil and must be planted in full sun.
Flowering crabapples may be planted year-round; balled and burlapped and containerized trees should be planted any time after spring frosts end, through fall and until about 3 weeks before the ground freezes. Dig a saucer-shaped hole twice as wide as the diameter of the root ball of balled and burlapped trees; the center height of the hole should be exactly the height of the root ball. Remove all strings holding the burlap before planting. Crabapples in containers should be removed from pots before planting; slice into the root mass, 1 inch deep, from top to bottom, 3 times before planting. Back-fill the hole with an equal mixture of soil and organic matter, such as peat moss or compost, taking care not to back-fill around the root ball. Use water to settle the soil around the roots when the hole is more than half full. Finish filling the hole, and water again. Place a 2-inch layer of mulch around the base of the tree.
Fragrant, colorful flowers, eye-catching, vibrant fruit, unusual bark colors and attractive leaves benchmark crabapple trees.
Certain crabapple varieties grow upright; others are rounded, wide-spreading or have a shrubby appearance, offering an array of landscaping possibilities.
* When planted in average soil mixed with organic matter, crabapples don't need additional fertilizing during the first year, unless growth is less than 5 inches or leaves are small or pale green in color.
* A young tree needs at least 1 inch of water weekly. Afterwards, little watering is needed, except during droughts. During a drought, crabapples should be watered deeply every 2 weeks.
* Crabapples don't require much pruning, but watersprouts, suckers and dead, damaged or diseased branches do need to be removed. When pruning is required, it should be done in early spring.
* Many new varieties of crabapple are disease resistant or tolerant.