Crab apple trees

by James Alexander-Sinclair

This time of year the crab apples are at their most impressive: the trees are laden with little yellow or red apples that hang on until long after the last leaves have fallen.

Crab applesThis time of year the crab apples are at their most impressive: the trees are laden with little yellow or red apples that hang on until long after the last leaves have fallen. These are really useful smallish trees, not just for their colourful fruit but also for flowers and autumn leaf colour. They are pretty useless as a food crop, except that they do make the most delicious crab apple jelly that goes well with lamb, pork and poultry. However, they are really useful as a pollinator for many apples and, once we have had a few frosts which tend to soften the fruit, they will provide a good food source for birds.

There are five varieties in particular to which I would like to draw your attention. Ladies and gentlemen:

The first is Malus 'John Downie': one of the most reliable and popular small trees available. Lots and lots of pink buds open into a cloud of white flowers in May. Rosy-cheeked little apples in autumn. Self-fertile.

Next up is Malus 'Red Sentinel': the reddest of red apples clinging in tight clusters to the branches. Self-fertile.

And Malus 'Golden Hornet': the yellow equivalent of 'Red Sentinel'. A really heavy crop of small golden fruit packed together as tightly as a box of bats. Self-fertile.

Malus 'Red Jade': a weeping variety which is good for the smaller garden. However, one of the problems about weeping trees is that pretty well nothing will grow underneath the canopy: especially grass.

Last is Malus tschonoskii: this is a very upright growing tree that is excellent for avenues or where space is tight - front gardens for example. Same pattern as the others: white flowers, reddish crabs (though not as many) and really excellent autumn leaves.

Apparently, crab apple wood was used to make set squares and rulers. And, curiously, it is claimed that you should throw crab apple pips into the fire while saying the name of your true love. If they explode (presumably this is quite a minor explosion rather than anything likely to damage anything) then that love is true.

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Gardeners' World Web User 27/11/2009 at 10:10

I've had a Weeping Japanese Crab Apple for so long it cheered up; the branches grow sideways instead of down giving it a lovely shape. Every year marauding squirrels strip off bunches of red apple supporting twigs, split open the small apples and eat the pips, discarding everything else. Few apples left now. Grrrr.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/04/2010 at 07:26

I would like to add to the five Malus listed. We bought one about 4/5 years ago called Everest and it has been a wonderful investment because of it's different stages throughout the year. first it is festooned with lovely white blossom, then good sized red/orange fruit covered with a bloom like a grape and finally the leaves provide a lovely display in the Autumn. On top of all that it attracts many Blackbirds which love the fruit, so all in all a tree worth having

Gardeners' World Web User 26/04/2010 at 08:06

Brian H: A welcome addition to the list. Everest is indeed a fine tree.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/07/2010 at 21:06

I have just planted a weeping Malus Royal Beauty I would like it to be about 1ft taller (7ft)will the tree naturally grow or would tying up or pruning the leader incoreage side shoots

Gardeners' World Web User 26/07/2010 at 07:16

Scotchy: You are being very strict! luckily M.Royal Beauty is one of the very smallest Crabs. Yes, pruning the leader will encourage side shoots.

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