Crab apples are great garden trees. They look good all year round, with pretty blossom in spring, followed by small, ornamental apples, red or yellow in colour, and the autumn foliage also puts on a good show. The tiny apple fruits are edible, although not in their raw state, but make good jellies and sauces. Crab apple trees are also quite compact in size, which makes them one of the best trees for small gardens. They are hard-working trees: attractive, productive and good for wildlife.
Where to plant crab apples
Crab apples are hardy trees and tolerant of a range of soils, but will grow best in moist, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.
In this short clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don shows you how to plant a crab apple tree, offering advice on what size hole to dig to encourage the roots to spread out, how deep to plant it, and how to stake it. He also recommends two choice varieties – yellow-fruited Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’ and orange Malus ‘Evereste’ – which he’s adding to his Cottage Garden:
How to plant crab apples
Crab apples are best planted as bare-root trees in autumn and winter.
How to care for crab apples
For the first few years, make sure your newly planted crab apple tree is well watered in dry periods. Always give a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost in spring and prune in late winter to remove any dead, dying, diseased or crossing branches.
How to propagate crab apples
It’s possible to propagate crab apple trees by taking softwood cuttings in late spring or early summer. Start crab apple cuttings after the flowers have fallen. More commonly crab apples are propagated by grafting.
Growing crab apples – problem solving
Like larger apple trees, crab apples can be affected by woolly aphid, fruit tree red spider mite, caterpillars and diseases such as apple scab, apple canker, powdery mildews, fireblight and honey fungus.
Crab apple varieties to try
- Malus ‘Evereste’ – red buds open to reveal white flowers in spring, followed by reddish, orange-yellow fruits in autumn. This colourful crab apple has a good conical shape.
- Malus ‘Winter Gold’ – with white spring flowers and yellow fruit; the dark green leaves have good autumn colouring.
- Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ – a highly ornamental crab apple with pink-white flowers in late spring, followed by glossy, red crab apples stay on the branches longer than usual, well into winter.
- Malus ‘Pink Glow’ – this crab apple produces single, white flowers in spring, followed by larger-than-average dark pink fruits in summer.
- Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’ – this crab apple has pink buds, followed by white flowers, then very attractive, bright yellow, slightly oval-shaped fruits, that stay on the branches well into winter.
- Malus ‘Wisley Crab’ – the leaves emerge bronze-red, turning dark green as the season progresses. Delicately scented, reddish-purple flowers appear in spring followed by dark red fruits that are larger than average.