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Crab apple 'Winter Gold'

Best crab apple trees

We list our pick of the best crab apples to grow and eat.

Related to culinary apples, crab apples are small to medium-sized trees, bearing masses of spring blossom followed by small, apple-like fruits in August and September. They’re hugely popular in gardens as they have lots of ornamental value. They’re traditionally used as pollination partners for apple trees and, because they flower over a longer period, crab apples can act as a pollination partner for several culinary apple varieties.

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Crab apples are well loved by wildlife, too, from the bees that pollinate their blossom in spring, to the birds and small mammals that eat their fruit in autumn. Crab apple flowers can be single (wildlife-friendly) or double. Their fruits vary in size, from 10mm to 5cm across, and in colour from yellow, orange and red to purple. Many crab apples bear edible fruit that can be used in a number of ways but is most traditionally made into a crab apple jelly.

Our native crab apple, Malus sylvestris, is rarely seen in garden displays. Instead, most are cultivars of some of the other wild species that grow in parts of Europe, Asia and North America.

Many gardeners are unaware of the variety of crab apple trees available, with a choice of blossom and fruit colour. Browse our list of the best crab apples to grow, below.

Advice on buying crab apple trees

  • Always choose a healthy specimen with no signs of damage, yellowing leaves or pest infestations
  • Make sure you buy the right crab apple for you and your garden – pay attention to its growing requirements, eventual size and type of fruit, especially if you want to cook with them
  • Most carb apples are available as bare-root trees in autumn, so availability may be low at other times of the year, or you can pre-order for autumn delivery. Pot-grown trees are more convenient and available for longer, but you may have less choice of variety of you choose this option

Where to buy crab apples


1

Chinese crab apple, Malus hupehensis

Malus hupehensis
Best crab apples – Malus hupehensis

One of the most prolific crab apples, Malus hupehensis is a compact tree with a rounded shape and upright branches. In spring, the branches are covered in pure white single-flowered blossom, which opens from pink buds. The blossom is followed in summer by small, dark red crab apples, which remain on the tree throughout winter.

  • H x S: 5m x 4m

Buy Malus hupehensis from Ornamental Trees


2

Malus ‘Butterball’

Best crab apples - <em>Malus</em> 'Butterball'. Thompson & Morgan
Best crab apples – Malus ‘Butterball’. Thompson & Morgan

This yellow-fruited crab apple bears pink-flushed, white, single blossom in spring, followed by attractive yellow fruits, sometimes with a hint of red. The fruits are perfect for using to make crab apple jelly in autumn, but can also be left on the tree to provide interest and food for wildlife throughout winter.

  • H x S: 4m x 4m

Buy Malus ‘Butterball’ from Thompson & Morgan


3

Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’

Malus 'Comtesse de Paris'. John Richmond/Alamy
Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’. John Richmond/Alamy

Another yellow-fruited crab apple, ‘Comtesse de Paris’ is a dense, rounded crab apple tree. It flowers after the leaves have emerged, which provide a beautiful dark green foil for the white blossom. The fruits are glossy, lemon yellow and slightly pointed, and they form in autumn, lasting through to mid-winter.

  • H x S: 4m x 3m

Buy Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’ from Pippin Trees


4

Malus ‘Jelly King’

Best crab apples - <em>Malus</em> 'Jelly King'
Best crab apples – Malus ‘Jelly King’. Getty Images

If you’re looking for the perfect crab apple to make jelly with, look no further. ‘Jelly King’ is named for its large orange-red fruits, which are perfect for jelly and jam making. The crab apples are ornamental in their own right, and its white spring blossom appears alongside its bright green foliage. Malus ‘Jelly King’ is a compact tree with a rounded shape, and is one of the few crab apples that can be grown in a pot. It’s a good choice for growing as a pollination partner to culinary apples.

  • H x S: 4m x 4m

Buy Malus ‘Jelly King’ from Pippin Trees


5

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’

Best crab apple trees - Malus 'Red Sentinel'
Best crab apples – Malus ‘Red Sentinel’

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ is a small crab apple, bearing pink-blushed, fragrant flowers in spring, followed by deep red, cherry sized fruit, often used in Christmas decorations as well as in jellies. It has extra ornamental value in autumn, when its mid-green leaves turn yellow before falling, leaving the fruits glistening on bare branches.

  • H x S: 5m x 4m

Buy Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ from Pippin Trees


6

Malus ‘John Downie’

Best crab apples - <em>Malus</em> 'John Downie'. Getty Images
Best crab apples – Malus ‘John Downie’. Getty Images

One of the most popular crab apples, ‘John Downie’ bears gorgeous, single white flowers in spring, which give way to orange-red, plum-shaped fruits in autumn, which are complemented by intense autumn foliage. The fruits are perfect for making jellies.

  • H x S: 5m x 3m

Buy Malus ‘John Downie’ from Primrose


7

Malus ‘Sun Rival’

Malus 'Sun Rival'. Getty Images
Best crab apples – Malus ‘Sun Rival’. Getty Images

This compact, weeping crab apple tree has gorgeous, pink-tinged white blossom opening from red buds. The fruits are bright red and contrast beautifully with yellowing autumn leaves, and persist on bare branches through winter. The crab apples are a bit small for culinary use but are well loved by wildlife. Suitable for pots.

  • H x S: 5m x 3m

Buy Malus ‘Sun Rival’ from Primrose


8

Malus ‘Gorgeous’

Malus 'Gorgeous'. McPhoto/Rolf Mueller/Alamy
Malus ‘Gorgeous’. McPhoto/Rolf Mueller/Alamy

Almost star-shaped flowers develop into glossy, orange-red fruits, which contrast with yellow autumn foliage and persist on bare branches after the leaves have fallen. The fruits make an excellent jelly.

  • H x S: 5m x 4m

Buy Malus ‘Gorgeous’ from Primrose


9

Malus ‘Evereste’

Best crab apples - Malus 'Evereste'
Best crab apples – Malus ‘Evereste’

Compact tree, suitable for pots, with unusually large, pink-blushed white flowers. Crab apple fruits are orange-red with shades of yellow, and autumn foliage is yellow-bronze. The fruits are perfect for making jelly but can also be left on the tree for ornamental and wildlife value.

  • H x S: 5m x 4m

Buy Malus ‘Evereste’ from Primrose


10

Malus toringo

Malus toringo. Getty Images
Best crab apples – Malus toringo. Getty Images

Purple leaves fade to green and then turn shades of red, orange and yellow in autumn. Flowers are deep pink and fruits are small and dark red-purple. Although small, the fruits are suitable for making jellies. The variety ‘Scarlett’ has a slightly weeping habit, adding it its appeal.

  • H x S: 4m x 4m
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Buy Malus toringo ‘Scarlet’ from Primrose