Grab a Crab!

Our wet winter has provided us with a glorious spring and of the current show is courtesy of flowering crab apple trees.

Blooming from April to June, in the past crab apples have gotten a bad rap as a undesirable tree for the homeowner because of the mess that they make once the fruit ripened and dropped. With the introduction of new varieties and a trick this is no longer the case and they’ve become an outstanding choice for landscape planting. As trees go, crab apples stay relatively small and because of this they are suited for our smaller city yards. Adaptable to varying soil conditions and requiring only light pruning and once established, the trees thrive with little care and are drought tolerant once established which also makes them a great choice. Most of the newer varieties have been bred to have persistent fruit meaning that the fruit stays on the tree through late winter for when it serves as food for the birds or shrivels and drops to disappear into the grass, and some of the newer varieties are sterile meaning they produce no fruit at all.

If you like white, then Spring Snow is a good choice for you. It is a sterile variety that bears no fruit but has beautiful pure white, fragrant blossoms in the spring. Spring Snows are a showpiece tree for your landscape and one of my favorites.

A couple of the best that bloom in the pink and red hues are Profusion, Royal Raindrops, and Indian Magic. Profusion has rose-red blooms with dark purple fruit. Royal Raindrops is a newer variety that has purple blossoms, is sprout free, and has virtually non-existant fruit. Indian Magic is a showy tree with red buds that bloom as large, deep pink flowers. The bright red fruit on this tree is small and is persistent so if you like to attract birds in the winter, this one would be a great choice for your yard. Another favorite is Marilee. This tree is notable because of its huge blooms which begin in a rosy tone but end in white.

If you think of jelly when you think of crab apples, then Dolgo is one crab apple that does well in this area and will provide fruit for culinary uses. It is a very hardy variety, thriving in Zone 2, and blooms with large numbers of white flowers which are followed by bright red fruit.

If you love some of the blooms and foliage on the fruit producing varieties but don’t want to deal with the fruit itself, here’s my trick for you. There is a product called Florel, which is ethelyene gas in a liquid form, that can be used to eliminate the fruit once the tree has bloomed. Spray this product on the tree on a windless evening to avoid drift, and it causes the small, immature fruit to ripen immediately, abort, and drop so that you don’t have the mess of larger, ripe fruit to deal with later on in the season.

We are having a beautiful spring this year so get out and enjoy the colors. While you’re at it, thank a flowering crab apple for its part in the display or better yet, plant one of your own so that you can enjoy the same show in your yard next spring.