Malus domestica is the name given to the sweet, crisp apples we all know and love and are commonly used for eating, cooking, and baking. But there’s another type of Malus variety: the wild crabapple tree.
With fruit no larger than two inches in diameter, crabapple trees are often known for their year-long beauty, smaller stature, hardiness, and ease of maintenance. Unfortunately, while you can certainly eat crabapples, which are incredibly sour, squirrels and birds are often the only takers.
Because of that year-long beauty we mentioned above, crabapple trees are often called “the jewels of the landscape.” Beautiful, vibrant leaves begin to sprout in the spring, soon highlighted by tiny white, pink, or red flowers that are just as fragrant as attractive.
As the flowers wither away, the tiny crabapple fruits grow and add additional personality to an already beautiful tree. As the fall approaches, their leaves transform into rich autumnal colors, and in the winter, the remaining fruit complements branches covered in fresh snow.
Crabapple trees should be planted in a full sun location and prefer well-drained soils.
Crabapples need very little pruning beyond removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Trunk suckers should also be removed for optimal canopy growth. If you prune your trees after the end of June, this will significantly decrease the overall number of flowers and fruit the tree will produce the following year. Therefore, prune minimally and early in the season.
Newly planted crabapple trees should not be fertilized until the following spring, but they do require more frequent watering to help develop their root systems. Mulching around the tree will help to retain the necessary moisture evenly.
Established crabapples are often drought-tolerant. However, if there is less than an inch of rain in a seven-day period, watering once a week is encouraged in the summer. A slow-release fertilizer is necessary at the start of the growing season.
Like many other Malus domestica, crabapple trees are susceptible to disease and insects. Fireblight, rust, apple scab, and powdery mildew are a few common diseases of crabapples, while mites, aphids, Japanese beetles, and appletree borers are common insects. While many of these issues are not easily curable or treated, what’s key is to keep your tree as healthy as possible with regular nutrients and water to withstand any stress.
Additionally, some varieties of crabapple trees have been cultivated to be disease and insect-resistant. Check the tree tag at your local garden center or nursery for more information.
It’s also worth noting, as with many fruit-producing trees, that rotting or open fruit is an invitation for yellow jackets and other stinging wasps attracted to the sweet smell and taste. If birds or squirrels are not maintaining the fruit crop that falls to the ground, it’s recommended to routinely clean around the tree’s base to avoid unwanted pests.
For more information on caring for crabapple trees, give your local SavATree branch a call today!