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Selecting Crabapples for Spring Flowers

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NORTHFIELD – Flowering crabapples in full bloom are one of the major signs that spring has arrived, and that summer is not too far behind. 


photo by Bonnie Donahue
A popular flowering landscape tree, crabapples come in a number of varieties featuring different canopy shapes, sizes, blossom colors and bloom time.

Crabapples (Malus spp.) are great trees for tough, urban conditions. They can tolerate salty soil and occasional drought. Their small size makes some varieties appropriate for planting under overhead utility lines. These long-lasting bloomers also are important sources of food for pollinators, like bees, flies and wasps.

There are countless varieties of crabapples, all with different canopy shapes, sizes, blossom colors and bloom time. These common, flowering trees can be susceptible to a wide variety of pests and diseases, including scab, fire blight, aphids, mildew and cedar-apple rust. If you have noticed these in your area, you may want to select species that were developed with some resistance.

Harvest Gold ‘Hargozam’ (Malus x ‘Hargozam’) is a unique variety that has golden fruit and white flowers. It grows about 22 feet tall and 18 feet wide with a columnar to vase form. This variety blooms slightly later than other white-flowered varieties. It has shown some disease resistance to scab and fire blight resistance and good resistance to cedar-apple rust and mildew.

photo by Bonnie Donahue The delicate and beautiful blooms of crabapples herald the arrival of spring and warmer weather.

Japanese Flowering Crabapple (Malus floribunda) is a popular cultivar that has been around for many years, with a broad, dense form. This crabapple has bright pink buds that contrast against white flowers, giving the crabapple in bloom a two-toned look in the spring. It has shown good scab resistance, has yellow-red fruit and grows 20 feet high by 25 to 30 feet wide.

The “Adams” crabapple (Malus ‘Adams’) has buds and flowers in deep shades of pink with foliage that is green, tinted with red. “Adams” grows 20 feet tall and wide with a round form. Fruit is red and lasts into the winter.

Since there are so many varieties, when shopping for crabapples, there are a few parameters that you should keep in mind before visiting your local nursery or greenhouse. First, consider the mature size (height and width) of the tree. Next, think about the color of bloom or fruit that you’d like to have. This will help narrow down the options. 

Finally, consider the form of the tree. Some crabapples have more upright or vase shapes with branches that reach toward the sky, while others grow more horizontally with branches that stretch to the side. Additionally, there are crabapples that grow with more rounded forms. Some also have densely branched canopies, while others are more open.

For more information on crabapple cultivars, check out the Cornell University Woody Plants Database (woodyplants.cals.cornell.edu) or books at your local library.

Here’s to a spring filled with flowers.

Bonnie Kirn Donahue lives in Northfield and is an Extension Master Gardener for the University of Vermont. 

Bonnie Kirm Donahue

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