Ornamental crabapple trees make top-notch landscape trees with colorful autumn displays that begin with warm sunny days and cold nights. Here in southwest VA, a plant hardiness zone 7, fruit displays can outshine leaf displays and last into December and January.
Knowledgeable choices provide specimen plants for residential, municipal, and commercial landscapes. Smaller flowering crabapple trees are valuable in shrub borders for beauty as well as food for wildlife. Fruit become a prime source of winter bird food after freezing and thawing several times.
The Iowa State University Entomology Horticulture and Home Pest News It’s for the Birds!, written by Richard Jauron, Department of Horticulture, states that “Crabapple varieties that are good sources of food for birds include ‘Snowdrift,’ ‘Indian Magic,’ ‘Profusion,’ ‘Adirondack,’ ‘Harvest Gold,’ ‘Prairiefire,’ and ‘Ormiston Roy.’ Birds will not eat the fruit of a few crabapple varieties, including ‘Adams,’ ‘Donald Wyman,’ and ‘Red Jewel.’
The many varieties of crabapple trees allow them either to become the backbone or to highlight any autumn-into-winter landscape design. Some outstanding decorative characteristics that these trees exhibit include:
- Various forms that range from weeping to horizontal, vase shaped to round, to columnar;
- Fruit that vary in size from 1/4″ to 2″ in diameter, color that may be red, orange, or golden, and ripening that extends for many weeks.
Cultural characteristics, aside from needing full sun, cover a wide range of variables that allow ease of cultivation. These include:
- Tolerating a wide range of soil conditions from loam to clay;
- Favoring a slightly acid pH in the range of 5.0 to 6.5;
- Hardiness from plant zones 3 to 7; and
- Improvement of disease resistance in modern cultivars; however, susecptability to diseases and pests is not eliminated. Good care and sanitation are still necessary, especially with autumn leaf and fruit drop, to keep infections under control.
If you want to know more about ornamental crabapple identification and using these trees in landscape designs, especially residential settings, I heartily recommend the following:
- Fiala, John L. Flowering Crabapples: The Genus Malus (Hardcover), Timber Press, Incorporated; 1st edition (January 1, 2003).
- Wyman, Donald 1990. Trees for American gardens: The definitive guide to identification and cultivation. Macmillan, New York, NY, 3rd editon revised and expanded, first impression edition (1990).