How to Grow Crabapple Trees

Blooms on a crabapple tree
Crabapple tree in full bloom

My crabapple tree seems never to have a dull moment. In early spring, just when I can’t take the grayness anymore, it pops out with deep magenta flower buds. As the buds open the flowers turn white, creating a multicolored rainbow as the foliage begins to sprout amid the blossoms. During the summer, the tree is lush and green and full of singing birds, with its dappled shade dancing on the walkway.

By late summer, the tiny crabapples come out in shades of red and orange, and the leaves begin to show their fall colors. And even when the leaves are gone and the last apples have fallen, the tree holds a nice shape for the winter – it’s my favorite for photographing snow and winter birds.

Crabapple trees offer almost everything you’d want in an ornamental tree:

  • Gorgeous spring blooms, usually in April or May.
  • Small apples on crabapple tree
    Fall fruits on a crabapple tree
  • Fall fruits in shades of orange, red, and purple.
  • Colorful fall foliage.
  • Moderate lawn-friendly size with good foliage.
  • Variety of pleasing shapes that require very little pruning.
  • Drought-tolerant.
  • Tough and adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions, including cold winters and heavy soil.

About Crabapple Trees

There are too many varieties of crabapple to count, with shapes ranging from upright to spreading to weeping. Some are grown for their edible fruit, but many ornamental varieties – known as flowering crabapples – have been developed more for landscape use. Flowers are generally in the white-pink-red range, with both green and red foliage.

Crabapple fruit on branches
These striking, long-lasting fruits are gorgeous on snowy bare branches

Consider the following factors when choosing a crabapple tree:

  • Fruit Persistence: Some varieties of crabapple keep their fruits well into the winter, while others drop their apples early and can make a mess. In general ornamental Asian varieties are cultivated for long-lasting, colorful fruits.
  • Disease Resistance: Look for varieties that are resistant to apple scab, fireblight, mildew, and Japanese beetles.
  • Size and Shape: Sizes range from 8 to 40 feet, and shapes vary widely as well.

About Apples

Crabapples and regular apples both fall under the botanical genus Malus. They’re really only distinguished by fruit size. If the mature fruits are over 2” in diameter, they’re called apples while trees with fruits smaller than that are called crabapples. All are edible, but ornamental varieties will probably taste pretty sour.

Crabapple Growing Conditions

  • Hardiness: Crabapples are hardy to zone 4.
  • Light: Crabapples do best in full sun.
  • Soil: Crabapples are adaptable; but rich, well-draining, slightly acidic soil is ideal.
  • Water: Crabapples need regular water (especially the first year), but do better in dry rather than wet soil, so avoid wet or low lying planting sites.
Crabapple buds opening in spring
Crabapple buds opening in spring

Crabapple Planting and Growing Tips

  • Planting Time: You can plant crabapples most any time the soil is workable. Bare-root trees need to be planted in early spring, but balled and burlapped or container grown trees can be planted in spring, summer, or fall.
  • Planting Depth: Many flowering crabapples are grafted onto tougher rootstock, so it’s important to plant them at the same depth they were in the pot – no deeper – so that the roots will establish properly.
  • Water: Make sure your crabapple gets 1” of water per week for the first year. Once the tree is established, it shouldn’t need supplemental irrigation except in extreme drought. Most crabapples will not die in drought, but they will focus on survival at the expense of next year’s flowers and fruits.
  • Crabapple tree in bloom
    Crabapple tree in bloom
  • Fertilizing: If planted in good soil, crabapples don’t usually need extra fertilizer. Feed only if you notice stunted growth, pale yellow leaves, or poor blooms or fruits.
  • Pruning: Crabapples really don’t need pruning, other than an occasional shape-up to remove watersprouts or dead or rubbing branches. If your tree is susceptible to fungal diseases, you may want to prune to increase air circulation. Don’t prune after June, or next year’s flowers might be diminished.
  • Disease: Apple scab is a common fungal disease that affects crabapple trees during humid summer weather. It starts with dark, velvety or oily-looking spots on the leaves, which eventually die and fall off. Fungicides can help some, but your best bet is to look for trees that are resistant to apple scab.

Further Information

12 COMMENTS

  1. Our crab apple tree produced very wheel this year, and our harvest was excellent !
    However it is now fall, and our tree is not bouncing back. She looks terrible! Kind of like a female dogg after her litter. Pretty scruffy and branches terribly bent over …… And not recovering. It there something we can do to inspire a healthy recovery (bring her branches back up) over the fall and winter? Wondering if we need to fall fertilize ? Prune? ??????

    Thank for any feedback you can provide ! 🙂

    Tracey

  2. I planted a crabapple tree about 5+ years ago (said on the pot it came in was a crabapple)It has never had any flowers. About 3 years ago I did shape it up. It seems to be doing well; full sun, not to wet, not to dry. Just never had one flower on it. What can I do to help it get it’s flowers? I have not fertilizer it in a few years. Should I and what kind would be the best fertilizer for a crabapple tree. Been waiting for the blooms but, they just don’t come. Starting to think maybe this is not a crabapple but, the leaves look like they are.

  3. Please where do I find the answers to the questions people ask you regarding their crab apple trees not blooming and looking not ‘well’ What does one do to bring them back We have several out front and they are not doing well (past 3 to 5 years) Publish your qualified response so others can read it PLEASE thank you muchly Jane Moore

  4. Tracey Says: September 9th, 2012 at 9:32 am
    Our crab apple tree produced very wheel this year, and our harvest was excellent !
    However it is now fall, and our tree is not bouncing back. She looks terrible! Pretty scruffy and branches terribly bent over NOR RECOVERING. IS there something we can do to inspire a healthy recovery (bring her branches back up) over the fall and winter? Wondering if we need to fall fertilize ? Prune? ?????? Thank for any feedback you can provide

  5. Well, I “now” know why it has not bloomed. Just found out it’s half flowering plum tree and half “apple” tree. Yes, I said 1/2 plum, 1/2 apple & not crabapple. I seen this year finally full size reg apples and little plums. pink flowers on one side (now have little plums) the other side was white flowers(now have apples) Bought it at HomeDepot years ago. Must had been grafted with 2 different trees and then labled wrong. “NO JOKE”, that’s what I got. What do I do now? Husband said I should cut out the flowering plum side but, I say we should not and leave it alone because the tree is really big now, after all we had it at least 5-6 yrs and it just now is starting to do something. But, what a big surprise. I thought something was not right with tree and was wondering if it was grafted with 2 different trees.

  6. please help me I planted a red and white crabapple on love I had two strokes two yr ago they have not bloomed the last two yr iam sure they miss me ten yrs old now…. I worry day and night I don’t think I canlive now I miss theira picture beauty so much I hurt fore them I don’t evepn have a picture with my girls if trans planted would they bloom high on mountain god bless you all sleep goog tonight ok and always eat evenif you don’t want IS THEIR ANYTHING FOR TREES PLEASE HELP MY GIRLS

  7. We have a crab apple tree which was here when we moved in 8 years ago. Two years ago we pruned it back as it was about 20 ft. high. It hasn’t grown any fruit since we did this severe pruning, do you think it will ever fruit again?
    Thank you,
    Tia
    Appreciative.

  8. Crabapple trees have a juvenile period which can last 10 years. Where the plant suppresses flowers and fruit so that the tree can become established, put out strong roots and grow properly. After 10 years your tree should flower and fruit if it is healthy.

  9. My crab apple tree was planted in March and has looked very healthy. But now the leaves are turning a orange and yellow colour. Is this normal ?

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here