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

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Danny Lipford

Danny Lipford


Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio,, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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