Images added by Joey Williamson, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University, 06/13. Prepared by Debbie Shaughnessy, HGIC Information Specialist, and Bob Polomski, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University. (New 05/99. Images added 11/06.)
The crabapple (Malus species) is a beautiful spring-flowering tree that is valued for its flowers, fruit and variations in growth habit and size. The hardiness depends upon the species, but all should be adapted to all of South Carolina except the coastal region from Charleston south to Savannah, Georgia.
Crabapple in spring
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database/Herman, D.E. et al.1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA-NRCS ND State ConservationCommittee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Admin., Bismarck, ND.
There is a wide variety of tree sizes and forms of crabapples. The height and width of the crown or canopy can range from 10 to 25 feet. Most are trees of various forms, but some are mounded and shrubby.
The growth rate is slow to moderate (about 8 to 10 inches per year), depending on the species.
The ornamental flowering crabapple is valued mainly for its flowers and fruit. The blooms, which come out before or with the leaves in the spring, range from white to red. Some crabapples bloom heavily only every other year.
Malus 'Donald Wyman' (Crabapple) flower.
Joey Williamson, ©2011 HGIC, Clemson Extension
The fruit, which appear in summer, vary in size, but are less than 2 inches in diameter (fruit larger than 2 inches are considered apples). The color of the fruit may be red, yellow or green. While all crabapples are edible, fruit of many ornamental crabapples are not palatable without first cooking and sweetening the fruit. Some crabapples have outstanding fall color, while others do not - it depends on the cultivar. The unusual branching of most crabapples creates a strong silhouette in winter when the leaves are absent.
The crabapple can be used in a home landscape as a specimen or patio tree. Because of its small stature, it is a good selection as a street tree under utility lines. Large-fruited types, however, such as 'Callaway,' can create maintenance problems with rotting fruits falling to the ground.
The tree is adapted to most sites, but should be placed in full sun for best flowers and fruit. The soil should be moist and acid (5.0 to 6.5 pH) and well-drained. While it requires medium fertility, over-fertilization may make it more susceptible to fire blight.
Pruning is recommended for opening the center of the plant to air and light, removing unwanted branches, shaping the tree and removing suckers. Do this in late winter or early spring before bud-break.
Crabapples may be susceptible to fire blight, powdery mildew, rust, apple scab, several canker diseases, leaf defoliators, borers, scale and aphids. Resistance to fire blight, powdery mildew, rust and apple scab varies, depending on the cultivar of the tree and where it is grown. It is important to use a cultivar that has been proven to be resistant in the area where the tree is to be planted. Disease resistance means that infections are few, do not progress very far or do not occur. For more information on disease and insect problems on crabapples, refer to HGIC 2000, Apple & Crabapple Diseases; EIIS/FV-9 Apple and Crabapple Insects and HGIC 2208, Fire Blight of Fruit Trees.
Over 800 cultivars are known, with more being developed each year. The following list represents some that are disease-resistant to varying degrees:
Chemical control of diseases and insects on large trees is usually not feasible since adequate coverage of the foliage with a pesticide cannot be achieved.
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.