Ornamental crabapple trees make top-notch landscape trees
It is important to remember that no single crabapple species or cultivar is suited for all sites and designs despite current crabapple breeding and selection research programs. The eighteen cultivars in the UMass Memorial Garden consistently grow well and appealingly here in western MA.
In the orchard setting, cultivation practices are rigorously kept up, and these are simple enough for you to follow as well for healthy crabapple trees.
3 simple tricks to healthy crabapple trees
- Trickle irrigation
delivers water to trees in the crabapple planting.
If you want to learn more about watering your landscape, check out this post.
- Environmentally friendly pest-management spray schedules
for both diseases and pests (Japanese beetles and aphids) are maintained.
Want to learn more about pesticides and their proper usage, check out this post.
- Regular pruning
removes unwanted branches and sucker growth from seed-grown rootstock to keep the trees beautiful, healthy, and vigorous.
Check out our Complete Guide to Pruning and Cutting to learn more about properly pruning your crabapple tree
There are 18 cultivars (cultivated varieties) in the Tribute Garden at UMass’ Cold Spring Orchard for Research and Education. Each of these possesses special assets that show off nicely in autumn and winter. Here is a selection of a half-dozen of my favorites in this garden, which highlight these autumn features:
- ‘Red Baron’ (‘Red Barron’) is about 20′ by 12′ (slightly columnar) in its prime, but is, when mature, as wide as tall. This is one of the best crabapples for fall leaf color. The fruit is glossy dark red and about ½” across. It is slightly susceptible to rust and fireblight; vulnerability to scab is uncertain.
- ‘Snowdrift’, a vigorous grower, has a heavily textured rounded pattern with glossy, dark green foliage. It stands, at maturity, roughly 15′ to 20′ by 15′ to 20′. In addition, this crabapple needs little pruning to reach this shape and maintain it. The fruit is orange-red and about 3/8″ in diameter. Unfortunately, this striking tree shows a slight to moderate weakness to scab, and most tests show severe susceptibility to fireblight.
- ‘Prairiefire’ is upright when young with an irregular, untidy, and open pattern. Its pattern becomes rounded as the tree ages; mature size is about 20′ high and 20′ wide. Tree bark is a stunning glossy dark red-brown with many prominent lenticels. Fruit is a deep red-purple, 3/8 to ½” in diameter, somewhat cone-shaped, and persistent. Birds do not seem to like them.
- ‘Sargent’ is named for Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927), the first director of the Arnold Arboretum (Boston, MA) and a well-known plant explorer. This crabapple is a good choice for modern landscapes on small pieces of land because of its mounded shape, dense branching, low height of 6 to 8′ and a spread one-half to twice its height. Fruit is bright red, about 1/3 to ½” in diameter, and a favorite of birds. This cultivar apparently fares well in southern growing zones down to 7b (temperatures usually do not fall below 0°F).
- ‘Donald Wyman’, named after the late Dr. Donald Wyman, Horticulturist at the Arnold Arboretum, is essentially one of the best ornamental crabapples. Here is another cultivar that grows well in the southern U.S. down to growing zone 7. Aside from a slight susceptibility to scab and powdery mildew, it is problem free. Fruit is glossy bright red, ½” in diameter and persistent into the winter. The biggest problem is having space into which to plant this tree because it possesses a large spreading form – 20′ high and 25′ wide at maturity.
- ‘Louisa’ was selected and introduced by Polly Hill, a Martha’s Vineyard (MA) plants-woman, and named for her daughter. This crabapple is a short – 15′ tall and 15′ wide – weeper. It is susceptible to scab, but fares excellently against other pests and insects. The fruit persists into the winter and is yellow-colored shading to amber with a slight rose blush. Magnificent!