Tips Tree Planting: Growing Beautiful Crabapple Trees

Who can resist the allure of a crabapple tree in full bloom? The delicate petals, the intoxicating scent, and the buzz of bees—it’s a captivating sight. If you’re looking to add a touch of beauty to your yard, consider growing crabapple trees. Not only do they enhance the aesthetic appeal of any space, but they also serve multiple purposes. From attracting wildlife to making flavorful cider and jelly, these trees are a must-have for any garden enthusiast.

What is a crabapple?

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Crabapple trees belong to the Malus species and produce fruit that are less than 2 inches in diameter. However, their variety extends far beyond size. They come in different forms and heights, from wide spreading to vase-shaped, weeping to rounded dwarfs. The profusion of blooms varies in color, from white to pink, orange, and deep purplish red. Additionally, the fruit range from dessert quality to wildlife and ornamental uses, offering a diverse range of options to choose from.

Choosing the right crabapple tree

When selecting a crabapple tree, it’s essential to consider your specific needs and preferences. Do you want an ornamental tree or one that attracts birds? Are you interested in edible fruit or using them for cider? Space considerations, pollination requirements, and desired tree shape all play a role in the decision-making process. With hundreds, if not thousands, of crabapple varieties available, the possibilities are endless. For a comprehensive guide to crabapples, explore Father John Fiala’s classic, Flowering Crabapples. Here is a diverse sampling of some popular classics and newer introductions:

  • ‘Dolgo’: A large spreading tree with 2″ white flowers, excellent for pollination. It produces red fruit that is perfect for making jelly, pickling, or coloring cider. This variety is extremely hardy.
  • ‘Brandywine’: A rounded tree that reaches 20 feet in height. It blooms late and has red buds that open into highly fragrant double pink blossoms. The tree bears 1″ yellow fruit.
  • ‘Donald Wyman’: This medium-sized tree with a wide-spreading habit features pink buds that open into large white flowers. The small red fruit remains on the tree throughout winter.
  • ‘Royalty’: A medium-sized ornamental tree with deep red leaves, red flowers, and red fruit. It serves as excellent forage for wildlife.
  • ‘Guinevere’: A rounded, 8 to 10-foot tree with red buds that open to mauve and white blooms. It has dark purplish-green foliage and small red fruit favored by birds.
  • ‘Sargent’: A wide, hedge-like tree with fragrant white flowers that bloom from pink buds. It produces dark reddish-purple fruit that birds love.
  • ‘Chestnut’: A tall, natural semi-weeper with white blossoms. It sets 2″ very sweet and tart fruit, perfect for cider, sauce, or enjoying fresh.
  • ‘Red Jade’: A weeping tree that can grow up to 12 feet in height and 20 feet in width. It has red buds that open to white flowers and produces green or red fruit loved by birds. This variety forms a beautiful canopy that you can even set a table and chairs under as it matures.

Planting your crabapple tree

Planting a crabapple tree follows similar steps to planting an apple tree. It’s crucial to choose an ideal site that fulfills the tree’s optimal conditions. Crabapple trees thrive in full sun, so aim for a location that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Good air drainage and well-drained, deep soil are also essential. Apples tolerate most soils, except for very dry ones or areas with standing water. It’s best to avoid locations with shallow bedrock as it inhibits root anchorage and leads to quick soil drying.

The soil should be rich in organic matter with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. If necessary, balance the pH by adding lime or aragonite. If you have heavy clay soil, lighten it by creating holes around the planting site and filling them with compost mixed with topsoil. This addition of organic matter helps retain moisture and improve drainage.

Plant your crabapple tree in early spring, preferably late April or early May. Dig a hole twice as wide and half a foot deeper than the root system, ensuring it stretches around 3 feet wide. Loosen the soil at the bottom and around the sides of the hole. Add 2 gallons of compost, a quart of rock phosphate, and 2 cups of the trace mineral-rich Azomite to the topsoil. Avoid using manure or high nitrogen sources, as rapid growth can lead to winter damage. Before planting, remove any broken roots or branches, and prune the branches to establish a good structure and shape. Place the tree in the hole, spreading the roots in different directions if it’s bare-root. Slowly fill in the hole, using the best soil at the bottom and lightly tamping to remove air pockets. The tree should be planted at the same depth as it was growing in the nursery or pot. After filling the hole, create a water-retaining berm around the tree and water thoroughly. Provide 1 to 2 inches of water per week during the tree’s first year.

Caring for your crabapple tree

Proper care is crucial for the healthy growth and development of your crabapple tree. Remember that approximately 90% of a tree’s feeder roots lie in the top six inches of soil, so competition from sod and weeds is a real concern. Recent research also highlights the importance of high levels of mineralization for tree health. To promote mineralization and eliminate competition, a system of applying amendments along with mulching is highly effective.

For initial plantings, apply 10 pounds each of Azomite and colloidal rock phosphate within a 6-foot diameter circle around the tree. To encourage microbial growth, sprinkle a diluted mixture of water and 1 cup of sugar or molasses over the nutrients. Do not turn in these nutrients, but cover them with a layer of cardboard, newspaper, or landscape fabric. Then, add a 3 to 4-inch layer of bark mulch, wood chips, composted leaves, straw, grass clippings, or hay. This mulch kills the grass, promotes earthworm activity, and moderates soil temperature while retaining moisture. These amendments should provide sufficient nourishment for the tree for 3 to 4 years. To feed a mulched tree in subsequent years, pull back any remaining mulch, sprinkle compost, alfalfa meal, and trace nutrients as needed, and then replace the mulch. All feeding should be done in early spring to allow the tree to harden off its new growth later in the season.

Pest control for your crabapple tree

In New England, all apple and crabapple trees are highly susceptible to the roundheaded apple tree borer (Saperda candida). These borers lay eggs in the shady, moist areas of the lower trunk of young trees. The larvae tunnel into the tree, hollowing it out and weakening it to the point of death. To prevent borer damage, staple hardware cloth 1 to 2 feet high around the trunk, ensuring it fits snugly at the top and is buried 2 to 3 inches at the base. This screen can remain in place year-round, but remember to loosen it as the tree grows. It also provides protection against mice. If you detect borers in your tree, you can either dig them out with a coat hanger wire or carve them out with a jack knife.

Now that you have the know-how, it’s time to create your very own crabapple orchard. For more expert advice and information on tree planting, visit Tips Tree Planting. Let the beauty and elegance of crabapple trees grace your garden and delight both you and the local wildlife.


  • The Garden Primer, Barbara Damrosch, Workman Publishers, 1988.
  • Fedco Trees Planting Guide, 2001.
  • The Apple Grower, Michael Phillips, Chelsea Green Publications, 1998.
  • Fedco Trees 2002 catalog, PO Box 520, Waterville ME 04903-0502.
  • The Backyard Orchardist, Stella Otto, Ottographics, 1993.
  • St. Lawrence Nursery Planting Guide, 2001.
  • St. Lawrence Nursery catalog, 325 State Highway #345, Potsdam NY 13676.
  • Aragonite is “a source of calcium that is very low in magnesium,” and Azomite is a mineral mined in Utah containing over 67 beneficial minerals for plants and animals. – From the Fedco Trees 2002 Catalog.

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