For many years I foolishly dismissed crab apples as a useful tree for the garden. My practical head was more concerned with the delights of eating apples, but this year I’ve been photographing a wonderful garden on a regular basis (West Green House in Hampshire) which has them in abundance. Regular exposure has allowed their charms to creep up on me by stealth.
Crab apples are a relatively small tree of around 4 to 8 metres in height at maturity, so have the size which fits easily into almost any garden. They provide a dappled shade, thus they’re suitable for adding height to mixed borders without shading out their companions.
They also add multi-seasonal interest to the garden, providing blossom (from white to deepest pink), fruit and autumnal colour. If a purple or bronze-leaved variety is chosen (such as Malus x moerlandsii ‘Profusion’), then the season of interest is extended into summer.
Bees enjoy the blossom, plus birds and small mammals enjoy their shelter and fruits, which makes them a good choice for wildlife gardening too.
Late autumn is a good time to plant them. They’re a robust tree, not that fussy about conditions, though waterlogged soils or deep shade should be avoided.
5 popular crab apples for your garden
These are the trees I’ve seen at close quarters, so I can vouch for their beauty.
Malus ‘Evereste’ forms a compact, tidy tree with deep red buds opening into clouds of white blossom in the spring. Fruits can be a mixture of orange/pinky red through to red depending on how much sunshine the ripening fruit receives.
Malus ‘Harry Baker’ is the one for you if apple scab is present in your neighbourhood, as it has good resistance. It has large pink flowers and red fruit, the latter are pink-fleshed and it is considered a great variety for making crab-apple jelly.
Malus ‘John Downie’ is a vigorous small tree, though it can be susceptible to scab. Its distinctive ovoid orange/red fruit are its crowning glory. White spring blossom opens from pinkish buds and is prolific. Some of these trees at West Green House arch themselves over a lake and a large caged folly.
Malus x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ has striking oval yellow fruits which last well into winter. It‘s one of the more sprawling trees, has pinkish blossom and fruits prolifically. This is the first crab apple which alerted me to their charms when I saw it in a friend’s garden. It looked good all year and its habit allowed the perennials and grasses planted below to thrive.
Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ has an upright habit and is another prolific bearer of blossoms and fruit. These are small, but a beautiful bright red which makes them stand out prominently on the tree. The Yeo Valley Organic Garden in Somerset has a wonderful pleached hedge of theses, which demonstrates how well crab apples respond to training.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and blogger from Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst at her allotment.