Crabapples offer more than pretty spring blossom. They’re a welcome sight in the autumn garden with their colourful leaves and decorative fruits, writes JANE EDMANSON
Smaller than ordinary apples, but with a taste that packs a punch, crabapples have been part of my life since childhood. In our earliest garden, there was a beautiful crabapple that I could climb and sit in for hours, crunching on its fruit. Its parentage was not known but everyone in the district was familiar with its delicious flavour. My mother made crabapple jelly, with a colour that was hard to beat.
In a courtyard garden, ‘crabs’ grew as espaliers on the walls. They were selected for fruit colour as much as their spring flowers. The attractive fruit hung on the branches all winter, as long as birds didn’t spot them. It was my job to run outside to scare the parrots and cockatoos that swooped down in autumn. They were Malus ‘John Downie’ and M. ‘Golden Hornet’, tried and true crabapples that grew well in the heat of Mildura.
The first tree I planted in my front garden was a Betchel’s crab (M. ioensis ‘Plena’), which excels for its ease of growth. It produces pink and white spring buds and flowers, and needs no work to maintain its lovely shape. It has good autumn foliage colour, too, and being on the western side of my garden, gives shade in summer and lets sunlight through in winter.
Crabapples are, in my opinion, much better value, faster and easier to grow than ornamental cherries.
planting & care
Select a position in full sun, or semi-shade in very hot climates. Trees are best planted dormant and bare-rooted in winter. Crabapples suit all soil types, although sandy soils benefit from bulking up with compost. Plants don’t require staking, except in very windy positions. During dry summers, give your tree a deep watering from time to time. Feed with citrus and fruit tree fertiliser every few months, concentrating on the root zone. If the tree becomes straggly or too large, prune immediately after flowering.
Your main ‘pest’ will be competition from possums and birds for the apples. If you don’t want to share, cover trees with bird netting, with a mesh under 5mm.