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

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

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.

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