PICK OF THE VERY BEST: CRAB AP­PLES

Boldly coloured fruits, lots of blos­som, and wildlife ap­peal

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Gardening -

THE other day I drove past a wild crab ap­ple in full fruit. Left to grow when the trim­mer passed through, it stood up above a coun­try hedgerow, its small, green­ish-yel­low fruits shin­ing in the au­tumn sun. This is our na­tive wild crab ap­ple,

Malus sylvestris. With its clouds of white, bee-friendly spring flow­ers – fol­lowed by a weighty crop of fruits much favoured by black­birds, thrushes, field­fares and red­wings – it’s an un­de­ni­ably lovely tree.

The many cul­ti­vated gar­den crab ap­ples, of­ten de­rived from species na­tive to China or Ja­pan, or south­ern Europe, take us a big step for­ward from this wild, unim­proved form. They bloom more pro­fusely (one is ac­tu­ally called ‘Pro­fu­sion’), pro­duc­ing April and May flow­ers not only in white but also in shades of pink or even red, some­times with con­trast­ing dark buds.

The blos­som is fol­lowed later by fruits in ev­ery colour from pur­ple through red and or­ange to yel­low. These of­ten re­main un­touched by birds through the au­tumn, pro­vid­ing a colour­ful, lon­glast­ing dis­play well into the win­ter – a wel­come fea­ture to add to the spring flo­ral feast. Once the birds turn their at­ten­tion to the crab ap­ples, how­ever, they can strip a tree in a day or two.

An­other great thing about crab ap­ples is that they form trees of a small, gar­den-friendly size – they can even be grown in con­tain­ers. ‘Ever­este’ is an es­pe­cially good con­tainer va­ri­ety, but any crab grafted on to a dwarf­ing root­stock should do well in a large con­tainer (with the usual pro­viso that it isn’t al­lowed to dry out in sum­mer).

In the gar­den, they are tol­er­ant of a wide va­ri­ety of soils that are not parched

in sum­mer or wa­ter­logged in win­ter. It’s true that older va­ri­eties tend to suf­fer from mildew and scab (the same dis­eases that trou­ble culi­nary ap­ples). But more re­cent in­tro­duc­tions of­ten have built-in dis­ease re­sis­tance; even those with­out can make very ef­fec­tive gar­den spec­i­mens. As long as you don’t in­tend to eat the fruit, you can use your favourite fungi­cide on crab ap­ples. How­ever, many of the more re­cently in­tro­duced va­ri­eties sim­ply won’t need it, as they have good re­sis­tance to the dis­eases that at­tack older va­ri­eties.

All in all, crab ap­ples present quite an ar­ray of at­trac­tions. And be­cause they only make small trees, there is space to grow one in just about ev­ery gar­den in the coun­try. All you need do is de­cide where you’re go­ing to put yours.

Crab ap­ples of­fer beau­ti­ful spring blos­som, and fruits that will pro­vide a valu­able food source for black­birds and other feath­ered gar­den vis­i­tors

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