Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Crab Apple

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
jaschult@illinois.edu

Crab Apple

Malus spp.

One of my favorite things about spring is flowering trees. I remember back in junior high during my long school bus ride each day, we were always on the lookout for the best "pretty trees" in the area. I didn't know much about what kind of trees they were, just that I liked them. I know now that many of the trees I admired then and still do today are crab apples.

To me, nothing says spring like a huge mass of flowers, and crab apples fulfill this desire in a big way. Cultivars may have single or double flowers, in colors ranging from white to red. Flowers are only the beginning of diversity among crab apples–there is a wide range for just about every measurable trait. Foliage, fruit and height are three major traits which vary widely among cultivars. This is really an advantage for homeowners in choosing the right cultivar for a particular location.

One trait which should be given priority is disease resistance. Apples in general, particularly older cultivars, can be extremely susceptible to various diseases. Apple scab is a disease that can take a gorgeous tree full of blooms in the spring and reduce it to a leafless eyesore by midsummer. Apple scab does not necessarily kill the tree. Plants can live and develop apple scab year after year, they just look terrible for much of the summer.

The bad news is that apple scab is expensive to treat, timing of treatment is critical, and it must be treated every year. The good news is there are many newer cultivars available that are resistant to apple scab and other major diseases of apple. With this in mind, doing some homework before purchasing a crab apple will reward you with a tree that stays beautiful long after the spring blooms fade.

View Article Archive >>