Crab Apples

Crab Apples: How to Grow Crab Apples

Since I’ve decided to become a full-time mom and stay at home with my kids, gardening has been one of my favorite hobbies. However, I wanted to grow fruits that I can use to make preserves and jellies that my kids enjoy.

The challenge was to find something that’s easy to grow and needs easy care. I searched online and found about crab apples. If you’re also looking to grow food at home, this might be a good option.

Crab Apples

Crab apple, also spelled crabapple, is a small tree of the variety Malus which is under the Rosaceae family. This is native to Asian regions, with some species that have spread in other parts of the world. Crab apples are commonly grown as decorative fruit or spring flower display.

Aside from their beautiful growth habit, they also bear fruits that are relatively smaller than regular apples. The fruit has a distinct lemony taste than other typical fruits, making them an ideal ingredient for cider, preserves, and jellies.

Facts About Crab Apples

Origin

The main origin of crab apples includes Asia, North America, and Europe. Some of the most common Asian crab apples are Chinese flowering crab, Japanese flowering crabapple, and Siberian crabapple.

American species of crab apples include prairie crabapple, Oregon crabapple, and sweet crab. There are so many attractive options to choose from, I’m growing the Japanese flowering crabapple because of its beautiful flowers with white and pink colors.

Growing Conditions

A crab apple tree is a great addition to any garden not just because it looks wonderful, but also because it’s easy to grow. It requires occasional pruning and little maintenance throughout its maturity.

Watering is mostly needed during their early years. Once they mature, crab apples become less needy of attention and drought tolerant. Through all the seasons, these trees have different looks particularly their color.

During Spring, crab apples bloom in different colors such as white, pink, burgundy, cream, orange, and red. The fragrant flowers look really beautiful just like cherry blossoms.

In summer, the flowers become small fruits that exactly look like apples. Colors vary depending on the species, but they are mostly in the shades of yellow, pink, green, red, and orange.

Come winter, the leaves begin to fall off and what remains is the fruit on bare stems and branches. However, the tree still looks stunning even without the leaves.

Plant Description

Tree Height

Crab apples are spinier and stiffer compared to common apple trees. They are broad-leafed which creates a fascinating fall foliage. Crab apple trees usually grow between 8 to 40 feet depending on the varieties.

These are perfect for any garden due to the massive maturity size that can fit your planting situation. They are also versatile when it comes to the growing conditions where they are planted.

Leaves

The green foliage of crab apple trees perfectly match their colorful flowers and fruits during spring and summer seasons. When fall comes, the oval-shaped leaves begin to turn red and orange.

The vibrant shades of crab apple leaves looks dramatically beautiful. However, they begin to fall off during winter season and the scattered pieces on the ground looks simply amazing.

Flowers

The best time to enjoy a view of your crab apple tree is during spring because the flowers start to bloom in this season. Each variety of crabapple has a distinct flower which makes them even more attractive.

The blooms come into life in different hues as if they are some kind of magic. My crab apple tree blooms in carmine color, and once they become fruit, they look like cherries.

Fruit Color, Size, and Shape

The fruits of crabapple trees are basically the smaller version of apples. Most of them are sour to taste, red and yellow in color, and only measures a quarter inch.

If you want to enjoy abundant crab apples for your jellies, you need to make sure there are plenty of blooms in the spring. You can do this by adding organic compost to the soil or by feeding your trees with slow release fertilizer every year.

At first, I was curious if crab apples are toxic or edible. To my surprise, I’ve read that they are actually edible and safe to eat. The flavor and sourness depend on the variety of crabapple tree you are growing.

The shape of crab apples are typically oval and they are quite petite, just about an inch long for most varieties. They can hang onto the branches through winter until they start to fall off and get eaten by birds.

Crab Apple Tree Varieties

Fruiting Crab Apples

Malus Brandywine

Malus Brandywine is a compact variety of crab apple that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The red and pink double-petaled flowers bloom in mid-spring. It has yellow fruits that usually make a mess once they fall off the ground.

Malus White Angel

This is a tall specie of crab apple trees that can grow up to 30 feet. It has white flowers with pastel pink buds. In summer, the quarter inch red fruits are seen dangling it its branches until winter.

Malus x Zumi Golden Hornet

Among the varieties of fruiting crab apples, this is one of the most common and widely grown. The flowers bloom into elegant white floral leaves with pink buds during late spring. The fruits are vibrant golden yellow with oval shape.

Malus Coralburst

If you want to grow an ornamental tree in your small garden, the Malus Coralburst might be the perfect option. It can grow up to 10 feet and bear lovely pink flowers during mid-spring. The fruits are rust-orange in color and appear during summer.

Malus x Robusta Red Sentinel

The Royal Horticultural Society has given the Malus Red Sentinel a Garden Merit award for its winning features. It has white flowers with pink buds that bloom in late spring. The fruits look like cherries with glossy exterior and bright red color.

Malus Camelot

The Malus Camelot can grow up to 10 feet once maturity size is reached. It has white flowers with vibrant pink buds. The fruit is dark purple and turns to green before it finally becomes orange during fall season.

Malus Charlottae

The pastel pink blooms of Malus Charlottae make it one of the most attractive varieties of crab apple. The fruit has green and yellow colors and measures about a quarter inch in size. This variety is vulnerable to disease and likes full-sun exposure.

Malus x Moerlandssi Profusion

This variety of crab apple can grow up to 30 feet with rounded form. The fruit looks like a berry, small in size and deep red in color. In spring, pink flowers bloom beautifully while the leaves turn in rainbow colors through every season.

Non-Fruiting Crab Apples

Malus Ioensis Prince Georges

This crab apple tree can grow up to 15 feet high, a bit taller than other varieties. However, this is a non-bearing tree so you don’t need to worry about any mushy mess on the ground. It has cream to pale pink flowers that bloom with about 60 petals.

How to Grow Crab Apples

How to Grow Crab Apples

Location

You may have already seen some crab apples in orchards, but these are now common in many households. Originally, they are grown in regions in Asia, Europe, and North America with warm and cool climate.

Crab apples can be grown in gardens, backyards, and any location with cold and warm weather conditions. Whether it’s a place with cold winter or warm summer, these trees can thrive in these areas.

Soil

The ideal soil condition for crabapple trees is moderately fertile and well-draining. You can add an organic compost to your soil so that your crab apple will get the essential nutrients when you plant them.

The organic compost also improves the draining ability of the soil, especially when mixed with some sand. To keep it fertile, top-dress the soil with organic mulch to ensure healthy growth for your crab apple.

Adding nutrient-dense compost to the soil helps provide nutrients to your plants along with regular watering. A sufficient supply of nutrients to your tree is most important during flowering and fruiting stages.

Light

Crabapple trees grow well in full sun. If you’re planning to add this to your garden or orchard, make sure to plant the tree where it’s exposed to sunlight. Without adequate sunlight, your crabapple will not bear abundant flowers.

Moreover, crab apple trees in shade will produce less fruits while the branches don’t grow in well-rounded form. Before you plant your crab apple, find an area where direct sunlight is available throughout the day.

While some varieties can thrive in partially shaded area, they still require full sun for some hours per day. If not, they will stretch their branches out in order to get some sunlight. The result will be unsightly since the branches tend to grow unequally.

Water

A young crab apple tree needs thorough and regular watering. The goal is to maintain the moisture of the soil in order to provide steady supply of nutrients to the roots. However, you need to use well-draining soil to prevent root rot.

You can water your crabapple once or twice every week. However, check the soil’s condition particularly the moisture level before giving your tree a drink. Stick to a regular watering schedule for best results.

Once crab apple trees are deep-rooted, they become drought tolerant. That means you don’t need to regularly water them. Mature trees satisfy their moisture needs through rain.

Temperature

Crab apple trees like cold winters and warm summers. However, hot climates impede their growth which results to less abundant fruits and flowers. It’s warm enough in my area during summer and cold enough during winter, perfect for my crab apples.

Typically, these fruit-bearing trees thrive well in climates of England, Canada, United States, and some regions in Europe. Throughout the seasons, these trees have a colorful transformations, from vibrant green leaves to red orange foliage during winter and fall.

Fertilizer

Since you are advised to add organic compost to feed your crabapple tree with all the essential nutrients, fertilizer might not be necessary. Top-dressing your tree with organic mulch every year is enough to provide nutrients for your crabapple.

However, if you want to fertilize your crab apple trees, you can do it before the grow season begins, which is in the spring. On the other hand, you can also add fertilizer to your trees in the fall when the soil temperature remains below freezing point.

In my case, I used loamy soil so I fertilize my crab apples with up to 5lbs nitrogen for every 1,000sq ft. This is also done annually to make sure the trees are supplied with adequate nutrients.

Pruning

Unlike other decorative trees in the garden, crab apple trees are so easy to care and maintain. When it comes to pruning, they don’t need any special kind of trimming. If you see some suckers, you simply remove them by cutting away damaged or dead branches.

I love to trim my crab apples in the backyard to maintain their appeal. Sometimes, I encounter dead branches during fall and remove them to avoid the unsightly form.

Health Benefits of Crab Apples

Health Benefits of Crab Apples

Just like regular apples, crab apples also contain a wide range of health benefits that are specifically good for the heart and gut. However, you need to eat more of these cherry-like fruits in order to absorb same nutrients as the regular apple.

For example, a regular apple measures approximately 8 centimetres or 3 inches in size while a crabapple is only about 2 to 5 centimetres or 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter. Therefore, you need to munch at least 4 crab apples in order to get the same health benefits as with a medium-sized apple.

In one crabapple, the nutrients it contains include 8 calories, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 percent Daily Value of vitamin C, 1 percent Daily Value of potassium, and 1 percent Daily Value of copper.

Eating one crabapple gives you 4 percent Daily Value of fiber which is essential for heart health and proper digestion. It also provides 2 percent Daily Value of vitamin C for stronger immunity and healthy skin.

The antioxidants and anticancer compounds of crab apples also help in fighting off free radicals that are responsible in many chronic diseases and aging problems. It’s important to eat crab apples without peeling off the skin to get the polyphenols and fiber.

The healthy plant chemicals in crab apples can significantly improve your overall health. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to plant crab apples in my garden. While snacking on these tiny fruits with your family, you get all the good stuff in your body.

Uses of Crab Apples

Medicinal Uses

Crab apples are laxative and astringent in nature. The crushed pulp is effective in treating small wounds and inflammations. This natural healing fruit can also be eaten in order to treat constipation.

In addition, the bark particularly from the root is soporific, refrigerant, and anthelmintic. You can use it in treating bilious and intermittent fevers. The leaves of crab apple trees contain about 2.4 percent florin or an antibacterial substance.

Basically, florin is effective in inhibiting the growth of gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. These are only some of the most common medicinal uses of crabapple.

Sometimes, I use crab apple crushed pulp to heal my children’s wounds after playing outside. It’s safe and natural, making it an effective home remedy with the health benefits of crab apples.

Culinary Uses

The edible parts of crabapple are the leaves, the fruit including and skin, and the seed which is extracted to produce oil. Crab apples can be eaten raw or cooked such as preserves, jellies, and salads.

Before harvesting the fruits, make sure they are frosted in order to enjoy more flavor. Some crab apples are sour, but there are varieties that are sweet to taste. Regardless, these tiny fruits are rich in pectin which is really good for your gut.

The pectin is helpful when making jam, it allows other fruit ingredients to set. When it comes to protecting your body from radiation, pectin can also help with this. Eating raw crab apples is truly one of the best ways to improve your health.

Crab apple seeds are extracted to create an edible oil. However, this is only advisable if you’re using the fruits to make cider or other similar purposes. The seeds are simply extracted from the pulp.

For me, the best part is making tea out of the leaves. Not only it gives health benefits to my body, but crabapple tea also helps me relax and soothe my migraine.


Now, there are a lot of recipes you can make using crab apples as the main ingredient. Raw crab apples can be unpleasant to eat, so they are usually made into jellies and jams to bring out the sweetness of their flavor.

You can mix other fruits with crab apples to make jams. However, you can also use it as the only ingredient to make crabapple jelly and apple-flavoured preserves.

To make a crab apple jelly, there are only 3 ingredients you need: crab apples, water, and sugar. Make sure to wash the fruits thoroughly before putting them into a cooking pan. Add water to the pan until it covers the crab apples.

Boil the crab apples and then lower the heat to simmer the fruits. Stir it slowly until the crab apples become mushy. Allow the jelly to cool before you put it into small jars or jelly bags.

Allow the crabapple jelly to strain and set overnight. Avoid squeezing the jelly bag because it will only make your crabapple jelly cloudy. On the next day, return the strained juice to a cooking pan and add sugar.

Mix the juice with sugar and boil it while stirring in order to dissolve the sugar. The mixture must be boiled quickly to a setting point. To know if it has reached the setting point, drop some amount onto a plate. There should be a wrinkle on top when it’s cool.

Pour the crab apple jelly into sterile containers and seal them immediately. You can serve your jelly with meat or any food that you want to partner it with. I’ve made crabapple jelly for my kids and they love the sweetness and apple flavor.

Summary

Decorative trees may seem difficult to grow at home, especially for beginners. However, these woody plants are actually easy to care and doesn’t require much attention unlike other species in most gardens.

Crab apples are ideal for those who want to pursue gardening, but doesn’t have enough knowledge on how to start. There’s a wide range of Malus varieties to choose from, all of which adds ornamental value to any backyard.

The fragrance of the white and pink flowers of crab apple trees can make your garden even more pleasant. No matter the season, these trees look truly amazing with changing colors during spring, summer, winter, and fall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are crab apples completely edible?


One of the most common misconceptions about crab apples is that they are toxic. In reality, crab apples are edible and safe to eat. However, you should not eat the seeds and core just like regular apples.

The seeds contain some cyanogenic glycoside which converts into cyanide when metabolized. Cyanide is the toxic substance that makes apples a threat to eat. But as long as you don’t eat the seeds or the core, crab apples are very much safe to eat.

Scroll to Top