Create Your Garden

Malus (Crab Apple)

Crab apple trees captivate with their profuse spring blossoms, vibrant autumn fruits, and year-round architectural interest

Crab apple, Crabapple, Flowering Crab apple, Malus, Flowering Crabapple,

Crab apple or Crabapple trees not only enhance the aesthetic value of landscapes but also contribute to ecological diversity by supporting pollinators and providing food for wildlife. With a vast array of cultivars available, there is a crab apple to suit almost any garden design or purpose, making them a versatile and valuable addition to the landscape.

Crab Apple – An In-Depth Look

Crab apple trees (Malus spp.) are renowned for their stunning springtime blooms and decorative fruits that grace landscapes well into winter. Their lifespan varies widely among species and conditions but generally ranges from 30 to 70 years, providing decades of beauty and shade.

Native: Crabapples are native to Kazakhstan and North America. Belonging to the Rosaceae family, which includes roses, peaches, cherries, apricots, or strawberries, the genus Malus comprises around 55 species and about 1,000 crabapple varieties, with roughly 100 frequently chosen for planting due to their ornamental value and adaptability.

Growth Habit: Crabapple trees are small to medium-sized deciduous trees characterized by their rugged, gnarly branches that create picturesque silhouettes against the winter sky. These trees exhibit a variety of growth habits, from upright and columnar to weeping forms, allowing them to fit into diverse landscape designs. Their branching patterns create dense canopies that offer shade during the summer months.

Size: Crabapples typically grow to heights of 10-25 feet (3-7.5 meters) with a similar spread, depending on the variety. They exhibit a moderate growth rate and can reach their mature height and spread within 10 to 20 years. Their relatively small size makes them an excellent choice for residential gardens.

Flowers: The blossoms of crabapple trees are their most celebrated feature, appearing in clusters in spring. They range in color from white to deep pink, enveloping the tree in a fragrant cloud and making it a focal point in any garden. These flowers not only add visual interest but also emit a delightful fragrance, attracting pollinators to the garden. The timing and duration of flowering varies among regions and cultivars.

Fruits: Following the flowers, crabapples produce small apples, ¼ to 2 inches in diameter, ranging in hues from yellow to deep red. Although often too tart for direct consumption, these fruits can be used in jellies and preserves. They can persist on the tree through winter, offering visual interest and a food source for wildlife.

Crab apple, Crabapple, Flowering Crab apple, Malus, Flowering Crabapple,

Paved walkway through flowering crabapple trees in an outdoor park in spring in Virginia.

Foliage: The leaves of crab apple trees are generally oval with serrated edges, turning from a glossy green in summer to vibrant shades of yellow, orange, or red in fall, contributing to the tree’s seasonal appeal.

Hardiness: Crab apples are hardy trees, adaptable to a wide range of climates. Most varieties are suited for USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8, making them a resilient choice for many gardeners.

Uses: Beyond their ornamental appeal, crab apples serve as pollinators for apple trees, enhancing fruit production. They are also used in making jellies and providing habitat and food for wildlife.

Wildlife: Crab apple trees are a boon for wildlife, offering nectar-rich blossoms in spring for bees and butterflies and colorful fruits in autumn and winter that serve as a crucial food source for birds and mammals. Crabapples are a magnet for a variety of bird species, such as the American Robin, Baltimore Oriole, Blue Jay, Cedar Waxwing, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, and many more. With their abundant fruits and inviting foliage, crabapples provide vital nourishment and habitat for a diverse array of avian visitors.

Toxicity: Crabapples have cyanide in all parts except the fruit flesh. Yet, cyanide toxicity in pets is rare, requiring ingestion of chewed seeds or stressed leaves for cyanide release.

Deer and Rabbit: While deer and rabbits may browse the foliage and young shoots, crab apples are relatively resistant to damage compared to other ornamental plants.

Drought: Once established, crab apple trees exhibit good drought tolerance, making them suitable for various landscape conditions, including urban environments.

Invasiveness: While some species can be aggressive self-seeders, most cultivated crab apple varieties do not pose a significant risk of invasiveness in the garden.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 8
Heat Zones 1 - 9
Plant Type Trees
Plant Family Rosaceae
Genus Malus - Crab Apple
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Height 10' - 25'
(3m - 7.6m)
Spread 10' - 25'
(3m - 7.6m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Loam, Sand, Clay
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral, Acid
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Fruit & Berries, Fragrant, Cut Flowers
Tolerance Drought
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders, Small Gardens
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage
Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ (Betchel’s Crabapple)
Malus ‘Prairifire’ (Crabapple)
Malus coronaria var. dasycalyx ‘Charlottae’ (American Crabapple)

Why Should I Grow a Crab Apple Tree?

Spectacular Spring Blossoms: Crab apple trees produce a profuse display of flowers in shades of white, cream, pink, magenta, red, burgundy, red-orange, and orange-coral, enhancing garden aesthetics and signaling the arrival of spring.

Attracts Pollinators: The blooms are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators, supporting local biodiversity.

Ornamental Fruits: Bright, colorful fruits add visual interest in autumn and winter and can be used in jellies, pies, and other recipes.

Wildlife Habitat: The fruits provide a crucial food source for birds and wildlife during the colder months.

Disease Resistance: Many varieties offer strong resistance to common diseases, making them a robust choice for gardens.

Compact Size: Their manageable size makes crab apple trees perfect for small gardens or as a focal point in larger landscapes.

Pollination Partner: They can enhance fruit production in apple trees by serving as pollinators.

Year-Round Interest: In addition to flowers and fruits, crab apple trees often feature attractive bark and foliage that changes color in the fall, offering visual interest throughout the year.

Low Maintenance: Once established, crab apple trees require minimal care, making them a hassle-free addition to any garden.

Versatility: Available in a variety of sizes and shapes, there’s a crab apple tree to suit every landscape design and garden size.

Malus ioensis ‘Prince Georges’ (Crabapple)
Malus × moerlandsii ‘Profusion’ (Crabapple)
Malus ‘White Angel’ (Crabapple)

Garden Design With a Crab Apple Tree

Incorporating a crab apple tree into your garden design can significantly enhance the landscape’s aesthetic appeal and ecological value. Here are some tips for designing with a crab apple tree:

Focal Point: Use a crab apple tree as a stunning focal point in your garden. Plant it where it can be appreciated from indoor viewpoints or garden seating areas, especially during its peak bloom period in spring.

Mixed Borders: Integrate a crab apple tree into mixed borders alongside perennials, shrubs, and other small trees. Its spring blossoms and autumn fruits add vertical interest and seasonal color changes.

Wildlife Garden: Include a crab apple tree in a wildlife-friendly garden. Its flowers attract pollinators, while the fruits provide food for birds and small mammals, contributing to biodiversity.

Pollination Partner: Place near apple trees to serve as a pollination partner, enhancing fruit set in edible apple varieties. Ensure they bloom concurrently for best results.

Underplanting: Utilize the space under the crab apple tree by planting shade-tolerant ground covers, spring bulbs, or ferns, creating a layered look and maximizing garden space. Discover the list of great companion plants for your crab apple.

Pathway Accent: Line pathways or driveways with crab apple trees for a dramatic, welcoming entrance. Their uniform growth habit and stunning floral display in spring make them excellent for creating alleés.

Container Gardening: Smaller dwarf varieties can be grown in large containers, making them suitable for patios, balconies, or small spaces, adding height and structure.

Privacy Screen: Use multiple crab apple trees to create a natural, flowering screen along property boundaries, offering privacy while enhancing the view with seasonal beauty.

Color Coordination: Choose crab apple varieties with flower and fruit colors that complement or contrast with existing plantings in your garden, creating harmonious or dynamic color schemes throughout the seasons.

Malus ‘Purple Prince’ (Crabapple)
Malus x floribunda (Japanese Crabapple)
Malus × moerlandsii ‘Liset’ (Crabapple)

When to Plant a Crab Apple?

Autumn: The best time to plant a crab apple tree is in the fall after the leaves drop but before the ground freezes. This allows the tree to establish roots in its new location without the stress of supporting leaves and fruit.

Spring: You can also plant in early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked and before new growth starts. This gives the tree a full growing season to establish but requires more attention to watering during the summer months.

Where to Plant a Crab Apple Tree

Sunlight: Choose a location that receives full sun. Crab apple trees thrive in at least 8 hours of direct sunlight daily for optimal flowering and fruiting.

Soil: Plant in moderately fertile, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Crab apples are adaptable to a range of soil types but avoid waterlogged or extremely dry conditions.

Space: Consider the mature size of the tree, including height and spread, to avoid overcrowding. Leave space for air circulation to reduce the risk of disease.

Visibility: Position the tree where its spring blossoms and autumn fruits can be enjoyed, such as near a patio, along driveways, or as a garden centerpiece.

Companions: If you have an apple orchard, plant crab apples nearby to improve pollination and fruit set of apple varieties.

How to Plant a Crab Apple Tree

Dig a Hole: Make the hole twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep. This encourages roots to spread into the surrounding soil.

Position the Tree: Gently remove the tree from its container or burlap wrapping. Place it in the hole so that the top of the root ball is level with or slightly above the ground surface.

Backfill the Hole: Mix some compost or aged manure with the excavated soil for added nutrients, if desired. Backfill the hole, gently firming the soil around the roots to remove air pockets.

Water Thoroughly: After planting, water the tree deeply to settle the soil and hydrate the roots. Ensure good drainage to prevent waterlogging.

Staking (if necessary): Stake young trees only if they are in an exposed location or show signs of instability, using soft ties to avoid damaging the bark.

Malus ‘Royalty’ (Crabapple)
Malus × zumi ‘Professor Sprenger’ (Crabapple)
Malus ‘Brandywine’ (Crabapple)

Crab Apple Care

Caring for crab apple trees involves several key practices to ensure their health, beauty, and productivity. Here’s how to provide the best care for your crab apple tree:


  • Regular Watering: Young trees need consistent moisture to establish roots. Water them deeply once a week, more during hot, dry spells.
  • Mature Trees: Established trees are more drought-tolerant but benefit from occasional deep watering during prolonged dry periods.


  • Apply a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, extending to the drip line. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, regulate temperature, and suppress weeds. Avoid piling mulch against the trunk to prevent rot.


  • Young Trees: Apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring to support growth. Follow label instructions for application rates.
  • Established Trees: Crab apples typically require less fertilizer as they mature. Conduct a soil test to determine nutrient needs. Over-fertilization can lead to excessive growth at the expense of flowering.


  • Timing: Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. This helps prevent disease and allows for a clear view of the tree’s structure.
  • Objectives: Remove dead or diseased wood, crossing branches, and suckers from the base. Thin the canopy to improve air circulation and light penetration, encouraging healthy growth and flowering. Shape the tree, if desired, but maintain its natural form for the best appearance.

Protecting the Tree

  • Winter Care: Young trees may need protection from frost and rodent damage in colder climates. Wrap the trunk with tree guards or burlap to prevent bark damage.
  • Staking: Newly planted trees may require staking for the first year or two, especially in windy areas. Use flexible ties and check them regularly to ensure they’re not damaging the tree.

Flowering Crabapples, Crabapples, Malus, Fragrant Trees, Small Trees, Winter Fruit, Fall Fruit, persistent fruit,

How to Harvest Crab Apples?

Harvesting crab apples is a simple and rewarding process. Here are steps and tips to ensure a successful harvest:


  • Maturity: Crab apples are typically ready to harvest from late summer to early fall, depending on the variety and your climate. The fruits are best picked when they are fully colored but still firm.
  • Taste Test: While crab apples are generally too tart to eat fresh for many people, tasting a few can help determine if they’re ready. They should have a slightly sweet undertone beneath the tartness.

Harvesting Technique

  • Gentle Twist: Harvest crab apples by gently twisting them off the tree. If ripe, they should easily detach from the branch. 
  • Branch Shaking: For higher or densely fruiting branches, gently shake the branch to loosen ripe fruits, catching them with a tarp or sheet spread on the ground below.
  • Selective Picking: Choose fruits that are free from blemishes, disease, and insect damage. Slightly imperfect fruits can still be used for making jellies, sauces, or decorations.


  • Cleaning: Rinse the harvested crab apples under cool water to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Storage: Store them in a cool, dry place if you’re not using them immediately. For longer storage, crab apples can be kept in the refrigerator, where they can last for several weeks.
  • Usage: Crab apples are versatile and can be used to make jellies, jams, preserves, or even cider. They’re also beautiful as a decorative element in autumn displays.


  • Avoid Bruising: Handle the fruits gently to prevent bruising, which can lead to quicker spoilage.
  • Regular Harvesting: Regularly harvesting the ripe fruits encourages the tree to produce more fruit and helps prevent disease.
  • Wildlife: Leave some fruits on the tree or on the ground for birds and wildlife to enjoy during the fall and winter months.

Crabapple jelly, Crabapple jelly

Slices of toasted bread with fresh homemade crab apple jelly.

How to Eat Crab Apples?

Crab apples, while often too tart to eat raw for many people, can be transformed into delicious treats through cooking and preserving. Here are some ways to enjoy crab apples:

Jelly and Jam

  • Crab Apple Jelly: Crab apples are naturally high in pectin, making them perfect for jelly making. Cook the fruit with water until soft, strain through a jelly bag, then boil the juice with sugar. The result is a beautifully clear, tart jelly.
  • Crab Apple Jam: For a more rustic preserve, make jam by chopping the fruit (no need to peel or core) and cooking it down with sugar. The seeds and skin will add pectin.

Sauces and Chutneys

  • Crab Apple Sauce: Similar to apple sauce, crab apple sauce can be made by cooking down the fruit with a little water and sugar to taste. Strain to remove seeds and skins for a smooth sauce.
  • Crab Apple Chutney: Combine chopped crab apples with vinegar, sugar, onions, raisins, and spices to make a spicy-sweet chutney, perfect as a condiment for meats or cheeses.


  • Crab Apple Pie or Tart: Use crab apples in pies or tarts, either alone or mixed with sweeter apples. Their tartness provides a nice contrast to the sweet filling.
  • Crab Apple Cake: Add grated or finely chopped crab apples to the cake batter for a moist and flavorful treat.


  • Crab Apple Cider: Ferment crab apple juice to make a tart, refreshing cider. You can also mix crab apple juice with sweeter apple varieties for a balanced flavor.
  • Crab Apple Liqueur: Steep crab apples in vodka with sugar and spices to create a unique homemade liqueur.

Eating Raw

  • Selection: Choose the larger, sweeter crab apple varieties for raw consumption. They can be eaten whole, like grapes, but be mindful of the seeds.
  • Salads: Slice them thinly and add to salads for a tart crunch.

Tips for Preparing Crab Apples

  • Washing: Always wash crab apples thoroughly before use.
  • Core and Peel: For recipes requiring peeled and cored fruit, use a paring knife or apple corer, though many recipes use the whole fruit for its pectin content.
  • Taste Adjustments: Depending on the variety and ripeness, you may need to adjust the amount of sugar in recipes to balance the tartness of the crab apples.
Malus ‘Camelot’ (Crabapple)
Malus ‘Snowdrift’ (Crabapple)
Malus ‘Coralburst’ (Crabapple)

Pests, Diseases, Common Problems

Crab apple trees, while robust and adaptable, can be susceptible to various pests, diseases, and common problems. Addressing these issues promptly can help ensure the health and beauty of the tree. Here’s an overview:

Pests and Diseases

Apple scab: This fungal disease causes dark, olive-green spots on leaves, leading to premature leaf drop. It can also affect the fruit’s appearance. Regular fungicide treatments and choosing resistant varieties can help manage scab.

Cedar apple rust: This disease requires junipers as an alternate host and produces orange, gelatinous galls on crab apples. It causes leaf spots and can lead to defoliation. Removing nearby junipers or planting resistant varieties can mitigate this problem.

Fireblight: A bacterial disease that causes branches and blossoms to appear scorched. Pruning infected branches well below the infected area and sterilizing tools between cuts can help control fire blight.

Powdery mildew: Manifests as a white, powdery coating on leaves and shoots, potentially stunting growth. Adequate spacing for air circulation and fungicide applications can help prevent and treat mildew.

Aphids: These small, sap-sucking insects can cause leaf curling and are often found on the undersides of leaves. A strong jet of water or insecticidal soap can help manage aphid populations.

Scale insects: These pests attach themselves to the branches and stems, sucking the sap and weakening the tree. Infested areas may look like they are covered in small bumps.

Japanese beetles: Adult beetles feed on the leaves of crab apple trees, often skeletonizing them, which can severely weaken the tree over time.

Spider mites: Tiny pests that can cause the leaves to discolor and drop off. They thrive in hot, dry conditions. Predatory mites control spider mites if abundant. Washing trees with water and applying 1% horticultural oil or insecticidal soap every 5-7 days in cool temperatures helps.

Flatheaded apple-tree borer: The Flatheaded Apple Tree Borer is a destructive pest, burrowing under bark and weakening trees by disrupting water and nutrient flow, often leading to branch dieback or tree death if untreated. Maintaining healthy trees reduces borer incidence. Summer trunk sprays in June and July with permethrin or carbaryl effectively prevent larvae entry and treat infestations.

Common Problems

Poor Fruit Set: This can be due to a lack of pollinators or incompatible pollination partners. Planting different crab apple varieties or ensuring a diversity of flowering plants in the garden can help.

Sooty Mold: This black, mold-like substance grows on the honeydew secreted by aphids and other sap-sucking insects. Controlling the insect problem typically resolves sooty mold issues.

Leaf Drop: Early leaf drop can be a sign of stress, whether from drought, poor soil conditions, or disease. Ensuring proper care and addressing any visible problems can help improve the tree’s health.

Preventative Measures

  • Proper Planting: Choose a suitable location with well-drained soil and adequate sunlight to prevent stress and susceptibility to diseases.
  • Regular Maintenance: Prune dead or diseased branches, clean up fallen debris, and water regularly to maintain health.
  • Monitoring: Regularly inspect your crab apple tree for signs of pests or disease to catch problems early.
Malus ‘Adams’ (Crabapple)
Malus ‘Indian Summer’ (Crabapple)
Malus ‘Centurion’ (Crabapple)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Eat Crab Apples?

Yes, crab apples are edible. They tend to be very tart and astringent when raw, especially the smaller varieties, but can be made into delicious jellies, jams, and sauces when cooked and sweetened. Larger varieties of crab apples have a milder flavor and can sometimes be eaten raw.

Are Crab Apples Poisonous?

Crab apples are not poisonous. However, like domestic apples, the seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides, which can release cyanide when chewed or digested in large quantities. It’s generally safe to consume the fruit flesh, but it’s wise to avoid eating the seeds.

Why Is It Called Crab Apple?

The term “crab apple” comes from the Middle English word “crabbe,” which refers to something bitter or sour. It aptly describes the taste of wild apples compared to the sweeter, cultivated varieties that we are more familiar with today.

What’s the Difference Between Apples and Crabapples?

The main difference between apples and crab apples is the size of the fruit. Crab apples are defined as those varieties of Malus (the apple genus) that produce fruit smaller than 2 inches (about 5 cm) in diameter. Anything larger is considered an apple. Beyond size, crab apples are more diverse in color and tartness, and they tend to be more ornamental, with a greater variety of flower colors and tree forms.

What Are The Disadvantages of a Crabapple Tree

  • Messiness: The fruit can create a mess on lawns and pathways when it falls, requiring cleanup to avoid slipping hazards and to maintain tidiness.
  • Disease Susceptibility: Some crabapple varieties are susceptible to diseases like apple scab, cedar-apple rust, and fire blight, which can necessitate additional care and maintenance.
  • Maintenance: Crabapple trees can produce root suckers, undesirable shoots from the base, which require regular removal to prevent unwanted growth and maintain aesthetics.
  • Wildlife Attraction: While often seen as a benefit, the fruit can attract unwanted wildlife to your garden, such as rodents or deer, depending on your location.

Discover These Helpful Guides for Further Reading

Compare All Malus (Crab Apple)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Malus (Crab Apple)
Guides with
Malus (Crab Apple)
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 8
Heat Zones 1 - 9
Plant Type Trees
Plant Family Rosaceae
Genus Malus - Crab Apple
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Height 10' - 25'
(3m - 7.6m)
Spread 10' - 25'
(3m - 7.6m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Loam, Sand, Clay
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral, Acid
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Fruit & Berries, Fragrant, Cut Flowers
Tolerance Drought
Attracts Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders, Small Gardens
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Malus (Crab Apple)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Malus (Crab Apple)
Guides with
Malus (Crab Apple)

Related Items

Please Login to Proceed

You Have Reached The Free Limit, Please Subscribe to Proceed

Subscribe to Gardenia

To create additional collections, you must be a paid member of Gardenia
  • Add as many plants as you wish
  • Create and save up to 25 garden collections
Become a Member

Plant Added Successfully

You have Reached Your Limit

To add more plants, you must be a paid member of our site Become a Member

Update Your Credit
Card Information


Create a New Collection

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

    You have been subscribed successfully


    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!


    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Find your Hardiness Zone

    Find your Heat Zone

    Find your Climate Zone