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A Valentine to the Crabapple
by Janet Davis
by Janet Davis


Janet Davis is a freelance garden writer and horticultural photographer whose stories and images have been featured in numerous publications. Magazines featuring her work include Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardening Life, President’s Choice Magazine, Chatelaine Gardens and, in the United States, Fine Gardening and Country Living Gardener.


February 13, 2011

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'Dolgo' Crabapples in heart-shaped basked with ripening 'Red Jade' crapapples

I love crabapple trees. For me, spring hasn't really sprung until Toronto's boulevards, parks and gardens explode with those luscious bouquets in pink, white and rose that are bountiful May gifts from the genus Malus. Alas, I confess to being a rather indiscriminate amour, unabashedly enjoying the old-fashioned thugs like 'Royalty', 'Radiant' and 'Makamik' whose tendency to suffer indignities like fireblight, rust or scab has doomed them to the "Not Recommended" lists of most tree experts. But then, I'm also nuts about the new ones that diligent hybridists have been turning out for the past several decades
Some of the most disease-resistant of the new and old named hybrids that can be readily sourced at larger nurseries are:

  • 'Donald Wyman', a sprawling tree to 25 feet (8 m) with masses of large, white blossoms and bright red fruits that hang on the branches until winter.

  • 'Dolgo', an old-fashioned, tall (30 ft - 9 m) crabapple with large, white flowers and very large, red fruits that produce a delicious crabapple jelly.

  • 'White Angel', with pale pink buds that open into big, gorgeous, pure-white flowers. Plump, bright-red fruits cover this one in the good years when spring provides abundant rain. Its round habit makes it especially nice for allĂ©es or symmetrical placements in formal landscapes.

  • 'Centurion' has dark pink-red flowers and small red fruit. It grows to about 25 feet (8 m).

  • 'Prairiefire' with reddish-purple flowers, young foliage that starts off red and a graceful, weeping form that matures at 18 feet (6 m) and as wide as it is tall.

  • 'Louisa', another umbrella-shaped weeper but shorter than 'Prairiefire', with rose-coloured blossoms and small peachy-gold fruits in fall.

A fine, old specimen of Malus x arnoldiana grows in the cemetery near me, a cross from Boston's Arnold Arboretum between the tall, hardy Siberian crabapple (M. bacchata) and gorgeous Japanese crabapple (M. floribunda). A low, spreading tree, its long, draping branches are covered in May with red buds that open pale-pink, then fade to white. I don't believe it's available in commerce in Canada, but I wish it were. It's a dream in blossom.
'Red Jade' is the little weeping crabapple that adorns my own garden, its pendulous branches gracefully sweeping the Japanese pagoda that sits beside my lily pond. Every other May (for it's an "alternate-bearer", like so many crabapples), the branches are smothered in pink-budded white blossoms that yield small, glossy, red fruits that really do resemble semi-precious jewels. The squirrels find them irresistible, hanging upside down to strip the last of the harvest well before Christmas. This fall, as I was raking leaves one evening in the last light of dusk, I noticed the branches shaking slowly up and down . When I moved closer to investigate, I came face-to-face with a plump raccoon who had settled her considerable girth into a crook in the branches. We eyed each other for a while -- a Mexican standoff garden-style -- then she resumed delicately nibbling the fruit and I resumed raking. After all, I had enjoyed the little tree's pretty blossoms, shiny leaves and abundant fruit for five months. It was clearly time to share the wealth.

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