After all the rain we’ve had this year I can’t help but notice how good the crab apple trees look, they are full of fruit for the autumn and winter, making them a great source of food for wildlife. They are good for us too because they are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, but are unfortunately very sour and not very palatable straight from the tree, but are a rich natural source of pectin which is used for setting jellies, making them a perfect ingredient for a jelly that makes a delicious accompaniment for roast meats, cheese, toast and other foods. They can also be used for aiding other fruit to set for jams.
Crab apple trees are available in various sizes and growth habits from very small ornamental trees with short stems that would suit patios or make very attractive specimens in a lawn or border to larger trees. They will grow in most fertile soils as long as the soil doesn’t get waterlogged, and will tolerate part shade but will grow much better in a sunny position.
A naturally compact, dwarf crab apple tree is Malus ‘Laura’ it has an upright habit that would suit a small garden or patio. In spring it’s covered with pretty deep pink flowers with its new purple foliage followed by large maroon coloured fruit that will be ripen in autumn.
A couple of other good fruiting varieties are M. x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’, and M. ‘John Downie’. Both varieties have the R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit. The first is a compact tree with an upright habit in its early years, with dark green broadly oval foliage and bearing pink flower buds that open as large white flowers flushed with pink in spring later followed by masses of rounded, bright golden yellow fruits that will be mature in autumn hanging on the tree well into winter.
The latter is a vigorous upright tree when young called M. ‘John Downie’. It has bright green foliage and produces pretty apple blossom flowers in spring followed by large orange-red pear shaped fruits in the autumn, a popular choice for crab apple jelly.