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16 October 2014
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Winter 2007
John Cushnie On...

Crab Apples
1st March 2005

When it comes to value for money it is hard to fault the crab apple. The heavy crops of small apples are not only highly ornamental but they make a wonderful jelly. The spring flowers make a fine display ranging from white to deepest red depending on the species and variety. In habit they may be upright with rigid branches, round headed or weeping.

When it comes to soil and site they are not too fussy. Although the purple-leafed varieties will colour best in full sun the remainder will succeed in full sun or partial shade. A fertile, moist but well drained soil is ideal and they will tolerate moderately acid or alkaline ground.

TschonoskiiIf they have a weak point then it is that they are prone to diseases, some of which may, in time, kill the tree. Apple canker can be a serious problem especially with some varieties such as Malus tschonoskii. The severity of apple scab and mildew attacks will depend upon the weather. Fireblight is a killer but it is uncommon in N. Ireland’s gardens.

Crab apples are sold as grafted trees either with a 2 metre (6 ft ) clear stem or as a bush with the base of the branches close to the lawn. Specimen trees are usually the former shape to permit grass cutting close to the tree without branches impeding the mower.

Spread the tree roots out in the planting hole and back fill with topsoil mixed with a handful of bone meal and some old, well rotted, farmyard manure or compost. Where a stake is required for support insert it in the hole before planting.

ButterballPlant at the same depth as before keeping the graft union clear of the soil.

Pruning is only necessary to remove diseased or crossing branches and those that are growing across the centre of the tree.

Malus ‘Butterball’ is a compact tree ideal in size for most gardens. The pink-flushed, white flowers appear in late spring followed by orange-yellow fruit. With me, birds leave the fruit until all else has been eaten.

Golden HornetMalus ‘Golden Hornet’ and M. ‘John Downie’ are two of the most popular varieties with bright yellow and orange-red fruit respectively.

For a large specimen tree I would recommend M. ‘Cowichan’ with red-purple young leaves turning to dark green. The spring flowers are rose-pink turning to white. They are followed by large shiny, purple-red crab apples. Of the many varieties my favourite (at the moment) is Malus coronaria. Sometimes called the sweet, wild crab apple its new foliage is tinged red. In autumn the leaves turn a deep red-orange. The pink flowers appear in late spring and are scented. Large, bitter greenish yellow fruit last through the winter.

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