Of all the spring-flowering trees, crab apple is perhaps the most underappreciated, yet compared to ornamental cherries, which grab the spotlight with their blizzards of blossom, crab apples are more elegant, with a greater range of form and size.
Through careful selection and hybridisation, many are ideal as specimen trees for smaller plots
or larger patio tubs, such as dwarf varieties ‘Tina’ or ‘Adirondack’. Crab apple is a generic term for a range of species and hybrids in the apple genus Malus, largely based on fruit size and the fact they’re used for ornament, rather than edible fruit. Fruits that are generally 5cm (2in) in diameter or less are classed as crabs. Most are sour, although some like ‘Harry Baker’ have
larger fruit which can be used in cookery or, in the case of ‘John Downie’, can be eaten raw.
However, it’s in spring when crab apples give their all, with branches wreathed in blossom. Crab apples put up with most soils as long as it’s not too consistently wet or dry, although they’ll tolerate periods of drought once established. Many varieties are also resistant to apple diseases, but you may still need to treat persistent infections. Most don’t need pruning, unless being thinned out or cut back to improve shape. This is best done when flowers have finished in spring. Remove shoots that appear from below ground or the graft point to stop them taking over.