Yard and Garden: Identify and Enjoy Crabapples

October 19, 2017, 8:20 am | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa – Fall is the perfect season for apples and apple orchards. But what about crabapples? How do they differ from apples? Are they OK to eat? And which varieties are best to use? 

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer questions about crabapples and the best ways to enjoy them. 

What is the difference between an apple and a crabapple?

The main difference between an apple and a crabapple is the size of the fruit. A crabapple is a tree that produces fruit that are 2 inches or less in diameter. An apple tree produces fruit that are larger than 2 inches in diameter.

Crabapple tree

Are crabapple fruit edible?

Crabapple fruit are edible. Crabapples can be used for jellies and preserves. The fruit of most modern crabapple cultivars aren’t very useful as they are quite small. Large-fruited cultivars, such as ‘Whitney’ and ‘Chestnut’ are best for culinary uses.

Which crabapples have attractive fruit? 

While crabapples are usually planted for their flowers, many cultivars also possess attractive, persistent fruit. Crabapple cultivars with red fruit include ‘David,’ ‘Donald Wyman,’ ‘Mary Potter,’ Red Jewel™ and Sugar Tyme®. ‘Indian Magic,’ ‘Professor Sprenger’ and ‘Snowdrift’ have reddish orange fruit, while Harvest Gold® and Golden Raindrops® are yellow-fruited crabapple cultivars. The brightly colored fruit on crabapples can be spectacular in fall and early winter.

Why did my crabapple lose many of its leaves by mid-summer?

The loss of leaves was probably due to apple scab. Apple scab is caused by the fungus Venturia inaequalis and is a serious problem on susceptible crabapple cultivars. Apple scab appears as olive-green to dark brown spots on the foliage. Infected leaves eventually turn yellow and fall prematurely. Highly susceptible crabapple cultivars may lose a majority of their leaves by mid-summer. The premature leaf drop weakens trees, but doesn’t kill them. The damage is mainly aesthetic. Heavily defoliated trees are unattractive.  

Apple scab may be prevented by the application of fungicides, such as chlorothalonil, from just prior to bloom until mid-June. Infections are less likely to occur with the arrival of warmer, drier weather in early summer. For most home gardeners, however, controlling apple scab with fungicides is laborious and not very practical. Sanitation is another control option. Raking and destroying the leaves as they fall should reduce the severity of the disease next season as the fungus overwinters on partially decayed leaves.  

The best way to control apple scab is to plant scab resistant cultivars. When purchasing a crabapple, select a cultivar that possesses good to excellent resistance to apple scab. White-flowering crabapple cultivars that are resistant to apple scab include ‘Adirondack,’ ‘Bob White,’ ‘David,’ ‘Donald Wyman,’ Golden Raindrops®, Harvest Gold®, ‘Professor Sprenger,’ Red Jewel™, Malus sargentii and Sugar Tyme®. (‘Spring Snow’ is a popular white-flowering crabapple cultivar because it produces little or no fruit. Unfortunately, it is highly susceptible to apple scab.) Excellent pink to red-flowering cultivars include ‘Adams,’ ‘Louisa,’ ‘Prairie Maid,’ ‘Prairifire,’ ‘Purple Prince’ and Royal Raindrops

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