‘Indian Summer’ is one of the small-fruited crabapples that provide spectacular winter color without requiring a massive cleanup. Photo: www.bowerandbranch.com.

Gardeners love crabapples (Malus species) for their spectacular spring flowers and attractive berries … until the latter start to drop on their decks, lawns and walkways in the fall. Having to slip and slide over rotting fruits as you head off to work each morning is unpleasant and even dangerous. And imagine all the work involved in cleaning up the icky mess!

However, if you choose the right crabapple, this situation can be avoided, as there are both “messy” and “clean” varieties of crabapple.

The messy crabapple varieties bear relatively large and juicy fruits. Birds peck at them, but never swallow them: they’re too big. Because of the fruits’ weight, they fall readily from the tree and cover the ground with a slippery mess.

When it comes to small-fruited crabs, just let the birds do all the work! Photo: Dave Maslowski, audubon.org

Other varieties, though, produce tiny little crabapples that aren’t as juicy and tend to remain on the tree. In fact, small crabapples usually persist throughout much of the winter (for a very nice effect on a background of white snow, by the way!). And when birds visit the tree, usually towards the end of winter when crabapples are at their sweetest (cold slowly converts their starches into sugars), they swallow the tiny crabapples whole. So they end up cleaning the tree from top to bottom before spring, leaving few berries on the ground! And any they miss aren’t “squishy.” That’s why tiny-berried crabapples can be said to be “clean.”

Some crabapple varieties, though, are clean for another reason: they are essentially sterile. In other words, they produce a lot of flowers, but almost no fruit. In the following list, the latter are indicated by an asterisk (*).

Clean Crabapples for Home Gardens

1. Malus ‘Adams’ (zone 4-8)

2.     M. ‘Candied Apple’ (zone 4-8)

3.     M. Centurion® (‘Centsam’) (zone 4-8)

4.     M. ‘David’ (zone 4-8)

5.     M. ‘Donald Wyman’ (zone 4-8)

6.     M. ‘Firebird’ (zone 4-8)

Harvest Gold crabapple looks like it is decorated with tiny Christmas lights! Photo: www.nybg.org

7.     M. Harvest Gold® (‘Hargozam’) (zone 3-8)

8.     M. ‘Indian Magic’ (zone 4-8)

9.     M. ‘Indian Summer’ (zone 4-8)

10.  M. Lancelot (‘Lanzam’) (zone 4-8)

11.  M. ‘Liset’ (zone 4-8)

12.  M. ‘Louisa’ (zone 4-8)

13.  M. ‘Madonna’ (zone 4-8)

14.  M. ‘Makamik’ (zone 2b-8)

15.  M. Marilee® (‘Jarmin’) (zone 4-8)

16.  M. ‘Maybride’ (zone 4-8)

17.  M. ‘Molten Lava’ (zone 4-8)

Malus ‘Pom’zai is the smallest of the crabapples, scarcely more than a shrub. Photo: Impatience-1, flickr

18.  M. ‘Pom’zai (‘Courtabri’) (zone 4b-8)

19.  M. ‘Prairie Rose’ (zone 4-8)

20.  M. ‘Prairifire’ (zone 4-8)

21.  M. ‘Professor Sprenger’ (zone 4-8)

22.  M. ‘Profusion’ (zone 4-8)

23.  M. Raspberry Spear™ (‘JFS KW213MX’) (zone 4-8)

24.  M. ‘Red Jade’ (zone 3-8)

If anything, small-fruited crabapples (here Malus Red Jewel) look even better when coated in snow, frost or ice. Photo: markcz.com

25.  M. Red Jewel™ (‘Jewelcole’) (zone 4-8)

26.  M. ‘Red Splendor’ (zone 3-8)

27.  M. ‘Robinson’ (zone 4-8)

28.  M. ‘Royal Beauty’ (zone 3b-8

29.  M. Royal Raindrops® (‘JFS-KW5’) (zone 4-8)

30.  M. ‘Rudolph’ (zone 2-8)

31.  M. sargentii (zone 5-8)

32.  M. sargentii ‘Tina’ (zone 5-8)

33.  M. ‘Sir Lancelot’ (zone 3-8)

‘Snowdrift’ crabapple is just as striking in fruit as it is in bloom. Photo: www.shadetreefarm.com

34.  M. ‘Snowdrift’ (zone 4-8)

35.  M. ‘Spring Snow’* (zone 4

Malus Sugartyme is a personal favorite of mine. Photo: knechts.net

36.  M. Sugartyme® (‘Sutyzam’) (zone 4-8)

37.  M. ‘Thunderchild’ (zone 3-8)

38.  M. ‘White Angel’ (zone 2b-8)

39.  M. × zumi calocarpa (zones 4-8)

Adapted from an article originally published on October 8, 2014.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “No Mess Crabapples

  1. The main difficulty I have with flowering crabapples, even more so than the fruit, is the innately tangled branch structure. They look so good in other regions. I work with ‘Prairie Fire’, and it is just as tangled as the old traditional cultivars that I remember from a long time ago. No matter how much of the tangled stems I prune out, they are always making more.

  2. For me, a crabapple being ‘clean’ is almost secondary to having leaves persist for the entire growing season. Too often in August I see Malus with brown, shriveled or no leaves at all. Would love to see a list of the more disease resistant, clean, crabapples!

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