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

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “No Mess Crabapples

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

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