How to Plant and Grow Crabapple

This small tree packs in three seasons of interest, thanks to its flowers, fruit, and fall color.

Clusters of fragrant pom-pom spring flowers, striking fall foliage, and dangling winter fruits that attract birds make crabapple a splendid landscape tree. Add small stature to the list of attributes and you have a fitting choice for landscapes of many different sizes. This hardy deciduous tree typically grows 10 to 20 feet tall and wide. Plant breeders continuously work to develop new varieties, some maturing at less than 10 feet tall.

Crabapple Tree Overview

Genus Name Malus
Common Name Crabapple Tree
Plant Type Tree
Light Sun
Height 8 to 20 feet
Width 15 to 25 feet
Flower Color Pink, White
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage, Spring Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds, Fragrance
Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Propagation Grafting
Problem Solvers Good For Privacy, Slope/Erosion Control

Where to Plant Crabapple

Crabapple trees grow best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic soil pH. A moderate-to-fast grower, crabapple trees need to be planted where they have plenty of space to expand to their mature size. Create a living fence by planting crabapple trees along with other flowering shrubs and evergreens along a property line. Crabapple trees also make excellent specimen plants. Anchor the corner of a foundation bed with a low-branching, spreading cultivar. Add a crabapple to a perennial border for vertical interest year-round.

How and When to Plant Crabapple

Plant crabapple trees in spring or fall. Dig a planting hole that is at least twice as wide and 6 inches deeper than the plant's root ball. Position the tree in the planting hole so the top the rootball is level with the surrounding grade. Backfill with the excavated soil and build a shallow, 3-foot-wide basin around the base of the tree. Water the newly planted tree regularly during the first year after planting—about 1 inch per week.

Depending on the variety, space several trees 10 to 20 feet apart to allow for mature growth.

Crabapple Care Tips


Crabapple trees grow best in full sun. While they will tolerate partial shade, flower quantity is often diminished as a result.

Soil and Water

Flowering crabapples are adapted to a wide range of soil conditions but heavy soil might result in poor flowering. The ideal pH is slightly acidic, between 5.5 to 6.5.

After the first growing season and it is established, the tree shouldn't need much supplemental watering except in times of drought.

Temperature and Humidity

Crabapples are hardy trees that can be grown down to zone 4 but are not suitable for a hot climate with mild winters. Humidity, especially in combination with warm weather, can foster the spread of fungal diseases.


 Crabapple trees prefer a balanced complete slow-release fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous (10-10-10). In the early spring, scatter the fertilizer in the circle of the tree’s drip line but away from the trunk. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.


 At least annually, remove the water shoots (which appear between the main tree branches) and suckers before they get big. This can be done any time of the year. All other pruning is light and optional and should be done in the late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant. Remove any broken, dead or diseased branches, and prune out any crowded branches to increase air circulation.

Potting and Repotting Crabapple

With the exception of ‘Cinderella’, a dwarf flowering crabapple that grows slowly to be only 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide, crabapple trees are not suitable to be grown in pots. Select a container with 10 to 15 gallons capacity, which is large enough so it can support the tree at its mature growth but not too big to be moved. The container can be made from plastic, metal, terra-cotta, glazed ceramic, or wood, as long as it has large drainage holes. Fill the bottom with gravel or rocks to improve drainage. Fill half of the container with a mix of potting soil and organic matter, place the root ball in the center so it’s straight, and fill up with soil. 

Repot the tree to a larger container when its roots reach the sides of the pot. Remember that container plants need more frequent watering and fertilizer than plants in the landscape.

Pests and Problems 

Like many trees, crabapple is susceptible to some problems and diseases. You may want to start out by searching for disease-resistant cultivars when shopping for crabapple varieties. Along with mildew and Japanese beetles, watch out for apple scab—which causes trees to drop a large percentage of their leaves by midsummer. Cedar-apple rust, a problematic fungal disease, produces yellow spots on leaves and reddish-brown galls on young twigs. Fireblight is a frustrating bacterial disease that causes branches to turn brown or black and wilt. Solutions to these problems may include fungicides and/or pruning to improve air circulation.

How to Propagate Crabapple

Most crabapple trees are cultivars or hybrids, and they are propagated by grafting, which is a rather involved process and best left to professionals in the nursery trade. Growing a crabapple tree from seed is a lengthy process and won’t produce a tree that is true to type.

Types of Crabapple

'Adirondack' Crabapple

Adirondack crabapple fruits on branch against deep blue sky
Janet Mesic Mackie

Malus 'Adirondack' is a disease-resistant introduction that boasts dark pink buds and white blooms, followed by orange-red fruits. It grows 18 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8

'Centurion' Crabapple

'Centurion' crabapple tree
Peter Krumhardt

This variety develops into an oval-shaped tree when mature. It bears reddish new foliage, rose-red flowers, and persistent red fruits. It grows 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Zones 4-8

'Louisa' Crabapple

Weeping Crabapple Louisa
Peter Krumhardt

Malus 'Louisa' is a disease-resistant weeping form crowned with white blossoms and orange-gold fruit. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

'Royal Raindrops' Crabapple

bright pink Royal Raindrops crabapple blooms against rich green background
Denny Schrock

Malus x 'JFS-KW5' is a newer crabapple variety with vibrant pink-to-red spring flowers followed by showy red-purple fruit. It has unique cut-leaf foliage. This plant reaches 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Zones 4-8

'Prairifire' Crabapple

Prairie Fire Crabapple Tree Apples
Mike Jensen

This Malus selection is an upright type with purple new foliage in spring and deeply colored rose-pink blossoms. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8

Companion Plants

Although it's easy to fall in love with crabapple, it's important to remember that plant diversity is important to a thriving ecosystem. A mix of small woody species is more valuable to local wildlife than a crabapple monoculture. Plant two or three crabapple trees alongside trees or shrubs with similar growing conditions such as:


Just like the crabapple, magnolia provides seasonal beauty twice, with gorgeous spring flowers and vibrant red seed cones in the fall.


There are so many choices for viburnum shrubs that you won't have a problem finding one that fits your landscape.


Dogwood trees prefer partial shade so they can benefit from nearby crabapple trees providing them protection from the hot afternoon sun.

Garden Plans for Crabapple

Corner of Shrubs

woody corner garden plan illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Trees and shrubs are the four-seasons backbones of the landscape. Create an eye-catching vignette with these woody plants in your garden.

Walk to Front Door

walk to front door garden path illustration
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

First impressions are important! This entry garden greets your guests with beauty in all four seasons.

Fall-Color Garden Plan

Fall Garden Plan Illustration
Illustration by Gill Tomblin

This colorful flower garden looks great all season long, but really struts its stuff when autumn arrives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the difference between apples and crabapples?

    The fruits on crabapple trees are much smaller than apples, ranging from pea-sized to 2 inches maximum. Most crabapples are ornamental and while the fruit is edible, it is not always palatable.

  • Are crabapple trees messy?

    That depends on what you consider messy. The tree sheds its blossoms after the bloom and its leaves in the fall. Crabapples with tiny fruit are usually not as much of a problem as larger types because they basically blend into the soil, groundcover, or lawn below the tree. But if you are concerned about the fruit littering, do not plant the tree near a driveway or walkway.

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