Spring in the northwest is often described by what flowering trees happen to be in bloom. For example, “Cherry blossom time” is a familiar term used here as well as all the way on the other coast at our nation’s capitol. We think of Dogwoods as always blooming around Mother’s Day (although the Korean Dogwoods usually bloom around Father’s Day). The ubiquitous purple-leafed flowering plums are always the first trees to bloom in spring, coloring up in early to mid March in a cloud of pink that reminds me of a giant mass of cotton candy. Blooming simultaneously with the cherries are the flowering pears and the Magnolias (often called Tulip Trees). But now that the cherries are about finished (except for a couple varieties) and before the dogwoods open up there are the underutilized crabapples and oh can they be beautiful.
Historically, crabapples have had their issues, the same kind of issues the we find on our fruiting apple trees, namely, diseases like scab and mildew and often as not by the end of summer they could be almost completely defoliated (just like scarlet hawthorns but that is a topic for another column). Over time breeders have done wonders with flowering crabapples so that nowadays there are many varieties to choose from that have nice form, attractive leaves, beautiful flowers (most with fragrance) and best of all, disease resistance.