This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
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. Here are a few that I would recommend:
Prairiefire: this is a dark purple leafed variety with crimson buds that open to dark pink to almost red flowers. The foliage holds its color well into the summer and the half inch fruits are both attractive and good food for the birds. This tree grows to 20ft by 20ft.
Golden Raindrops: fine textured deeply cut foliage gives this crab a delicate appearance, very different from other crabapples. The tree grow 20 ft tall and only 15 feet wide and boasts star-like profuse white flowers followed by tiny (only one quarter inch) golden yellow fruit, hence the name golden raindrops.
Royal Raindrops: same as above only with deep purple foliage, dark pink flowers and red fruit. Same growth habit as well.
Sugar Tyme: pink buds open to fragrant single white flowers that literally smother this tree. Small red fruit hangs on through winter to provide good fall and winter interest. Grows 18 ft tall by 15 ft wide.
Klehm’s Improved Bechtel Crabapple: double flowering and oh so fragrant, this crab blooms later than the rest with soft pink flowers followed by sparse fruit. Grows 20 feet tall by 18 feet wide.
Evereste: fragrant white flowers open from pink buds in mid April against a foil of mid-green leaves which turn yellow/bronze in the fall. Fruit is flushed yellow, orange and red, one inch in diameter and suitable for making apple butter or cider so this is the only truly edible variety of all these I have mentioned. The tree is small growing only 10-12 feet tall and as wide.
So maybe it’s time for you to try a flowering crabapple in your garden. They are small well behaved trees that enjoy full sun, good drainage and an occasional handful of feed and won’t give you grief in the disease department. You can’t say that for most flowering cherries.
Educational opportunity: I like to promote our Saturday classes whenever I can and coming up this Saturday the 27th will be a talk by Trevor Cameron on Japanese Maples here at the nursery at 10 am. Bring your questions and be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about these fabulous shrubs and trees. Pre-registration is appreciated by calling 425-334-2002 or contacting us online at email@example.com
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached on line at firstname.lastname@example.org.