Why grow crab apples?

Zen, I didn’t want to hijack your crab apple scion thread, but I wanted to ask why you (or others) are interested in crab apples. Really I’m wondering if I’ve failed to recognize the value in them for myself. I do have a somewhat neglected Dolgo that’s still quite small. I’d be interested in hearing why any of you think I should (or shouldn’t) grow crab apples.


I don’t grow a lot of them, but two good reasons I know of is they can do well without any attention (though not in all cases or with all varieties), and they are great for jelly/pickling/cider/etc.


Are they less susceptible to pests and diseases, even in the Southeast?

Its too bad Lucky isn’t here, he knows a lot about crabs and is my main source of info. Lucky is a low-input orchardist who started out with many varieties but ended up with mainly crabs because they did better.


Yeah, Lucky’s style and experience is especially helpful to what I’m looking to do. Maybe I should send him an e-mail and see if I can get him to join in here. By the way, creekweb hasn’t shown up here yet (perhaps under a different name), has he? He’s another person (in addition to yourself and several others that have posted here already) whose shared knowledge I especially appreciated on gardenweb.

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Cousinfloyd! I have three large crabapples (they are weeping ‘Candy Cane’), They are my pollination machinery for my apple trees. There are always bees or some type of harmless flying insect buzzing the flowers in spring. They do get cedar apple rust which I must spray for every year. The crabapples are not the size for eating or making Jelly. Birds like the tiny apples. For pollination (which is why I planted them) they work very well as the branches are encrusted with blossoms. The trees are pretty and fragrant too. Mrs. G

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My crab apple mania is just an offshoot of my desire to grow various fruit. I am really just beginning my fruity journey and planting as many varieties as practical (or maybe not!) on my tiny urban/suburban lot.

When I decided I wanted to try apples, I knew I wanted to have more than one kind and I wanted to be low or no spray and just live with what that will mean. So I was naturally drawn to the crabs as a group since they often have good disease resistance. I think everything I’m going to try has pretty good fire blight resistance which was a top consideration. I’m planning some cordons and some stepovers, plus a fair number of G.65 rootstock, so if I grew full sized apples the numbers of apples per tree would be small, but my theory is that the higher number of fruit on crabs (just because they’re smaller) will give me a better chance of having some without a lot of bugs damage or squirrel theft. That also means as landscape plants they’ll have a lot more flowers.

Finally there seem to be some that are pretty darn tasty and often have a bit bolder flavors which I like, such as the Hewes apples I found to be quite delicious this past fall. And it seems that even within the edible crabs you can have a fairly long harvest season between planting a mix - for example I hope to have Centennial, then Chestnut, then Wickson and finally Kerr ripening in succession. I’m also putting in Selkirk and couple others strictly for Jelly. Unfortunately I heard Hewes didn’t have as good disease resistance so I won’t try that one yet. I’m a bit worried Wickson may not do so well with disease resistance, but wanted to try it anyway.

By starting with a lot, I figure I’ll weed out the less successful or diseased early, since it won’t be practical to let them all mature. I may even just add some of the successful varieties to the larger trees as they grow to reduce the total numbers. Overall I’m hopeful based on everything I’ve read, including Lucky’s experiences and will just see how it plays out.

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CousinFloyd. I’m a huge fan of crab-apples. Love the sour taste of fresh crab-apples. Sometime I put them in dill pickel juice. My list is Craven, Whitney, and four other unknown varieties. Bill

This is my first post to this site. On Gardenweb I was 2010ChampsBCS,


Welcome aboard the board.


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Hey, Y’all. I’m late to the party, but let’s crank it up!
Thanks for the invite, by the way.

‘Edible crabs’ - or ‘lunchbox apples’, as someone - was that you, Scott? - once aptly termed them…I prefer that moniker… have a LOT to offer.
As others have indicated, they typically are less affected - at least in my orchard, here on the KY/TN line - than many other apples. I’ve pretty much been a no-care, or ‘lazy-faire’ orchardist; just haven’t had time - or inclination - to do any spraying, and barely any pruning. Went crazy planting apples when we got here 20 years ago…had planted/grafted over 60 varieties at one time, but a few crabs and about 4-5 larger apples are all that are left - or all I bother picking. The crabs are pretty dependable, and mostly perfect…or minimally bothered by scab, PC, or CM, though I’ve been experiencing more CM damage on Kerr as years go by.

Some are tart, some are sweet. Here’s what I’ve got currently.
Centennial(DolgoXWealthy) is a pretty little apple-crab, very sweet, great flavor.
Kerr(DolgoXHaralson, IIRC) is a little smaller, tart, with a musky wine aftertaste
Jim Bastian’s Orange Crab - a chance seedling he found along a roadside in NH is my latest favorite - looks similar to Centennial, but it’s not; dense yellow-orange flesh, great flavor.
Callaway - though it’s really an ornamental type, has long been a favorite in my family, 'cause the kids could fill pockets with them and munch away - 1-1.5" apples, bears heavily, to the point of assuming a semi-weeping habit.
Have had a few others that are reputed to be good - Wickson(was purchased as that, but was NOT), Trailman(lost that one somewhere along the line), Chestnut(lost that one, too, but it’s reputed to be among the tastiest).
Whitney - there are at least two ‘Whitney’ crabs floating around out there…different from one another; Kevin Bradley(EdForest) had 'em both at one time, said one was good, the other, not so much.
Think there’s a Young American tree out there somewhere, but it’s not in a spot I pass by very often; think I’ve seen it fruit once, and was not impressed.
Still have some red-fleshed crabs (Winter Red Flesh, Geneva Crab, Giant Russian, Almata); Ed Fackler warned me off of them nearly 20 years ago, telling me they’d be ‘crap’ here - and, of course, he was right. Almata is decent. The others are not much good to me for anything other than making a nice colorful jelly or tart crabapple vodka infusion; but when you look at it in that light…maybe they’re worth having after all.

Alan, I’d be interested in hitting you up for some Craven scions; got some from Joyce Neighbors just before she passed her collection off to Seed Savers, but once they grew out and fruited…I’m pretty sure it’s not Craven crab - it turned out to be a fairly large apple, ripe in early summer, red with mealy white flesh. Not one that I can imagine anyone enjoying…not sure why Joyce even had that one in her collection…

My dad had a collection of a dozen or more Southern native crabs - M. angustifolia, M.coronaria - that he’d gathered from around east-central AL. He loved to eat those sour astringent fruits all winter long; kinda like morsels of bitter battery acid - if he’d still had his own teeth, I’m sure they’d have eaten the enamel off of them! Have a couple planted here in his memory, but they’re merely soft mast sources for the wildlife.


As Lucky would be quick to remind us, the PC term is ‘lunch box’ apple. Oops! Speak of the devil.

I’m still going to call them crabapples, so you know what the heck I’m talking about.

No one has mentioned this, but crabapples are much more nutritious than other apples. In general, they have a concentrated flavor as well. I like strong flavored apples like Gold Rush and Belle de BOskoop.

What I like to do is graft in a branch of crabapples in each tree. They are small but one or two can be satisfying, and if like me, you’re amidst the battle of the bulge, it can be useful to consume fewer calories. You can add a lot of pollination for a small portion of the tree.

As Lucky said, they typically have fewer pest problems, although I would say that the red-fleshed ones in general usually have more problems than regular crabs.

Part of my theory is to try lots of apples grown in good healthy soil here in my yard to see which really are great. You don’t really know until you grow them. If you eat an apple that is really good, you know it’s possible. Then I get motivated, but I’ve also had many types of fruit that weren’t really grown for the flavor (or the nutrition) and you spend $3 per pound and they are incredibly mediocre. Even if that variety is fantastic in your own yard.
That’s my two cents.
John S

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Do any of you grow Golden Hornet crab? They seem to be one of the more attractive of crab apples, but I dunno about the flavor. I know also they are exceptional pollinators.

I grew these crabapples from seed and keep them for several reasons. They ripen typically while the snow is flying. We are still eating them and did not use cold storage. They are a great all purpose apple with a fantastic flavor. This flavor of this Crabapple is to apple what wild strawberries are to strawberries.


Craven Crabapple Characteristics. Just completed grafting some scions of Craven that was indirectly from Joyce Neighbors. There appears to be some question about authenticity of this crabapple. The wood is dark like the Red Rebel. I was just wondering if anyone has actually seen the fruit from Craven and what does it look like? When I Google it almost no information comes up. Thanks for any and all input. Bill

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That’s a seriously beautiful looking crab you have there Clark. Thanks for sharing it with us.


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Lucky, Scott and all.

I would like to graft one real sweet and good flavor crab apple to my Red Fuji. Which variety would you recommend? Thx.


I have a Centennial crab that is tasty.

This is so timely, I just ordered 2 Sargent trees from National Arbor Day Foundation. One tree is going in the ground next to an apple I planted a few years ago next to our town’s community center. Thatapple tree now has lots of fruit buds on it but there are no pollinators around it, so it needs a buddy in order for me to get fruit off of it. Here comes Sargent. I was just interested about crabs and scoured the web for variety characteristics and came up with Sargent due to it’s growth habit and disease resistance characteristics. The apple it will be next to is a no spray tree except for CM. The other Sargent is going into a pot to grow in safety for a year in case the other one gets abused where it is planted.

Curious Micheal…what was the apple variety you planted at the community center?