In the Garden:
New England
November, 2011
Regional Report

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Yellow and red crabapples mingle their colors against a cloudless November sky.

Crabapple of my Eye

The November landscape in Vermont is a palette of muted colors. Only the oaks and beeches hang on to tawny colored leaves, and the fields and roadsides are a patchwork of tans and browns. The bright fruits of winterberry and viburnum add a little sparkle here and there, but the vibrant flowers of asters and mums have mostly gone by. So it's at this time of the year that I appreciate crabapples the most. Bare of leaves, with their diminutive fruits hanging in colorful array against the tracery of branches, crabapples add a cheery note to a landscape painted in autumnal hues.

Of course, crabapples are also gorgeous in the spring, when they welcome the season with bursts of blossoms in shades of white, pink, red, and reddish-purple. But color choices are not limited just to flowers. With fruit colors ranging from bright carmine red to maroon to yellow, there are lots of choices to add interest to the late-season landscape.

Red fruits probably come to mind first when thinking of crabapples. The disease-resistant cultivar 'Donald Wyman,' a white-flowered tree with a spreading crown that reaches 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide at maturity, is adorned in fall with abundant, bright-red, 1/2-inch diameter fruits that remain on the tree well into winter. Sugar Tyme (Malus 'Sutyzam'), with light pink buds opening to fragrant white flowers, is another very disease-resistant selection with persistent red fruits.

But you can light up the garden with yellow fruits as well. 'Cinderella', a dwarf variety growing only 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide, is covered with 1/4-inch golden fruits that persist on the tree into late autumn. 'Golden Raindrops' gives you the same shower of small, gold fruits on a larger tree, one that matures to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

The red-orange fruits of the white-flowered weeping variety 'Molten Lava' make an eye-catching contrast to the tree's yellowish bark, while the fruits of the popular 'Prairiefire' are a deep red purple, reprising it's similarly colored spring flowers. White-flowered 'Gypsy Dancer' puts on a real show in fall with 1/2-inch, persistent fruits that are a mix of red, orange, yellow and coral. 'Purple Prince' boasts bright red flowers and purple-green foliage, along with bluish-purple fruits and attractive, cherry-like bark.

All crabapples do best if they are planted in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. While crabapples can be prone to a number of disease problems, all of those listed above are disease-resistant selections. If Japanese beetles are a big problem in your area, some species, such as the Japanese flowering crabapple (Malus floribunda), and cultivars such as 'Louisa' and 'Jewelberry' are reported to be resistant to these pests.

And you won't be the only one enjoying the crabapple fruits in the fall and winter landscape. Many kinds of birds relish the smaller-fruited crabapples, including cedar waxwings, robins, and blue jays. They feast on some fruits early in the cold season, after a few fall frosts have softened them, and dine on those varieties with sourer fruits later in the winter.


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