May’s 15 minutes of flame: Flowering crabapples

Some people get 15 minutes of fame. Some trees get what feels like 15 minutes of flower. In early May, it was the Magnolias. Now, it’s the flowering crabapples (Malus sp.).

No May in Toronto would be complete without their fleeting blaze of glory. Certain areas of the city are positively bowered with their white and every shade of pink blossoms. As you walk by, some cultivars sweep you off your feet with their fragrance.

Crabapples, especially some of the older varieties, can be susceptible to diseases, including fireblight, rusk (well, of course not “rusk” but rust), apple scab and canker. Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants lists more than 26 pages of different varieties, with notes on their disease resistance. I recommend you do your research before buying.

One of my favourites is ‘Royalty’ with its double whammy of red leaves and deep pink flowers. Unfortunately, Dirr rates it as “severely susceptible to scab and fireblight.” Another of my picks, the compact Sargent Crabapple, Malus sargentii, with its bright red, cherrylike fruits that birds love, while “slightly susceptible,” is a better choice.

However, if I had the sunlight and good air circulation that crabapples require, I’d look out for Malus ‘Sea Foam’ — which appears on the same page as the two above. Deep red buds open to pure white flowers, followed by small, bright red fruits in this weeping 5-footer that’s “highly resistant” to diseases.

If you don’t have Dirr’s book, look for it in the library. Or hie ye to the Weston Family Library at the Toronto Botanical Garden. You might see a few crabapples in bloom in the gardens there, if you hurry.


  1. The Crabapples are in their full glory now. I don’t have one and have been eying a weeping one at a local garden center. The Malus ‘Sea Foam’ sound nice – I’ll have to see if I can get a couple ordered. I know a couple good spots where I could use them.

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