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2003 Annual and Perennial Trial Results

May 2005
Plant of the Month

Crab Trees
Crab Trees
zone: 2-5
by By Leif Knecht, Knecht's Nurseries & Landscaping

As more and more communities are requiring higher densities of housing units per acre in an effort to combat urban sprawl, spaces available for urban trees are often smaller than was the case some years ago.  While scientific evidence for global warming is rapidly accumulating, the harsh winter climate in Minnesota will still remain a big limiting factor in selection of smaller ornamental trees for modest size spaces.

There may still be plenty of nostalgia associated with going over the river and through the woods to grandmother¹s old flowering crab that is often defoliated in July or August and followed with an encore of dropping thousands of soft squishy fruits that have sent many a person slip sliding away.  Nevertheless, flowering crabs should still be considered as one of the premier options for use where small and medium sized landscape trees are desired.
Crabs have proved themselves exceptionally hardy, and many varieties are now available that have excellent disease resistance, retain clean leaves the whole growing season, and have fruit that persists on the tree branches until spring when the fruits have dried and present an easy clean up that coincides with general spring yard cleanup.  Some cultivars with persistent fruit carry outstanding color into the late fall and early winter landscape, which can be a real plus for the overall effect of a landscape design in four season climates.

A few seasons of experience growing and marketing some of the better flowering crab varieties will usually convince observant nursery professionals that these dwarf, small and medium sized ornamentals, really are outstanding choices for Minnesota landscapes.  The really daunting challenge will be to help customers understand what great performers flowering crabs are, and the wide variety of choice that is available in this hardy genus, and the excellent disease resistant varieties currently available.

If a customer has had a bad experience with disease ridden crabs and messy fruit drop in September and October, no amount of talking will get them past their reluctance.  However, if you are able to show the same customer several of the great new varieties established in a display garden, it¹s amazing how much more willing they become to at least consider the flowering crab  as an option.  Suggest this with top quality photos of the brilliant fall and winter displays of persistent fruit, and lastly show them how firm and dried up the persistent fruit can become in time for spring yard cleanup.
I have seen very good performance from the following cultivars: Firebird®, Harvest Gold®, Lancelot®, Louisa, Prairifire, Red Jewel, Sugartyme®, Tina, Professor Sprenger, Centurion® and Royal Raindrops®.

Royal Raindrops® look likes it may be a real winner.  It has a lovely cutleaf pattern, clean leaves into late fall, and vigor in containers and the field.  Red/pink blossoms in spring produce persistent small red fruit come fall.  A few more seasons and we will know just how good Royal Raindrops® is for use in Minnesota.
My two favorites that have both shown excellent performance in both the nursery and the landscape are Red Jewel and Sugartyme®.  These cultivars have always shown stunning displays of bright red persistent fruit and clean foliage the entire season.  Red Jewel provides the choice of a more upright tidy tree, while Sugartyme® is more rounded as it grows into the landscape.

If you can show your customer good in-ground specimens of flowering crabs, they will usually sell themselves.  Good availability of crabs that are well established in containers also helps overcome customer resistance.  They tend to flush heavily in spring while fresh dug B&B crabs often pale when visually compared.








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