Crab apples: Flowers, fruit and fragrance |

Crab apples: Flowers, fruit and fragrance

Apples are very productive trees, the fruit keeps well and it may be dried or made into cider to keep even longer. For a thousand years or more, “cider” was a fermented beverage of fairly low alcohol content but with a long shelf life. There appear to be cider apple trees (Lady) out near the site of the old Boca Brewery.

In the spring and fall I make a game of spotting all the feral apples along the sides of the roads. There are hundreds. Some are obviously quite old and others have sprung up in the time I’ve been here. I always do my part to plant them along the roads (my apple cores never end up in the trash).

There are also hundreds of varieties of crab apple. While not technically correct, a crab apple is an apple with fruit less than two inches in diameter. Many originated from the edible varieties but many more have since been improved purely for aesthetics.

With the exception of a few, the showy flowering trees in downtown Truckee are all crab apples. On the hill in old town near the houses you find more fruiting apples, with showy pink and white flowers. Some of these were planted more than a century ago.

Crab apple attributes include flower color and size while a few have fragrance as well. Crab apples may have red buds with white flowers or pink buds with red flowers or any combination thereof. The summer foliage may be light green, dark green, bronze or purple (Royalty) and the fall color can vary from yellow to burgundy red (Bechtel).

The crab apple fruit, usually no larger than berries, are another important feature of crab apple trees. The best ones have bright fruit that persists on the trees long after the leaves have fallen and give you an additional season of color. The shape of crab apples can be shrubby (Sargent, one of my favorites) or upright to 30-feet tall (Dolgo).

They may have weeping, spreading or upright (Red Baron) branches. The varieties with upright branching suffer the least snow damage. I love the look of crabapples planted in thickets with their canopies intertwined in a mass of blooms in the spring.

Look at the crabapples on Jiboom Street and next to the downtown Post Office as well as those along the road. An additional bonus with crabapples is that they will pollinate your fruiting apple trees if you have no other pollinator.

Eric Larusson is a co-owner of the Villager Nursery with over 30 years of mountain gardening experiments under his trowel. He holds degrees in molecular biology and horticulture and is one of the instructors for the Mountain Gardening Class Series offered at the Villager Nursery spring through fall.

The pictures w/previous e-mail are of: Apple Blossoms of a ‘Bramley’ Apple and a young crab apple (possibly ‘Robinson’) in front of Dennis Zirbel’s office

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