IT HAS not been a great year for apples of any kind, either the large ones for eating and cooking, the wild crab apples of the hedgerows, or the decorative crab apples of gardens. A cold spell of weather with frost in early May put paid to the flowers on many trees but, luckily, some escaped.
It is ironic that some kinds of ornamental crab apples can be affected by frost in this country even though they are bone-hardy, native to very cold areas, such as northern China. But in those areas of continental climate, spring starts and continues, and does not disappear for a week two months after the start of growth.
The best-known fruiting crab apple is 'John Downie' with red and yellow tapering fruits. These can be eaten, somewhat bitter to taste, but they are good for making crab apple jelly. The tree is small and also carries a nice show of white flowers in early summer.
'Red Sentinel' is a remarkably beautiful variety, with masses of bright red fruit now showing on the stems as the last of the leaves have fallen. These fruits are very persistent and last into late winter. 'Gorgeous' is also reliable, with larger fruits, although these are not as persistent on the tree as 'Red Sentinel'.
With red-flushed orange-yellow fruits, 'Evereste' is similar in size to 'Gorgeous'. 'Golden Hornet' is widely grown and makes a small tree with masses of rich yellow fruits. These are quite small but carried in large numbers on the branches and they remain well after the leaves have fallen.
'Butterball' is a superb yellow-fruited variety. The fruits are large, round and a lovely deep yellow colour, carried in numbers. 'Neville Copeman' has deep red fruits and a purple tinge to the foliage. 'Wintergold' is also a good variety, making a small tree with bright yellow fruits that are carried well into winter.
In recent years, small specimens of red crab apple have been sold in fruit for Christmas and they are very pretty. The plant can be kept in a pot for a few years and then planted out in the ground. In general, crab apples are reliable, easy to grow, and bring a touch of colour at a key time of year.
Allow for four or five metres spread and plant in a sunny spot in good fertile soil, not very rich, but well-drained, and not dry in summer. Planting in the right conditions will ensure a good fruiting display. Choose a prominent spot where the tree can be seen in all its splendour.