The Best Crabapples for Birds and ‘Layered Garden’ Winner
Last week I got a new crabapple tree for the space where the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) had died. Usually I plant bareroot trees myself, but this time we shelled out for a tree from the nursery that was about 9′ and too heavy for me to plant on my own.
In addition to being highly ornamental, crabapples are great trees for the birds. There’s the fruit, of course, but birds also eat buds and flowers, as well as the insects that are drawn to the flowers and other parts of the tree.
There are native crabs such as Iowa crabapple (Malus ioensis), but native plant advocate Doug Tallamy maintains that most hybrid crabs are so genetically similar to the natives that they are equally attractive to native insects. In his book Bringing Nature Home he found this to be an exception to the rule. (You may think being attractive to insects is a bad thing, but what would insect-eating birds do without insect-attracting trees?)
Crabapples tend to be prone to diseases such as fire blight, scab and various rusts, so it is important to plant varieties that are disease resistant in your area. Trees planted in full sun and moist but well-drained soil will also be less susceptible to disease. Fortunately for Chicago area gardeners, the Chicago Botanic Garden has done extensive testing of crabapple varieties.
The variety I chose is called ‘Golden Raindrops’. This is a more compact, vase-shaped crab with white flowers and small yellow fruits (hence the name). It is disease resistant, pollution-tolerant, and adaptable regarding soil acidity. It is also supposed to be somewhat shade tolerant.
Small fruits tend to be most appealing to birds. I have a ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple in the front, but I realized too late that the 1/2″ fruits are too large to attract many birds. Some do get eaten in late winter but I think mostly by starlings and larger birds. There is an ornamental plus side, though, as the fruits are persistent. But in general, “persistent fruit” translates to “less attractive to birds”.
Here are some other crabapples that are favored by birds:
- Japanese flowering crabapple (Malus floribunda) Fragrant pink flowers.
- Zumi crabapple (Malus x zumi ‘Calocarpa’). Large clusters of pink-white flowers.
- Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii). A small, shrubby crab with frangrant white flowers.
- ‘Red Jade’ Crabapple. A beautiful weeping crab with white flowers and orange-red fruit. Considered disease resistant by the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Of course, it’s not just the fruit that makes crabapples a good wildlife tree, so don’t feel too guilty if you want a crab with larger, persistent fruits.
Do you have a favorite crabapple?
***On an entirely different front, I’m pleased to announce that Nicole of My Garden Diaries has won the copy of David Culp’s The Layered Garden. Nicole, can you email me your mailing address? You can contact me through the “About” page.