Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

By Stephen Melhuish (Tree & Hedging Consultant)

Pollination throughout the country and worldwide has become quite an important topic in recent years. While the diminishing number of insects might seem quite daunting, it is relatively easy to start helping within our own gardens.

When we study pollinators (the insects that pollinate plants) we see that the numbers are dropping. This is due to a number of reasons, but primarily a loss in habitats. One of the ways you can help is by planting trees that provide habitats for pollinators.

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Habitats for insects might not be something we immediately think about when choosing a plant for our gardens, but an increasing number of visitors to Nicholsons are asking questions to steer them in the right direction.

I wanted to concentrate on just one tree species in this article, namely Crab Apples.

Malus (Crab-Apples):

I’ve chosen to talk about this species more than any other right now because it’s so important in contributing to both habitat and pollination. The tree itself can easily grow away undisturbed with zero maintenance. What could be an easier addition to our garden environment?

On the Nursery:

We grow two forms of Crab-Apples; those that we call ‘fully feathered’, (with its branches closer to the ground) and another form that has a cleared stem, which is high enough to walk under.

The fully feathered form is a welcome addition to any garden as the lower branches come close enough to the ground to help provide nectar for foraging bees.

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Many crab apples have flowers that can emerge very early in the spring, often when it’s still too cold for the bumblebee to fly much higher than a few feet from the ground. This is where the feathered form really helps habitat and pollination alike, by drooping its branches low so that the flowers sit exactly where the bumblebees can get to them easily.

Other insects benefit too:

Hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, solitary bees, moths and some beetles are all suffering from a loss of habitat and crab-apples can go a long way in helping their plight.

Longer Grass for Habitat:

Try planting your tree in a place where you can then leave the grass to grow higher than your usual lawn height. Better still, dedicate long swathes of lawn for this purpose, allowing some wild seeds to proliferate in these areas of your garden. You’ll be amazed just how much wildlife will be attracted compared to a mown lawn.

Crab Apples as cross pollinators:

Crab apples flower for a long period of time, often over a four-week period. This is important as it can help to make up for the shorter flowering times of other edible dessert apples.

All apple trees are categorised with a group, which identifies which other apple trees they can pollinate with. Crab Apples will pollinate with all groups of dessert apples, but here are some pairings to consider based on their flowering times:

Malus Profusion: A pollinator for dessert apples in groups A-C.

Malus Floribunda: A pollinator for dessert apples in groups A-C

Malus Harry Baker: A pollinator for dessert apples in groups B-D

Malus John Downie: A pollinator for dessert apples in groups B-D

Malus Crab Apple Varieties currently at the Nursery:

All Crab Apples are self-fertile and help to pollinate many other edible dessert apples.

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Malus ‘Profusion Improved’: (also known as Directeur Moerland)

  • Height: 4 mtrs x Width 5 mtrs
  • Suitable for well-drained soil
  • Flowers in May: Dark purple-pink in large numbers
  • Fruit: reddish-purple
  • Leaves: Bronze-purple, maturing to dark green
  • Wonderful in a sunny site
  • Fruit size: 10-11mm
Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Flower

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Autumn fruit

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Summer fruit

Malus ‘Cardinal’:

  • Height: 4 mtrs x Width 3 mtrs
  • Flowers: Intense pink in spring
  • Dark leaves in spring, turning glossy red in summer
  • Fruit: Small, covering branches in autumn
  • Soil: Prefers moist, loamy soil
  • Fruit size: 8-12mm
Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Flower

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Autumn fruit

Supporting Our Wonderful Pollinators with Crab Apples

Summer fruit

Malus ‘Neville Copeman’:

  • Height 5 mtrs x Width 4 mtrs
  • Flowers in April / May
  • Flowers: Light-purple
  • Fruit red/orange
  • Leaves are green with shades of purple in summer
  • Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained soil
  • Fruit size: 29-31mm