Malus sylvestris belongs to the wild apples. These are very popular with insects, birds and also wild animals. The trees or large shrubs provide food and shelter. Unfortunately, they are no longer often found in nature or in gardens. In some federal states, they even belong to the endangered, native tree species, although they look very good due to their growth habit and the flowers or apples. The maintenance is also not demanding. In addition, the fruits can be processed. They don’t taste very good raw, but you can make delicious jellies or juice from them. Read the following text to find out what there is to know about the crab apple.


  • Malus sylvestris – European wild apple
  • Belongs to the pome fruit family
  • Rose family
  • Probably the native parent form of the cultivated apple
  • 3 to 5 m tall, mostly a shrub, small trees also possible
  • Deciduous, i.e. deciduous
  • In contrast to cultivated apples, the leaves are only slightly hairy or not hairy at all
  • Twigs thorny – spurs
  • Flowering in May/June – pink-white flowers
  • fruits from September
  • Has only small fruits, about 2 to 4 cm in size, often slightly reddened
  • Fruits are edible, taste somewhat sweet when ripe, but are woody
  • Good for juicing and for apple jelly
  • Wild apple important for animals, mammals, birds and insects
  • Shallow-rooted, richly branched


The crab apple has become rare in its natural habitat due to human intervention. In some federal states it is already one of the endangered native tree species. The trees are still found most frequently in the Eastern Ore Mountains. The crab apple tree has a shrub-like habit, grows 3 to 5 m high, rarely even higher. It is found in alluvial forests and swamp forests, also at the edges of forests and in natural hedges. This wild apple is very slow-growing and not very competitive, so you have to be careful what you plant nearby. The care is quite simple, especially if the location and plant substrate are right.

The crab apple is suitable as a solitaire, but needs some space uncut over the years so that the beautiful growth can come into its own. It also fits wonderfully into a wild hedge, but should then be cut, otherwise the hedge will be very wide. Sloe, hawthorn and dog rose go well with the wood.

The location must be bright. Anything from sunny to light partial shade is suitable. However, the place should not get too hot.

A fresh, nutrient- and lime-rich, deep clay-gravel mixture is suitable for the plant substrate. It should not be too dry, but not too wet either. Planting starts in October, at least bare-root trees. Container or bale goods can be planted all year round, except in the case of frost. The crab apple should not be too dry, and the soil should not dry out if possible. It is better to keep it slightly moist. Waterlogging is also unfavorable.

You can cut, but you don’t have to. Pruning when young encourages branching. The wood is only able to sprout when young, so only cut carefully later and only if absolutely necessary. The propagation succeeds well by sowing, the propagation of cuttings is not so easy. Winter hardiness is good, only potted plants need protection. Diseases are rare, but not excluded. Crab apple pests are mammals such as deer and rabbits that nibble on the bark.


When it comes to location, it is important that the entire tree or shrub gets enough light. It doesn’t necessarily have to be blazing sun, but sufficient light is important. In order for the apples to ripen, light must also penetrate to the inside of the crown.

  • Light places, sunny to semi-shady
  • A lot of light is important, not necessarily a lot of sun, although the crab apple likes that
  • Moderately warm

plant substrate

The crab apple tree gets along with almost any soil as long as it is not too wet and boggy. He prefers a fresh, deep clay-gravel mixture rich in nutrients and lime. It must be neither too dry nor too wet. Permanent wetness damages the wood.

  • Loves nitrogen and calcareous soil
  • Also thrives on rocky soils as long as they are not too low in nitrogen
  • Rather moist substrate


The crab apple is an inexpensive tree. Bare-rooted specimens are available from 99 cents, from October to around the end of April. These trees can be used without further ado. Bare root is good quality, you can see and judge the roots. They are also offered at the best planting time.

  • Containerware can be planted all year round except during frost.
  • But autumn is best.
  • Dig the planting hole deep enough
  • For bales and container goods twice as big as the bale
  • Remove bale towels or netting
  • Water the roots for a few hours
  • In the case of a tree shape, dig in a support stick. Put them in the planting hole at the same time, do not knock them in afterwards, as the roots could be injured.
Tip: In the case of young trees, leave the tree disc free or cover it with bark mulch. This protects against competition from grass roots, especially in dry summers. In later years this is no longer necessary.

watering and fertilizing

The crab apple needs moisture, but not moisture. If there is a lack of water, flowers and fruits are dropped. Especially in the growth phase, the tree must be watered regularly. Later, when there is a drought, water supply must be provided.

Note: It is important that the water is poured through. The soil should be well moistened to a depth of 20 cm. It doesn’t have to be done every day, but about twice a week if there’s no rainfall, and sometimes more often if it’s hot and sunny.
  • Water at least once a week
  • Sufficiently deep moisten
  • Requires nutrients
  • Not too much nitrogen, otherwise the shoots will grow very quickly and long, but will not have vigor
  • Fertilizing with mature compost is ideal
  • It can also be mixed in when planting.
  • Add some more horn meal
  • Do not fertilize after the end of June so that the shoots can mature and do not freeze to death in winter.
  • Crab apples in the planter need regular watering and fertilizing.

To cut

The crab apple does not necessarily have to be cut. Especially at a young age, however, a cut promotes branching. If the plant has few branches, it will grow in long shoots. They are thin and can easily break off. This can be prevented by a cut.

  • Prune in spring, around March/April
  • Shorten branches by a third
  • Pruning the fruit tree is important
  • The branches are cut in such a way that enough light comes into the crown, i.e. pyramidal

Crab crab apple

If you want to make a tree out of the bush, the lower branches are regularly removed. A strong leader is required that grows as straight as possible. He forms the future tribe. Then the bottom shoots must be removed.

  • Divorce in summer
  • Work with pruning shears or pruning saw.
  • Remove branches completely, leaving no residue.
  • Saw the branch first from below and then through from above.
  • Finally, the stump can be shortened.
  • Never destroy the branch collar, i.e. the direct attachment of the branch to the tree trunk


Hibernation is not a problem. The trees are sufficiently hardy. When kept in buckets, the container must be protected from freezing, because the roots do not tolerate this well.

  • Sufficiently hardy
  • When keeping containers, pack the pot with bubble wrap or coconut mats
  • Place the jar on styrofoam
  • Don’t forget to water, always on frost-free days
  • Not too sunny, no glaring midday sun


Propagation is by sowing. It is best to sow outdoors, either directly in the bed or in containers. It is important that the seeds are exposed to cold, they are cold germs. You can also propagate with shoot cuttings.


  • Stratify seeds three months before sowing
  • Store seeds in a cool, damp place to stimulate germination
  • Place the seeds in a flower pot between moist sand and bury the container outdoors or leave it in the ground with the edges sticking out
  • It is important that water can drain off well
  • If you sow seeds directly, you usually have to wait months for germination


  • At the beginning of the growing season in spring, cut 4 to 8 cm long pieces from this year’s wood.
  • It is cut directly below a knot
  • Each cutting must have at least one bud or leaf on top.
  • There should never be more than two to three leaves, otherwise too much water will evaporate through them.
  • Put the cuttings 1/3 in the ground
  • Keep moist, preferably protected under a half-open foil
  • Water the cuttings with field horsetail broth, which prevents fungal infections or fights the fungal spores if they have already settled

diseases and pests

Crab apple trees are actually quite healthy, but they can also be affected by some typical apple tree diseases. Animals also love the bark, flowers and fruits, although many of these are not pests directly. However, those who do not have a fence around their property must expect visits from rabbits and rain, for which the crab apple is a delicacy.

  • No mildew infestation, which is why the crab apple is often used for breeding as the basis for new, resistant varieties
  • Mice feed on the exposed bark and roots
  • Hares gnaw the bark of young trees
  • Roe deer can also cause damage, on the one hand by browsing and on the other hand by sweeping
  • Apple scab – dark spots on the leaves, yellowing of these, lesions and leaf fall. Fungicides help with fungal infestation.
  • Fire Blight – rotted leaf tips, brown twig tips, scorched looking drooping twigs and leaves. Severe cases kill the trees. There is no cure. Fire blight is notifiable. The crab apple should be eliminated.
  • Rust – rust-brown leaf spots, leaf fall

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell the crab apple from the cultivated apple?
A distinction is made between the leaves and the fruit. The underside of the leaves of the crab apple has little or no hair, while that of the cultivated apple does. The crab apple has only very small, often shriveled fruits. They have a diameter of up to 4 cm. The taste is rather sour, sometimes even bitter, which is due to the high content of tannins. In addition, the already small fruits still have a very small core and shallow stalk and calyx pits.

Is the crab apple suitable as a bonsai?
Yes, and such a bonsai with small apples even looks extremely good. There are several types of design, the broom shape, freely upright, the double trunk and the multiple trunk.

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