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Tree Fruits Of Fall Extend Autumn Colors

Tree Fruits Of Fall Extend Autumn Colors

By Nancy Buley, Director of Communications, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Fall color goes beyond foliage. As the kaleidoscopic show of bright fall tones fade and leaves drift from the trees, the colorful fruits of crabapples and hawthorns take center stage in gardens and landscapes. Previously hidden among the leaves of late summer and autumn, bright fruits persist and carry the show into the winter months.

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Red Jewel™ Crabapple (Malus ‘Jewelcole’) fruits are especially long-lasting. Winter-weary birds appreciate them as a source of food. In milder climates, fruits spared by the birds sparkle right into early spring, when clouds of fragrant, pink-tinged white flowers take center stage.

Ornamental crabapples garner much attention in springtime, when their billowing clouds of fragrant blooms rise above daffodils, tulips and other spring delights. The best cultivars give encore performances throughout the growing season, delivering clean, disease-resistant foliage in summer, rich fall color and bright, long-lasting fruits that linger into winter. Hawthorns are also appreciated for their eye-catching winter display of bright red or orange “haws.”

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Firebird® Crabapple (Malus sargentii ‘Select A’) is an especially prolific producer of tiny, bright red fruits. This compact, white-flowering selection of Sargent Crabapple blooms heavily in late spring and bears long-lasting, high quality fruit. It is highly rated for excellent resistance to scab, fireblight and other diseases.

Several ornamental crabapples light up the landscape in autumn as well as spring. Featured for their outstanding show of blooms in the April issue of In The Dirt, Adirondack, Sugar Tyme™, Sargent Tina and Red Jewel™ crabs are also remarkable for their autumn display of bright red, long-lasting, bird pleasing fruits. Also presented in April, Purple Prince and Royal Raindrops® Crabapples are excellent choices for those who enjoy purple leaves and persistent purple-red fruits.

Even when selecting trees for fall color display, disease resistance should be your first consideration in choosing ornamental crabapples. Modern cultivars offer improved disease resistance as well as small, persistent fruits that are attractive to birds and extend their ornamental interest into the winter months. Here we share some of our favorites, with other good suggestions on our Crabapple Information Chart. Based on decades of cooperative testing by members of the International Ornamental Crabapple Society, it rates each cultivar for resistance to the common crabapple diseases including scab, fireblight, cedar-apple rust and mildew.

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Golden Raindrops® Crabapple (Malus ‘Schmidtcutleaf’) is a favorite of robins, cedar waxwings and other birds, thanks to its tiny, beak-size fruits. Elegant and unique among the flowering crabapples, it presents masses of delicate, long-lasting, fragrant, star-like white flowers that are followed by deeply lobed, disease-resistant, deep green foliage. Leaves turn golden yellow in autumn. Clusters of tiny golden yellow fruits attract birds and persist into winter, when they sparkle like golden raindrops along its bare branches. Zone 3 hardiness recommends it for cold climates.

Morton Arboretum and Colorado State University Extension and Missouri Botanical Garden and New York Botanical Garden are examples of good regional resources that will help you select the best performers for your landscape. For a deep dive into all things crabapple, be sure to visit (online or in person) The Ohio State University’s Crablandia, a remarkable collection of ornamental crabapples located at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, OH.

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Sparkling Sprite® Crabapple (Malus ‘JFS-KW207’ PP 27954) has a unique, densely branched, topiary-like form that lends formality to landscapes. Its branches are smothered in springtime by pink-tinged flowers, and in summer by exceptionally disease-resistant green leaves. This petite beauty bears an especially heavy crop of tiny yellow crabapples that deepen to orange as winter tightens its grip on the garden.

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Winter King Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’) is a selection of Green Hawthorn, a native species that’s found throughout much of the Eastern United States. Clusters of small white flowers borne in May support pollinators and develop into a profuse crop of bright red, ¼” fruits that crowd along the slender, horizontally arching branches of this handsome tree. The combination of sparkling red fruits and silvery bark give it a bold appearance in winter. Rich dark green foliage turns a pleasing bright yellow in autumn.

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Lavalle Hawthorn (Crataegus x lavallei) looks to be decorated for Christmas when orange-red fruits appear among its dark green leaves in late summer. Summer foliage turns to bronze green and then to coppery orange before falling. Handsome fruit is bright and relatively large at ¾” diameter. In milder climates, the fruit deepens to red and may persist into the new year. Its irregularly vase shaped growth habit has a strong impact on the winter landscape.

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