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The Cardinal Crabapple Tree

Crabapples occasionally get a bad rap for their tart flavor profiles, making them less than appealing for certain dishes. But one thing that can’t be denied is the sheer beauty of a flowering crabapple tree.

That’s why they’re such excellent ornamentals and edible trees…and among the ranks, Cardinal Crabapple Trees are standouts for their beauty and hardiness.

Read on to learn all about this popular crabapple tree…including its primary uses, whether you can eat it, how to grow it, and much more.

A cardinal in a crabapple tree similar to the cardinal crabapple in early December

Characteristics of Cardinal Crabapple Trees

Cardinal Crabapple Trees are best known for their ornamental appeal, even more so than their edible traits. This crabapple tree variety has incredibly dense and broad-spanning branches. Hence, it covers a lot of ground in landscaping with less investment.

A Cardinal Crabapple Tree will typically grow about 15 feet in height and 25 feet in overall width. It’s well known for its spreading, fanned-out branches and the purple-tinged, dark-green foliage they bear. This foliage begins as red-tinged purple and matures to its deep emerald shade throughout the year.

In the springtime, Cardinal Crabapple Trees sport numerous purple buds, which will open throughout the season into vivid pinkish-red flowers.

These flowers will bring rich red crabapples about half an inch in diameter. The fruits will mature throughout the fall and even wintertime, making them among the later-growing crabapple tree varieties.

In addition to its majestic landscaping appeal, the Cardinal Crabapple Tree also holds high regard among landscapers and crabapple connoisseurs due to its great disease resistance. It’s resistant to most common crabapple tree diseases, in fact.

Fast Facts About Cardinal Crabapple Trees

crabapple tree varieties

Primary Uses

The question often arises, “Can the fruit of the Cardinal Crabapple Tree be eaten?” And while the answer is “Yes,” it comes with the caveat, “But it usually isn’t.” Typically, Cardinal Crabapple Trees are used for landscaping over consumption.

In fact, many cultivators and landscapers who use Cardinal Crabapple Trees will encourage you to let the fruit remain on the trees. The reason for this is that Cardinal Crabapple Trees typically attract songbirds with their gorgeous blooms and vivid colors.

More often than not, these songbirds will feast on the crabapples while roosting in the branches. These cherry-sized crabapples are perfect for birds to consume. They will keep them fed up to migration time (and even into the beginning of winter for nonmigratory birds).

Suppose you are hunting for a crabapple tree variety to grow specifically for eating. Consider something like the Centennial Crabapple or a Dolgo Crabapple tree in that case.

However, folks searching for the perfect ornamental crabapple tree will find few better than the Cardinal Crabapple tree. Those wanting to support local wildlife in their feeding efforts will also find this crabapple tree to be the ideal candidate.

Eating The Fruit

Though it is not its primary function, you can still use the fruit of a Cardinal Crabapple tree. These crabapples are highly tart due to the elevated levels of malic acid they naturally contain.

For this reason, they are best used in things like jams and jellies, where they can be reduced and combined with sweeter elements to cut the tartness.

Cardinal Crabapples are typically a poor variety for consuming raw. However, they can do well in very sweet foods like pastries or bread. Once again, they can be combined with sugars and even starches to balance out their tart flavor profile.

Health Benefits

If you do choose to consume some tart Cardinal Crabapples, you will find that they certainly pack a powerful punch of health benefits!

These crabapples are high in many vitamins, including A, B, and C. This means eating them will boost your immune system, reduce inflammation throughout your body, and even strengthen your bones.

Other vital nutrients contained in crabapples, including the Cardinal variety, are calcium, manganese, magnesium, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, amino acids, and antioxidants.

Each of these plays its role in boosting your health, from reducing inflammation to aiding in brain function, helping you sleep better, and much more.

Crabapples can also aid in digestion, putting an end to digestive issues when consumed in various stages of ripeness.

A ripe crabapple can help regulate bowel movements and soften hard stools, while unripe crabapples can help mitigate diarrhea. Crabapple pulp has been used for decades to counteract nausea, especially in children.

Growing Cardinal Crabapple Trees At Home

Flowering white crabapple tree in front of a pink crabapple tree, both in full bloom in residential setting.

Preparing and Planting

There are a few factors to consider when deciding how to plant your Cardinal Crabapple Trees. Especially if you are selecting this variety for ornamental purposes, you want to choose the perfect spot carefully.

Because of its density and broad span, choose a planting spot for your Cardinal Crabapple Tree where it can be grouped in a small cluster with others of its kind. Or use a couple of these crabapple trees as ornamental frames. This can be done along a path or walkway or as a frame for your driveway.

Whatever spot you are leaning toward for planting, be sure the soil has a medium moisture rate, is well-draining, and is acidic. Loamy soil is the best, though this crabapple variety can adapt to various soil types.

A spot with full sun will also be the best for your Cardinal Crabapple tree. Once you have selected the proper location, turn the soil and rid it of any rocks or weeds, ensuring it can drain well and that the tree’s roots can effectively spread out.

Composting is a good idea to ensure fertile soil at the proper acidity levels.

Now it’s time to plant your Cardinal Crabapple Tree! You will want to dig a hole deep as the tree’s root ball and twice as wide to do this. Place the tree inside this hole and fill it about halfway with soil. Then, water the soil and give enough time for the water to drain away fully.

Finally, you can add the rest of the soil, pressing it down lightly, but be sure not to pack it at the tree base.

Caring and Maintaining

Keep your Cardinal Crabapple Tree moist, but don’t flood it! This tree does have some drought tolerance once established, but giving it up to an inch of water a week is still recommended. Though rainfall will usually take care of this, you may want to supplement with additional watering in times of drought.

Regular springtime composting and mulching will help prepare your Cardinal Crabapple Tree to flourish with those highly coveted blooms each year. And although it risks the loss of some flowers, it is crucial to prune your crabapple tree in the winter months when it is dormant.

This variety is highly resistant to common crabapple diseases such as fire blight, rust, mildew, and scabs. You should watch for pests or signs of crabapple tree disease on your Cardinal Crabapple Tree.

Where To Buy Cardinal Crabapple Trees

closeup of prarifire flowering crab apple tree branch in springtime

Despite their inherent beauty and great landscaping appeal, Cardinal Crabapple Trees can occasionally be difficult to source. However, you may find them at local nurseries, lawn and garden centers, and similar stores.

Wrapping up Cardinal Crabapple Trees

Excited about the ornamental brilliance that the Cardinal Crabapple Tree can bring to your landscape? Before you get started growing one, be sure to check out our Crabapple Trees Page!

This valuable resource will put you on the perfect path to growing healthy, thriving crabapple trees.