Prairie Fire Crabapple

The Prairie Fire Crabapple Is A Particularly Beautiful Tree

A Tree For All Seasons - The Prairie Fire crabapple is definitely a four-season tree. Its dark red to reddish-brown bark, resembling the bark of a cherry tree, stands out against a cold winter landscape. In the spring, deep-purple leaves emerge, changing to a dark green as the summer season approaches. The coming of spring brings what must be considered the tree's highlight, the blossoming of what appears to be a million dark purplish red flowers, each blossom measuring nearly an inch a half in diameter. A noteworthy item about the blossoms is that their color does not fade. They are attractive until the petals drop away. The blossoms are soon replaced by the fruit, shiny red to purplish crab apples. One could almost call them berries as they are only about a half inch in diameter. The apples are especially noticeable in the fall, when the tree's leaves turn a bright orange, and are a favorite food of birds.


The Prairie Fire crabapple is not a long established species, being introduced by the University of Illinois Department of Horticulture in 1982. Fully grown, the Prairie Fire crabapple reaches a height of up to 20 feet, with a 15 to 20 foot spread. It is a nice, medium-sized tree for a small yard, and not as large and overpowering as some flowering fruit trees can become. It is winter hardy to well below zero, and is at its best when grown in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Like most fruit trees, including the ornamental varieties, the tree grows best in full sun, but will tolerate a location where there is some partial shade. A premier characteristic of the Prairie Fire crabapple is that it is highly disease resistant. It does not suffer from fungus ailments that strike many flowering ornamentals.

A Late Frost Is The Main Enemy - Like most fruit trees, and many plants for that matter, the Prairie Fire crabapple will not tolerate wet roots. Moist soil is fine, as long as the soil is well drained. When selecting a planting location, avoid an area which is known to be a frost pocket. This is most often a location at the bottom of a hill. A frost pocket is more apt to get a late frost which can easily damage the flower buds. Planting the tree on the mid-slope of a hill or away from the base of the hill would be best. If you live in an area where late frosts are common, this tree might not be the best choice for you.

Planting Is Straightforward - Plant a Prairie Fire crabapple as you would plant any fruit tree. You can plant it either bare root, or plant it with a root ball. The latter method generally gives you a head start as far as achieving a successful rate of growth is concerned. When planting a root ball, follow the general rule of placing the root ball in a hole at least one and one half times the diameter of the ball. Loosen some of the roots in the ball and fill in the hole with a rich, loamy soil. You can usually tell on a tree you've purchased where the surface of the soil should be. It is typically two to three inches above the top of the root ball. Keep the young tree well watered the first year, or until its root system appears to be firmly established. Once established, the tree is somewhat drought tolerant, but is happiest if you give it a periodic watering. Most flowering fruit trees are at there best when given a feeding of tree fertilizer annually until their full height is reached. After that, fertilizing is usually not needed more often than every five years, and less than that if soil conditions are good.

While most flowering fruit trees are attractive, the Prairie Fire crabapple, though fairly new on the scene, can put on a spectacular show, and has a large and growing following.