‘John Downie’ is the Star of the Spring Show

For the past few weeks the focus and main feature of our small, suburban back garden has been our crab apple ‘John Downie’ tree. Planted three or so years ago, it’s been growing steadily and putting out blossom when the season and the mood has taken it. 2019 was a very good year for blossom and fruit, but last year it was almost devoid of flower. And then this year it came roaring back, with an incredibly lush, floriferous display of blossom that brought with it a deliciously light, fruit-sweet scent.

Here are a few snaps, taken on May 9th when the tree was in full bloom. I took a few more at the weekend, but the blossom had started to fade – battered by the recent wind and rain – and the sky was grey, so a short flashback seemed in order:

‘John Downie’ in full bloom, May 2021
A closer look at some of that gorgeous ‘John Downie’ blossom.
Crab Apple ‘John Downie’ is ready for its close-up…

‘John Downie’ isn’t just utterly gorgeous, of course. It also acts as an excellent cross-pollinator for the three trees in our air-pot mini-orchard (but more on that in another post).

I am slightly concerned though; that the on-and-off blossoming over the past three seasons is an indication that the tree has slipped into a biennial bearing pattern. Although this is perfectly normal for most Malus species, it does mean missing the spring blossom display one year in two, and spending a lot of time in the kitchen making crab apple jelly in the alternate years.

I’m going to see if I can address the issue and stave off biennialism by thinning: taking off around half of the immature fruitlets once the blossom has fully faded and the petals have all dropped. That way the tree will hopefully be able to reserve enough energy for setting next year’s fruit buds over the summer, rather than committing all its efforts to producing hundreds of crab apples this year.

How about you? Do you grow crab apples? Have they had a good year? Let me know, via the comments…

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