Plant of the Month: Malus sargentii ‘Tina’

Malus sargentii 'Tina' image courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

Malus sargentii ‘Tina’ image courtesy of the
Morton Arboretum

Tina is the shortest crabapple and also the one that’s lowest maintenance. Highly resistant to apple scab, fireblight, rust, and powdery mildew, Tina is also litter free. The deep red crabapples are just the right size for even the smallest birds. When I grew this tree, the crabapples rarely lasted into October.

The flower buds are deep pink–almost red–opening to pure white with yellow anthers. The flowers have a classic appleblossom fragrance. Unlike Malus sargentiiMalus sargentii ‘Tina’ blooms every year. The leaves are medium green, turning to gold in the fall. Tina even provides winter interest through its unusual horizontal branching pattern.

Tina was introduced from seed trials by William McReynolds of Hooks Nursery, a well-known commercial nursery in Lake Zurich, Illinois. It is hardy in Zones 4-8. Tina is top-grafted onto 3-foot high (91 cm) standard Malus rootstock, producing an ultimate height of approximately 6 feet (183 cm). Mature width is typically 6′-7′ (183-213 cm). The branching habit becomes more picturesque with age.

Although root suckers and water sprouts can be pruned out at any time of year (use a spray disinfectant on secateurs between cuts to minimize potential for fireblight infection), shaping the tree is best done in late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant. Pruning for shape, if required, can be performed every 2-3 years. Don’t remove more than 25% of the branches when shaping. Numerous internet photos of Tina crabapples show immature trees with skinny trunks. Be assured that the trunk expands appropriately with age, just like any other crabapple.

Crabapples, in general, are not fussy about soil. If you can grow perennials without amending the soil, you can successfully grow crabapples. One inch of water per week is adequate for an established Tina, although roots need to be kept regularly moist the first year of planting.

Tinas don’t require fertilization once established. If you decide to fertilize, wait until the plant has been established for one full growing season. The following year, apply a low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring, such as 5-10-10. (Low nitrogen discourages the appearance of fireblight.) If suckers from the rootstock become prolific, consider purchasing Sucker-Stopper RTU and follow the directions on the package for application.

Healthy Tinas are rarely bothered by insect pests, except for the occasional Japanese beetle. Squish any beetles between gloved fingers before their numbers multiply.

Malus sargentii ‘Tina’ is one of the more expensive crabapples due to the time and effort required in top-grafting and pruning before the plant is ready for sale. However, the cost is recouped in the lack of maintenance expense. The branching structure is critical to Tina’s attractiveness, so don’t buy a plant via the internet. This is a tree you need to see in person before making a selection.

Tinas are useful as specimen trees, in shrub borders, anchoring herbaceous borders, or as front door sentinels. Lower growing perennials can be underplanted, although its best to stay 12″ (30 cm) away from the trunk when planting and to choose perennials that won’t require division, in order not to disturb the roots once the tree has settled in.

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