Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Featured Plant- Malus sargentii 'Tina'

Here at Juniper Hill, one of the surest signs that Spring is on its way is when the robins invade the Tina Sargent crabapples (Malus sargentii 'Tina').  We haven't seen the robins yet this year, but we're waiting.

The photo of this "advance scout" for the main flock was taken a few years ago, on March 22, during one of those "you thought you were done with me" spring snowstorms.  Except for the robins, I'm not sure who loves these trees more than I do.  The robins love them for their small 1/4 inch fruit that, once discovered, is stripped in the blink of an eye.  I love them for their gorgeous white flowers and their petite size.  They make perfect specimen trees to frame openings, or as focal points to be enjoyed from a favorite window.  I use a pair of them as specimens to delineate the corners of the entrance to our little fenced courtyard garden where we grow herbs and lettuce.

Most crabapples are hybrids of both American and more cold hardy Siberian strains.  The Sargent crabapple is unique in that it is a true species native to Japan.  It was first imported in 1892 by Charles Sprague Sargent, long time Director of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum.  Malus sargentii has a very loose growing habit, looking more shrub-like than a tree.  Malus sargentii 'Tina' is a dwarf form of Malus sargentii that is often grown as a standard.  It seldom reaches more than 6 feet high.  Pruning a 'Tina' can be a little like playing with a Rubiks Cube since its branches want to grow toward every direction on the compass!  However, with a little practice, it is possible to keep the the tree pruned so that it maintains a relatively tight "head" and doesn't look too wild or top heavy.

In addition to anchoring the corners of the courtyard garden, I love the layering effect that the Tinas provide in the early Spring when the deep red of their flower buds plays perfectly with the deep crimsons of the nearby Japanese Maples. Malus sargentii's are among some of the most profuse blooming crabapples, although very heavy blooming occurs only every other year.  The flowers are snow white and they provide great contrast here in the courtyard garden when their bloom coincides with the flowering of the ancient lilacs by the barn and the Tinkerbell lilac hedge (Syringa x 'tinkerbell') that encloses the courtyard.

We planted our Tina Sargents about six years ago as already mature B&B trees. They require adequate moisture during the first growing season and should be pruned immediately after flowering, although they may need a winter touch up pruning as well.  Aside from that, they require little care and are especially disease resistant, as crabapples go.  I can't imagine our little courtyard garden without these beauties.


  1. Hi, Joe, I have no idea who Hally Jolivette is/was, but she has had an exceptional little tree named for her. Prunus Hally may be grown as a flowering shrub, but it was the grafted tree form that we couldn't wait to get our hands on. The tree grows in a very dense and rounded form to at least 15'. In early spring, every twig AND twiglet flaunts pearl-shaped dark maroon buds. The buds unfold slowly to reveal clusters of downward-facing double flowers, an inch in diameter. These showy blossoms are white with an intensely dark pink center and soon Hally becomes a dazzling vision in white. As the flowers toss and bounce on those longed-for spring zephyrs, one imagines throngs of graceful, tutu-clad ballerinas. In our normally cool springs, the spectacle may continue for weeks. Remarkably disease-free dark green, oval, serrated-edged leaves appear next. They turn a deep golden color in the fall. Hands-down, Hally Jolivette is our favorite flowering tree and we are puzzled that this beauty is so little known.

  2. Hi, Meredeth: Prunus Hally certainly sounds like a winner! You'll have to point it out to me the next time I visit your gorgeous garden. Anyone else out there growing Hally Jolivette?--Joe

  3. Meredeth, all references to Prunus Hally suggest zone 6. Do you have yours in a protected area? From the photos I have found, it looks lovely.

  4. Yes, Paula, I've seen Hally listed as zone 6, but it was obviously marked zone 5 when we bought it. Ours is not planted in a protected area and it is rock-hardy. Now all you have to do is find one!


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