The Sargent crab is an attractive, compact tree or shrub, easy to transplant and grow. The small size and dense, wide spreading crown makes it useful under utility lines if there is room for a spreading crown, confined yards or gardens, privacy screens and hedges, and on sloping ground. Its attributes for wildlife and dependable spring beauty add to its appeal for home landscaping. Fragrant, pure white flowers are borne in great profusion in the spring. The red berry-like fruit is a favorite of birds, so much so, they may strip the tree prematurely before winter. Sargent crabs are often used in bonsai.
The Sargent crab is the smallest and most shrublike of all the crabapples. It forms a rounded, dense crown with zigzag branches that become gnarled and sometimes thorny with age, spreading up to twice as wide as the tree is tall. Its bark is dark gray-brown. Routinely grown with multiple trunks, it can be trained to grow with a single trunk. The new leaves are light green with fine hairs, later turning darker green and becoming smooth. The sweetly fragrant white flowers are abundant and produced in attractive clusters in May. The bright red, pea-sized pomes hang on the tree in clusters. This tree prefers moist, acidic loam, but will grow on sites with heavier and drier soils. It can be propagated by grafting or budding, softwood cuttings taken in early summer, or by seed. Seed propagation can result in size variations. Reported to be slightly susceptible to fireblight, it is also said to be resistant to scab, leaf spot, and the attacks of Japanese beetles.
The wildlife value is very high. The pea-sized fruits make is easy for birds of many species to pluck and swallow. They are especially favored by cedar waxwings, robins, grosbeaks, and mockingbirds. Red-necked pheasant, cottontail rabbit, red fox, and black bear also enjoy the fruit. The tree's dense foliage has the added value of providing protective shelter.
The name of this species comes from the man who introduced it from its native Japan in 1892, C.S. Sargent.
The Sargent crab prefers moist, well drained soil, but will tolerate drier soils.
The leaves are alternate, simple, oval, 2"-4" long, with fine serrations. They consist of two types: without any lobes and with three lobes. The new leaves are light green, later turning medium to dark green, and to yellow in the fall.
Pink buds open to fragrant, 5-petaled, white flowers with a golden stamen, approximately 3/4" in diameter. Sargent crab is an alternate bearer, blooming heavily only every other year.
The berry-like pomes are at first greenish yellow with a red cheek, later turning bright red, about 1/3"-1/2" in diameter, and hang on the tree in clusters persistant into winter.