Help / Advise needed from Newbie for Crab apple

JoB

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Hoping I can get some expert opinions on my Crab apple - I am really new to bonsai, I am currently reading and surfing alot, playing with some Fiscus indoors. However, I got a bit over ambitious and purchased an older Bonsai thinking it would be nice to have something established to play with. The more I am reading , and then looking at this tree, the more I seem to be seeing alot of things which need to be corrected .. but am nervous about pruning etc in case I get it wrong. My plan is to join a club ( I think there is one in Cologne) and get some hands on help, but thought I would post a few pictures on here to see what opinions I can get and see if I am understanding some things correctly. I really do feel clueless at the moment and the more I read, the more confused I am getting.
To me, there appears to be too many branches coming from the same spot, and many which are crossing or almost crossing, all very long - I hope the pictures are good enough for assessment? If I do prune, should I wait a few weeks or go ahead now? seems to be contradictory info on the internet about when to prune, if I prune now, will this mean it will not blossom ? I am in Germany , near Cologne. Currently the tree is outside , pot is protected within a larger pot and if we have hard frosts I am moving it into a lean to that I have in the garden over night. I know I have ALOT to learn , this is why I am a little nervous about doing anything at the moment ...
thanks in advance !

Jo
1.jpg2.jpg3.jpg4.jpg5.jpg6.jpg
 

Shibui

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Hi Jo. Welcome to bonsai.
First, Almost everyone has a slightly different way of caring for their bonsai so you will always get different opinions on how to do things. That doesn't mean some are wrong. It just means there are many ways to achieve the same thing.
Our bonsai are mostly quite resilient plants and will cope despite most of the things we do to them so try out some things that sound right to you.
I think you are correct about this tree having too many too long branches. It does need pruning.
I think it is Ok to forgo the transient pleasure of flowers for a few days if doing so will bring the tree to being a better bonsai in the long run so don't get too hung up about flowers at this stage BUT I think we can prune this tree and still have some flowers in spring.
Crab apple flowers on small spurs - short, sometimes gnarled buds on the longer branches. You can probably identify some from where the old fruit stalks are hanging. The tree will flower from those same spurs for many years. As long as some of those are left after pruning you should have flowers in spring.
There are a lot of new branches that have grown from the trunk that I don't think will be part of this tree. You can probably cut the lowest branches off completely without any hesitation. Then there are some 'armpit' branches growing from the inside of bends on the trunk. We usually take those off as well but that may leave this tree with no branches on one side? If that's the case you may have to leave one or 2 just to give the tree some shape.
Remaining long branches can be reduced by about half I think, then take out any that bother you - crossing or too close together, etc.
Crab apple is very resilient so, even if you remove some branches that you later regret, they will probably start to bud and grow back.
 

Cadillactaste

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Good advice up above...I would like to add, a bonsai leans in toward the viewer. So you want your tree to do that. I can't tell in the 2D photo well enough to gauge if it is or not. Cool tree...bit of advice be proactive with fungicide,apple scab is a fungal issues with these, even orchards spray their trees for such issues. Advice given to me by my arborist guy I know.
 

JoB

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Shibui - thanks for the detailed answer - really helps :) , I will go out later and check for the spurs , would be nice to have some colour in spring .. but I have no problem to miss that (or have reduced bloom) this year if I can get a better tree in the long run :)

Cadillactaste - I think I need to reassess the 'front' .. the clearest view of the trunk currently (the pic where the pot is at an angle) has the tree slightly leaning away.. so I will take some time to look at that at the same time as deciding which branches need to go :) . I think I will spend some time this afternoon , just looking and pondering , and maybe start the pruning tomorrow
 

JoB

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Good advice up above...I would like to add, a bonsai leans in toward the viewer. So you want your tree to do that. I can't tell in the 2D photo well enough to gauge if it is or not. Cool tree...bit of advice be proactive with fungicide,apple scab is a fungal issues with these, even orchards spray their trees for such issues. Advice given to me by my arborist guy I know.

The 3rd picture (with the piece of styrofoam in front of the trunk !) shows the side where the trunk is leaning toward the viewer - so this should really be the front ? .. kind of fits, as the 3 low branches are the ones on this side which will probably go first .. and if this is the front, they need to be , otherwise they are 'eye pokers' :)
 

Cadillactaste

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The 3rd picture (with the piece of styrofoam in front of the trunk !) shows the side where the trunk is leaning toward the viewer - so this should really be the front ? .. kind of fits, as the 3 low branches are the ones on this side which will probably go first .. and if this is the front, they need to be , otherwise they are 'eye pokers' :)
Even if it leans over your shoulder and not directly at you is fine. It's still leaning forward. ? so work with turning it some and see which offers better movement and less eye poking.
 
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JoB

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Good advice up above...I would like to add, a bonsai leans in toward the viewer. So you want your tree to do that. I can't tell in the 2D photo well enough to gauge if it is or not. Cool tree...bit of advice be proactive with fungicide,apple scab is a fungal issues with these, even orchards spray their trees for such issues. Advice given to me by my arborist guy I know.

re the fungicide... I had read that too .. just got some 'compo duaxo universal Pilz-frei' ... (german) ... does it make any difference if I use this before / after pruning ? (sorry if this is a really stupid question ! )
 

JudyB

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You can change the angle at repotting, so don’t pick your front based on which way it’s currently leaning necessarily. You want to look for the most interesting movement and the fewest visible flaws, along with the best base, and root structure for your front. I would suggest you start to learn wiring, as that will be a large part of your development of this tree (and all bonsai...). The branches need movement, and shape that will accentuate the trunk curves. Some of this can be attained thru pruning, but wiring is a great tool to have.
 

JoB

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Ok... so I think I got a bit carried away .. (this is exactly the reason I don't try to cut my own hair ! :) ) . After alot of umming and ahhing I decided to remove the 'armpit' branches on the left side, but left the lower 2 - the lower ones on each side are a little too parallel to each other I think , but as I took so much off, I decided to leave for now
but ... learning by doing...... hopefully isnt a complete disaster ?
I had a bash at wiring ....
you can all be brutally honest with me .. the only way I am going to learn at the moment.
after pruning.jpg
 

JudyB

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Well honestly your wiring looks ok. You should complete it though and do every branch, and even the small twigs. It really make a huge difference. Now that the branches have been thinned, can you take pictures from all sides of the tree again, I'm not sure we are looking at what you want as a front. And take the photos from straight across the tree, at pot level please.
 

Paulpash

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I think your wiring is pretty good for a first attempt but it looks like some use a thin gauge. If you can't bend without it springing back then it isn't functional. Do they all hold?

It's best to build crab branch movement by pruning hard & then using wire later after it's regrown. This gives you some nice undulating movement - much more so than wiring alone.

You will find that you will probably have some adventitious back budding from this cut back - keep those that are in good locations like the outside of bends and rub away the 'armpit' ones @Shibui identified.

Crabs do backbud well but they are reluctant to throw sides shoots so be prepared to let it bolt, harden off then cut it hard back again. Good luck & keep coming back with updates or requests for advice.
 

JoB

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Well honestly your wiring looks ok. You should complete it though and do every branch, and even the small twigs. It really make a huge difference. Now that the branches have been thinned, can you take pictures from all sides of the tree again, I'm not sure we are looking at what you want as a front. And take the photos from straight across the tree, at pot level please.
HI Judy
I added a few more wires... one cracked , which is what I was a little afraid of.. but again .. learning by doing .. I presume I will lose the branch, but will leave it there and see what happens

hope these pictures are better ..

1a.jpg2a.jpg3a.jpg4a.jpg5a.jpg
 

JoB

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I think your wiring is pretty good for a first attempt but it looks like some use a thin gauge. If you can't bend without it springing back then it isn't functional. Do they all hold?

It's best to build crab branch movement by pruning hard & then using wire later after it's regrown. This gives you some nice undulating movement - much more so than wiring alone.

You will find that you will probably have some adventitious back budding from this cut back - keep those that are in good locations like the outside of bends and rub away the 'armpit' ones @Shibui identified.

Crabs do backbud well but they are reluctant to throw sides shoots so be prepared to let it bolt, harden off then cut it hard back again. Good luck & keep coming back with updates or requests for advice.
thanks for the advice ... yep, I think I probably should have used thicker gauge , I was a bit nervous about breaking branches , especially as i had removed so many ! .. I did have one crack , and in hindsight, maybe if the wire is a larger gauge and it is more stabile this is less likely to happen? I was thinking it may be 'safer' to use slightly thinner.. which I think was wrong !
I will definitely post some updates , and will definitely be asking for more feedback :)
 

Paulpash

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thanks for the advice ... yep, I think I probably should have used thicker gauge , I was a bit nervous about breaking branches , especially as i had removed so many ! .. I did have one crack , and in hindsight, maybe if the wire is a larger gauge and it is more stabile this is less likely to happen? I was thinking it may be 'safer' to use slightly thinner.. which I think was wrong !
I will definitely post some updates , and will definitely be asking for more feedback :)
My parting advice is to watch how it grows this year, especially when you cut actively growing branches - where does it start regrowing from, does it bud behind the cut point, where do the spurs form etc?

It's daunting cutting off so much when you have little idea of it's response. Your aim when building branches over the next few seasons is get

-movement
-taper
-secondary branch formation

I've found that cutting back hard each year is one of the best ways to achieve this.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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I like your crab apple, it is a nice enough start, that I would not mind having it on my bench. (I don't say that about every tree).

I'd offer advice, but since @JudyB has been here, she is far better with crab apple than I, listen to and trust her advice on styling.

This is a nice start, do no more until you and Judy collaborate.
 

JudyB

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Ah, thanks for the tag @Leo in N E Illinois I had missed the new photo posting.
I would agree that your front is the one with the small styro fleck. You do need to get more movement into those branches, and if you don't want to do it with thicker wire, then you'll have to do it by cutbacks. If you are planning on a repot this spring, then I would not cut any more off of it until it recovers. I would suggest getting it into a better soil, that looks pretty organic, although I don't know maybe your climate is very dry and you need lots of moisture? You'll also want to recut some of your wounds where you cut large parts off, cut them flush to the trunk and then seal them. If you have a concave cutter, that makes it easier as the wound will heal flusher to the trunk. Crabapples are loath to ramify, you must make them do it. @Martin Sweeney gave me a good tutorial on crabapples long ago that I've used to develop mine. I'm attaching the text here.


If you want to totally remove a branch or cut one back hard, it should be done in late fall (after leaf drop) or late winter (before bud swelling) being sure to apply medicated wound sealant. Doing so during or after bud swell can often result in either water sprouts or die-back. You should prune last year's shoots at bud swell.
Crabs are difficult to give exact training advice on because they can behave very differently, not just between varieties, but also from plant to plant and even year to year. I recommend experimenting with different techniques and making very good observations and taking good notes.
If you remove the flowers, shoot growth is usually very strong. (If new growth is not strong, only perform light maintenance.) Keep watering and fertilizing on the lighter side during the spring flush if flowers are removed. On extremely strong or early shoots, tip the new shoot once 2 or 3 nodes have formed to shorten the internodes. To induce or strengthen backbudding, once a shoot has reached 1", cut it back to just 1 leaf. Any other shoots should be tipped when they are at least 1" long. There are 2 caveats to soft pruning crabs. 1) DO NOT soft prune shoots once they are over 2" long. Otherwise you run the risk of getting a branch that does not flower. 2) DO NOT cut too many (say more than 1/3) of the new shoots in one sitting, but spread it out over 2 or 3 weeks. (I did that one year. Because I removed flowers and didn't control the water and fert., the plant rocketted away. I trimmed the new shoots all at once, and the plant collapsed/went into shock. Gladly it survived, but I set it back several years.)
New shoots can be wired in early summer when they are semi-hard. I cut new shoots back (where needed) in late summer here, but that might be something you need to leave until spring. The trick to creating convincing branches on a crab (as with most bonsai) is to grow them very slowly, maybe 1" per year.
 

JoB

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Ah, thanks for the tag @Leo in N E Illinois I had missed the new photo posting.
I would agree that your front is the one with the small styro fleck. You do need to get more movement into those branches, and if you don't want to do it with thicker wire, then you'll have to do it by cutbacks. If you are planning on a repot this spring, then I would not cut any more off of it until it recovers. I would suggest getting it into a better soil, that looks pretty organic, although I don't know maybe your climate is very dry and you need lots of moisture? You'll also want to recut some of your wounds where you cut large parts off, cut them flush to the trunk and then seal them. If you have a concave cutter, that makes it easier as the wound will heal flusher to the trunk. Crabapples are loath to ramify, you must make them do it. @Martin Sweeney gave me a good tutorial on crabapples long ago that I've used to develop mine. I'm attaching the text here.


If you want to totally remove a branch or cut one back hard, it should be done in late fall (after leaf drop) or late winter (before bud swelling) being sure to apply medicated wound sealant. Doing so during or after bud swell can often result in either water sprouts or die-back. You should prune last year's shoots at bud swell.
Crabs are difficult to give exact training advice on because they can behave very differently, not just between varieties, but also from plant to plant and even year to year. I recommend experimenting with different techniques and making very good observations and taking good notes.
If you remove the flowers, shoot growth is usually very strong. (If new growth is not strong, only perform light maintenance.) Keep watering and fertilizing on the lighter side during the spring flush if flowers are removed. On extremely strong or early shoots, tip the new shoot once 2 or 3 nodes have formed to shorten the internodes. To induce or strengthen backbudding, once a shoot has reached 1", cut it back to just 1 leaf. Any other shoots should be tipped when they are at least 1" long. There are 2 caveats to soft pruning crabs. 1) DO NOT soft prune shoots once they are over 2" long. Otherwise you run the risk of getting a branch that does not flower. 2) DO NOT cut too many (say more than 1/3) of the new shoots in one sitting, but spread it out over 2 or 3 weeks. (I did that one year. Because I removed flowers and didn't control the water and fert., the plant rocketted away. I trimmed the new shoots all at once, and the plant collapsed/went into shock. Gladly it survived, but I set it back several years.)
New shoots can be wired in early summer when they are semi-hard. I cut new shoots back (where needed) in late summer here, but that might be something you need to leave until spring. The trick to creating convincing branches on a crab (as with most bonsai) is to grow them very slowly, maybe 1" per year.

Great Info Judy, thanks very much ?
I have got some thicker wire so i can carefully have another go at creating more movement at the Weekend.
I was planning on repotting, tree was purchased in end November last year so is the soil it came with, i have some better ready to replace in the spring.
I will also tidy up the cuts, i was not sure about that so again, thanks for the tip ?
 

JoB

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I like your crab apple, it is a nice enough start, that I would not mind having it on my bench. (I don't say that about every tree).

I'd offer advice, but since @JudyB has been here, she is far better with crab apple than I, listen to and trust her advice on styling.

This is a nice start, do no more until you and Judy collaborate.
Thanks for the nice comments, good to hear we are on the right track.... Mostly due to Judy's advice ?
 

Mike Hennigan

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It’s a nice tree! The trunk has nice subtle movement and good taper! I just want to say that this picture really caught my eye as a good front:
E983ED37-4547-4E87-9422-A03925237FAF.jpeg
Branches are in really good locations for this front, the base looks nice from this angle. I can’t tell if the tree is leaning away or towards me. Bu as Judy said, you can compensate for the lean some by changing the angle of the tree the next time you repot.
 

JudyB

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It’s a nice tree! The trunk has nice subtle movement and good taper! I just want to say that this picture really caught my eye as a good front:
View attachment 223812
Branches are in really good locations for this front, the base looks nice from this angle. I can’t tell if the tree is leaning away or towards me. Bu as Judy said, you can compensate for the lean some by changing the angle of the tree the next time you repot.
I like this side as well, fortunately it's the opposite of the other "good" side, so you can develop both. I do that all the time if I have two good sides. The issue mostly with both sides is the large chop site up top, that needs recut and cleaned up to heal.
 

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