Would you chop yet? - Crabapple

Hump

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I bought this Crabapple last year as a said 2 year old sapling and it was about 7 inches tall. It was already chopped once when I received it and had second year growth. I planted it in a colander over top of the ground. At first it lost all of its leaves due to shock, but this spring it took off, and it's now over 5 ft tall. The roots have grown into the ground as I hoped. I've pondered letting it go another year before chopping down again as I know it's the best way to fatten the trunk, but then I'm thinking maybe I should make a chop now so there aren't noticeable scars when this is a real bonsai 10 years from now.

Since I didn't have anything in the picture to gauge thickness, the whip is almost half an inch at the trunk.

Thanks for you advice.
 

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Zach Smith

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What Brian said, just be sure you wait years. It'll take about three before the tree really takes off (first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap). In the meantime, get a lot more trees so you leave this one alone and don't succumb to the temptation to love it a lot.
 

Brian Van Fleet

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Let it get bigger, couple more years and the trunk will be 2.5” wide. Then chop…low.
 

Hump

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Let it get bigger, couple more years and the trunk will be 2.5” wide. Then chop…low.
It's about 5. 5 ft tall now. In two more years it'll probably be 20 ft lol. Which that's fine I agree it's a long game. I have plenty of trees to keep me busy in the mean time.

Here's my thought dilemma though.

I'm fully aware letting it grow tall is the best way to thicken the trunk, but then again I also know bonsai from Japan masters have little to no scars and I believe it because they chop earlier than we do (if I'm right) . By doing it earlier I've heard it minimizes the scars, but it slows the trunks thickening. It'll take a lot longer to reach the thickness you want by making early chops, but the tree will look better with negligible scars.

Is the second option even right or did I get that advice from someone who didn't know what they were talking about?

Thanks,
 

penumbra

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You understand it right. Personally I would chop now but I am sure I am in a minority. I wouldn't put it off any longer if you chop now though. I try to get major cuts made by the 4th of July. I am in your same zone.
 

Zach Smith

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You have to decide what is most important to you in your bonsai. If it is thick trunks with no chop scars, then plan on a 20-30 year timeframe to end up with large trees featuring thick trunks (3" or better) with great branch structures and fine ramification. Building a trunk with repeated chops is time consuming but certainly gives great results. You just have to be able and willing to put in the time and care. If, on the other hand, you are willing to accept healing scars which almost all bonsai have, then you can do grow and chop and get to a good place in as little as 10 years. It just depends on what you really, really want.
 

Hump

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You understand it right. Personally I would chop now but I am sure I am in a minority. I wouldn't put it off any longer if you chop now though. I try to get major cuts made by the 4th of July. I am in your same zone.
Thanks for clarifying. Awesome, so that was my next question if I chop now is when. So summer is a good time? I'm assuming since the sap is still flowing that it begins to heal immediately and has enough time before winter?
You have to decide what is most important to you in your bonsai. If it is thick trunks with no chop scars, then plan on a 20-30 year timeframe to end up with large trees featuring thick trunks (3" or better) with great branch structures and fine ramification. Building a trunk with repeated chops is time consuming but certainly gives great results. You just have to be able and willing to put in the time and care. If, on the other hand, you are willing to accept healing scars which almost all bonsai have, then you can do grow and chop and get to a good place in as little as 10 years. It just depends on what you really, really want.
Thanks for the info Zach. I always find myself questioning if I'm working off the right information. It's nice to get a clear cut response and information.

Thanks,
 

Shibui

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I am also in the chop early and chop often camp. There may be some reduction in thickening but not as much as some would have you believe. Chopping early actually saves me time in the long run as I don't have to spend many years regrowing a leader for taper and to close a big scar, Chopping more often also gives much better options for trunk bends. I can certainly get to 3" diameter trunks in well under 10 years even with repeated chops and regular root pruning.
 

Hump

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I am also in the chop early and chop often camp. There may be some reduction in thickening but not as much as some would have you believe. Chopping early actually saves me time in the long run as I don't have to spend many years regrowing a leader for taper and to close a big scar, Chopping more often also gives much better options for trunk bends. I can certainly get to 3" diameter trunks in well under 10 years even with repeated chops and regular root pruning.
Thanks for the info!!! Now I just have to figure out how low I want to chop, and if I should chop the lower branch down a bit too. I'm assuming keep the lower branch as is so it continues to grow and thicken the trunk. Use it as a sacrifice branch of sorts.
 

JonW

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Some trees with hard chops look nice and natural, but there is a risk of having very angular growth or die back that might be less common with smaller, more frequent chops. The thickness comes from energy stored in the vascular tissue - energy depends on leaves. If you let the tree grow all summer and chop within 2 weeks of when the leaves turn and start to fall, your not reducing the trees ability to create and store energy. So I cut my trees back hard in the fall if they are in development, and let them grow all summer the following season. I also don't have the space to have a bunch of completely un-pruned trees. Also chopping in the fall gives all winter for hormones to reallocate, so you get better back budding.
 

Hump

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Some trees with hard chops look nice and natural, but there is a risk of having very angular growth or die back that might be less common with smaller, more frequent chops. The thickness comes from energy stored in the vascular tissue - energy depends on leaves. If you let the tree grow all summer and chop within 2 weeks of when the leaves turn and start to fall, your not reducing the trees ability to create and store energy. So I cut my trees back hard in the fall if they are in development, and let them grow all summer the following season. I also don't have the space to have a bunch of completely un-pruned trees. Also chopping in the fall gives all winter for hormones to reallocate, so you get better back budding.
Thanks for the input Jon. I too don't have a bunch of space for unruly looking pre-bonsai as I don't own the property. The landlord probably already hates the 30 or so I already do have sitti g around lol, but I try to at least keep them organized and somewhat presentable. I have many that are pre-bonsai and only a couple saplings like this, so work on saplings from this stage are something I don't have much practice with. So you chop at the beginning of fall in PA?
 

JonW

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Thanks for the input Jon. I too don't have a bunch of space for unruly looking pre-bonsai as I don't own the property. The landlord probably already hates the 30 or so I already do have sitti g around lol, but I try to at least keep them organized and somewhat presentable. I have many that are pre-bonsai and only a couple saplings like this, so work on saplings from this stage are something I don't have much practice with. So you chop at the beginning of fall in PA?
From the point that you see a majority of the leaves turning fall colors, edges of leaves drying / browning, and starting to fall, you have about 2-weeks to do pruning because there is still active vascular growth that allows the wounds to heal enough prior to winter. The more severe the work your doing, the earlier in that 2 week period it has to be, so if you are doing a trunk chop, it should be early in that 2 week window.

I store most of my cold-hardy trees under my bulkhead / storm doors, so I definitely need to prune most of my faster growing trees other than very compact varieties that hardly take any space anyway.
 

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@Shibui and @JonW. I have an additional question on this one. When I chop, I planned to go really low, but Im worried that if I cut past green on the main it will kill it and further growth will go to the branch I'm using as a sacrifice for girth. Is that correct? Secondly, should I cut back the sacrifice branch too?
 

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Probably if the sacrifice branch is the highest point on the tree then it will start taking most of the resources. This could be good if you're trying to have smaller/tighter growth on the permanent part of the tree; I think i've seen the huge sacrifice branch, small top with pines before? But then the trunk won't grow or thicken much above the sacrifice branch.
 

Woocash

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Looks like there is a dormant bud lower than the branch currently. Personally, I would chop just below the branch/just above the dormant bud. It’s an Apple, not much you can do will kill them.
 

Shibui

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Crab apple are good at making new buds at old nodes, even if the trunk is bare. It depends whether there are any old nodes between your chop and the sacrifice. You should still be able to make out the faint ridges or lines around the trunk or possibly faint eyes where the leaves fell away. If you can't see any old nodes they should be around the same distance apart as the leaves on newer growth so you can just guess and hope.
There's rarely one way to achieve a result in bonsai. Personally I think I would cut back to the sacrifice branch. It will give you some taper and also looks like an attractive bend. Of course you won't have a sacrifice branch any more but the trunk will still grow and thicken and you can chop that one down next year. You will have to make that call this time.

If you ever find that a sacrifice branch is taking too much and suppressing growth on the desired parts just bend the tip down below the level of the good parts which will change auxin flow and kick start the weaker section. The sacrifice can always be bent back up to grow when the other parts are stronger.
 

sorce

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I'd be cutting it to the sac too, though I wouldn't really consider that the sacrifice branch. The ugly straight part that's actually adding thickness to the trunk is the "sacrifice".

You see how below that branch the trunk is almost unmeasurably thicker? That makes it more of a "scar leaver" than a "sacrifice" as far as thickening goes.

Though it is true you can't easily kill them, I don't think it's ever a good idea to chop to nothing, especially in fall when winter will do what winter does to the remaining hole, pasted or not.

IMO, chopping to nothing in fall is the absolute opposite of cutting back to the lowest (your sac) branch in spring, when healing begins instantly due to the growth already above the chop, and for the whole season cuz it's spring.

Sorce
 

QuantumSparky

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I haven't read all the comments but have you considered letting it grow wild but cutting the growing tip off every year? I'm not sure how easily this species pushes buds from lower on the trunk but if you can force lateral growth instead of vertical growth, you can thicken the trunk while keeping the overall size of the tree down. I wouldn't want a 20' tree taking up my space either xD
 

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