A couple of weeks ago I did an initial styling on a terrific Crabapple (Malus sp.) specimen. I’ve been patiently waiting for it to put on some new growth, and it’s now reached a stage where I can show you some things you need to know as you work on your trees. These are things I see over and over again, and they are common to bonsai styling. And you just can’t ignore them if you want your trees to look right.


There’s a lot of nice new growth on this specimen.

The initial work I did on it was certainly important: you need to begin expressing a design plan as soon as you can with your trees, and I’ve got that here. I have a basic branch set, and the beginning of a leader.

All of the branches need developing, of course, but if you strain just a little I think you can see the tree here.


The first thing I want to point out in closeup is that nice back branch I’ve turned into a right-side branch. There’s not much to it, but you can always make something great out of something not so great in bonsai. In this case if I manage the branch right, it’s going to look just fine and serve its role in making this Crabapple bonsai look like a real tree.

Now, this branch is very slim. What’s more, it’s only budded in two spots over the past couple of weeks. This is less than I’d like to have gotten out of it, but I’ll take it.

For one thing, that shoot near the base of the branch will be allowed to run, in order to thicken the base of the branch. Likewise the other one, which I’ll allow to go as far as it will for the remainder of this growing season. There’s a lot of work to do at this spot in the tree.


Checking in elsewhere, the chop I made when I wired everything looks pretty ragged. It may not look good, but it’s also not a priority to do any more work on it at this time. I sealed the chop to protect the area from drying out. Next spring, one of the first chores I’ll do on this tree will be to carve the area down so it can begin healing properly and blending in with the design. (Could I carve it now? Yes. However, this is not the time of year for dynamic growth, and for large wound healing that’s just what you need. If I give this area a fresh start in spring, I’ll get a big head-start on getting the wound to roll over.)

One more thing to notice in this photo is the difference in thickness between the lowest branch and that back/right-side branch. This is the sort of growth you have to balance as you develop your trees. While you certainly want the lower branch to become a good deal thicker than the higher one, fast-growing branches tend to sap strength from their brothers. So you’ll find you have to “cool” them off at some point to maintain a good growing balance.


Here’s a closeup of the leader than I cut back.

There’s a new bud at each internode. I’ll let them grow out, most likely for the rest of the season.

Next spring I’ll cut to the first or second away from the chop point in order to continue building the leader properly.


And finally, here’s one more closeup.

This is the tip of the back/right-side branch showing no apparent growing tip. You’ll find this happens on your trees from time to time.

A weak shoot pushes, grows out for a bit and then just stops. I left this branch alone when I did the initial styling on the tree, hoping for lots of new growth. True to weak-branch habit, it just threw those two buds I showed you before.

So I leave this guy alone, with the tip wired upward, give it plenty of sunshine, and let it gain strength. This is something you’re going to have to do eventually.

The main thing is to understand what’s going on and how to approach it. Wire the tips of these branches up, and let ’em grow. Watch for too much growth elsewhere in the tree and cool it off if you have to. In time, these weak branches will usually respond as you want them to.

I hope this blog post helped. Let me know what you think.