Crab Apple (Malus) Bonsai Tree: How To Grow and Plant Care

You’re probably very familiar with the crabapple tree, or at least one within the genus. They make for a lovely sight in the garden, adding structure, color, and fruit during different times of the year.

Maybe you’re familiar with crabapple jelly, or the unique taste of cider with added crabapples. 

The tree is perfect for bringing more pollinators in your garden, but what if you could have a miniature version of the crabapple tree? As a bonsai?

Many bonsai growers like to choose crabapple trees as bonsai trees, not only for its glossy foliage, but for its gorgeous flowers. If the conditions are right, you can also encourage the bonsai tree to produce fruit (see also Bonsai Trees For Growing Fruit), too.

Here’s everything you need to know about growing a crabapple as a bonsai tree. 

At A Glance: What You Should Know About The Crabapple Bonsai Tree

The crabapple bonsai tree isn’t typically regarded as a good one to start with if you’re just getting started with keeping bonsai, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go.

Compared to other types of bonsai, the crabapple needs more maintenance, and more of a watchful eye kept on it than other types. 

Once you know how to look after them, and you can see the difference that you make in the tree’s health, it will be much easier than you might have thought to start with.

Depending on the shape of the crabapple bonsai tree, it can reach a maximum of 25cm tall, and about 7cm wide.

A crabapple bonsai will also flower in the middle or later part of spring when given enough sunlight.

On average, a crabapple grown as a bonsai tree will live for forty years or more, making it a very worthwhile task to take on, although this is relatively short-lived when it comes to the longevity of bonsai, as some can live for hundreds of years (see also How Long Do Bonsai Trees Live?). 

It’s worth noting that as a bonsai tree, the crabapple is not one to keep indoors. It’s extremely cold hardy, so keep it outside year-round, and it will be a much happier, healthier bonsai tree for it.

Different Varieties of Crabapple Bonsai Trees

There are many different types of crabapple trees to choose from when it comes to growing a crabapple as a bonsai tree. 

If you’re starting one from scratch, you can use any type of crabapple available to you, as it’s more of a personal preference than one species being better than another when grown as a bonsai.

When grown commercially, you may notice that some of the more popular species include Malus sylvestris, Malus halliana, Malus x zumi, and Malus floribunda.

Should You Grow Crabapple Bonsai Trees from Seed, or From Cuttings?

You can start a crabapple bonsai from either seeds or cuttings. As with a lot of bonsai trees, it tends to be much quicker and easier to grow them from cuttings, but it’s all down to personal preference.

How to Look After a Crabapple Bonsai Tree

Sunlight and Soil

It’s important to note that the crabapple bonsai tree needs as much sunlight as you can possibly give it. It loves sunlight, and the more you give it, the better and healthier your crabapple bonsai tree will be.

If you grow it in partial shade or even full shade, you’ll notice it is less robust, it will be smaller, and overall less healthy than a crabapple bonsai grown in full sunlight. 

When it comes to the soil, the crabapple bonsai will fare much better if you grow it in an organic bonsai tree mix, rather than a standard inorganic, bonsai compost. 

In fact, it isn’t really optional if you want your crabapple bonsai tree to thrive, it’s more of a requirement.  

How Often Should You Water a Crabapple Bonsai Tree?

If you are wanting a bonsai tree that can stand for long periods of time with irregular watering, or no watering at all, don’t go for a crabapple bonsai tree.

The same is true if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, or if you go traveling a lot.

The key to watering a crabapple bonsai tree right is consistency. While most plants are happy with the right amount of water, the crabapple needs it to be regular, too.

Always check the soil before you drench it. Use a stick or a finger to check, at least an inch deep. If the soil that deep is only damp, it’s ready for a drink.

If you manage to get your crabapple bonsai to fruit, you’ll need to pay extra attention to its watering needs, as it will become much thirstier than usual.

Be careful not to completely soak the soil during the winter, but keep it damp where possible.

Repotting a Crabapple Bonsai

When it comes to containers, crabapple bonsai trees require more space than most types of bonsai.

A good way to tell if your crabapple hasn’t got enough room is to check the drainage when you’ve just watered the plant. If there’s not much water pulling through the drainage holes, it’s time to repot it.

This will be around every year or so, and for best results, repot it during the autumn months.

When trimming the roots, only cut back about a quarter of the lot, as any more than this can harm the growth of the crabapple bonsai tree.

Should You Feed a Crabapple Bonsai Tree?

Yes. Although some bonsai trees do just fine with only a little fertilizer, this is not one of them. Once the flowers appear during spring, give it a balanced bonsai fertilizer (see also How To Use Bonsai Fertilizer).

When it gets to hot summer days, you’ll need to use a fertilizer that contains less nitrogen, to keep the crabapple growth as balanced as possible.

Should You Prune a Crabapple Bonsai Tree?

Once the growing season is over, it’s time to prune the crabapple bonsai tree. This allows time for the new shoots to grow out, and you can then cut the bonsai tree back into a neater, more concrete shape. 

Pests and Diseases to Look Out For in Crabapple Bonsai Trees

Crabapples are, unfortunately, not very resistant to pests or disease. The best defense when it comes to pests is to remove them straight away when you see them.

The most notorious beasties that crabapple bonsai trees suffer from are aphids, mealybugs, caterpillars, and scale. If you notice a bigger infestation, it’s worth treating the whole plant, but if there are any fruits on it, make sure you don’t eat them after spraying the tree.

Disease can also be a big problem for crabapple bonsai trees. Canker, rust, and mildew are the biggest concerns, but they are also largely preventable. 

Keep your crabapple bonsai somewhere sunny, with good airflow to stop fungal diseases from forming, and always water at the base of the plant.

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