The Malus genus consists of approximately 50 species and a large number of cultivars. For bonsai, crabapple species are preferred, with nice small fruit in different colours and shapes. Often the crabapple is simply referred to as 'Apple'. In spring they produce beautiful white or pinkish flowers with five petals and in autumn the beautiful fruit decorate the tree.

Crabapples are small deciduous trees or shrubs with oval or elliptic leaves which can also be lobed in some cases and grow in an alternating pattern. They are native to the northern temperate zones and are frost tolerant. The most popular crabapple species for bonsai are Malus halliana, Malus x zumi, Malus toringo, Malus sylvestris, Malus floribunda, Malus baccata and Malus cerasifera, but there are several more which can be used.

If you need help identifying your tree, try our Bonsai tree identification guide.


Specific Bonsai care guidelines for the Crabapple

Placement: The crabapple needs much sunlight and aeration, so place the tree outside in full sun. On the other hand it does not like strong heat, so don't place it in front of a wall which heats up during the day, for example. The tree is frost hardy but crabapples planted in bonsai containers should be protected from strong frosts for safety.

Watering: The crabapple needs a lot of water during the growing season and must not dry out, especially when it flowers or produces fruit. Those will be dropped if sufficient water is not provided in time. In winter the apple must be kept slightly moist. Apples don't like acidic water and soil, so in most cases tap water is just fine for watering.

Fertilizing: Apply solid organic fertilizer every four weeks or use a balanced liquid fertilizer every week during the growing season. Take care not to use a very nitrogen-rich fertilizer while the tree flowers or develops fruit because this would encourage the tree to grow strongly instead of producing fruit. Always apply the liquid fertilizer on moist soil.

Pruning and Wiring: Prune the crab apple in late autumn, after the leaves have fallen. Then flower buds and leaf buds are easily identified and you can take care not to cut off all flower buds. During the growing season trim back new shoots to one or two leaves when they grow overly long and thicken too much. If the tree produces a great number of fruit, remove all but one from each cluster in order not to weaken the tree. Younger branches and twigs can be wired but older ones are quite brittle and you better shape them with guy wires.

Repotting: Young crabapple trees should be repotted annually in spring, older ones every two or three years. When the trees get weaker it is important to repot and prune the roots. As the apple bonsai tree needs a lot of water and nutrients, choose a slightly larger pot and use a soil mix which can retain enough water but is still well-draining.

Propagation: The crabapple can easily be propagated from seed and cuttings. Air-layering is also possible.

Pests and diseases: Unfortunately the crabapple, like most members of the Rosaceae family, is attacked by a wide range of pests and diseases. Aphids, scale, mealybugs and caterpillars can be removed manually and / or controlled with a specific insecticide. Red spider mites require an acaricide. If mildew or rust occurs, a special fungicide is needed. Apple bonsai trees are also often infected by canker. The tree parts with ulcerations should be cut off, wounds must be sealed carefully and tools disinfected. Use a copper fungicide for prevention.

For more detailed information on these techniques, try our Bonsai tree care section. We also have a Bonsai fruit tree top 10.



Example of an Crabapple (Malus) Bonsai tree

Malus, Apple Bonsai