Apple Shohin - Air Layering? Inverse Taper!

Hello everybody,

I have a little apple tree from a nursery in Spain.
There are three main problems:

  1. Just above the nebari is inverse taper
  2. There are two branches on the same height. They are beginning to produce inverse taper
  3. There is a big wound just below the leader

I’m planning to air-layer the tree next June. The back branch will be removed just before bud-break. The leader is allowed to run in 2019 to help closing the wound and thickening the section. In 2020 I will cut back hard.
What do you think about the plan? Where would you layer?


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I wouldn’t mess with it at all. I think the inverse taper is fine.

In general, reverse taper is pretty normal for deciduous.

In this case, it’s not too severe, and you can easily diminish the effect with tree and branch placement.

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In that first picture, you can’t even see the inverse taper (probably because of the soil level). And as far as I’m concerned it looks pretty great as is. Unless you are trying to make the roots fit in a shallower pot.


I would grow it out to develop primary, secondary and tertiary branches before looking at air layering to correct taper. I have a crab apples with a similar problem, but I have learned to love it. You may also be able flare out the roots to show more strength below


I wouldn’t air later this either. Maybe turn the front a bit to hide it, but picturing that trunk with a thick, little canopy full of blossoms made me smile.

I think Ryan said it during the critique, but sometimes we ruin a tree or open a way bigger can of worms trying to fix something that ultimately isn’t that big of a deal.


I can’t stop thinking about this tree. I wish it were mine!

Ok, I see, you would not layer!

I found two pictures from march 2017, when I repotted the tree. What do you think?

Why do we see inverse taper as a bad thing?
Is it because we are trying to show age?
Is it because we are trying to show a tree in miniature form?
Is it because we are told that it is bad?
If you look at old apple trees in an orchard, many will have inverse taper.
Your tree looks old. Especially if you maximise that nebary.

A wise man told me you should always leave a fault on a tree because it gives others something to moan about (and they will always find something!)

If the taper really bothers you, then do the air layer, but I would make sure it is really strong first, or you may as well wash it with petrol and dry it with a match.

I have a similar defect on my crab apple, and also considered an air layer.

Andy, is that the front?

Yes. Terrible inverse taper. There is even a gap where the moss is.


I get that there’s a reverse taper on that tree, @AndyK, but to me, that knot and sharp change in angle are what give the tree character. Air layer that out, and there isn’t anything really interesting about the tree left.

As owners of the tree, we get used to seeing all the stuff that needs “fixing” on a tree, but it helps to take a step back now and then, and look at our trees with new eyes.

Sure the tree has a knot, and sure there’s a gap in the roots. The tree is rugged for a deciduous tree. Accentuate that with the canopy. Drop some branches. Make those features the things that make your tree unique among all the others out there.

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Exactly right @el_cheezer,
In my local environment I see trees everyday with massive inverse taper, and I like to show some of that in my trees. I think I understand inverse taper as a design concept, but sometimes it’s good to have something that stands out.
My crab apple is 1 year into a 2 year holiday from a bonsai pot. I’m trying to grow it out a bit, then come back to work on ramifications.

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Andy, could you show us the tree from the side?


Here you go Max,
From the left, from the front and (inversetappertastic!) from the right.


This is how the tree looks today! I’ll let the leader run for one more season to close the big wound.


Andy, thanks for the pictures!

I see one problem in this area where four branches are emerging. Will you leave it like this, or will you chose one as new leader? What are your plans with the tree?


Hi @Max,
The narrative or story that I am going for with this tree is an old apple tree growing in an orchard, managed for many years for crop production. As a bonsai, its best times for showing will be spring with blossom and autumn/fall with apples. I want my design decisions to reflect maximisation of crop. the tree already has inverse tapper which I have wrestled with and decided to live with. I can also live with the 4 branches until the impede on the crop production idea. When one of the branches does have to come off, I will not try to heal the wood, but let it hollow out as a reflection of what I see in my environment.
Tree will stay in a big pot for another year to build strength, then back to working on ramification.