5 Design Tips–Pruning Small Trees

5 Design Tips–Pruning Small Trees

We usually think the beauty of trees is either their foliage or their flowers. But let’s not forget structure, shape, limbs and bark. IMHO some of the most beautiful trees are the ones with interesting trunk or limb shape (such as this Acer dissectum from a previous post), or beautiful bark. (Who doesn’t love our native Arbutus menziesii?)

Picture courtesy of Up on Haliburton Hill
Arbutus menziesii. Picture courtesy of Up on Haliburton Hill

In order to appreciate the these features, you have to be able to see them, which often requires  pruning.

1. Thinning

Here are two Acer palmatums ‘Crimson Queen’. The first is allowed to weep right down to the ground, and with shrubs all around, all you see is a mound of burgundy leaves. Some obviously like that look.

Acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen', thanks to Monrovia
Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’, thanks to Monrovia
Same tree, courtesy of Your Garden Sanctuary
Same tree (Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’), courtesy of Your Garden Sanctuary

2. And Limbing Up

The second–still Crimson Queen–is pruned (not “trimmed”) from the bottom (“limbing up”) and through the crown. There are fewer branches altogether, and branches that were weighing down the look of the tree, or lower branches, were pruned to their origin–the trunk– so that there is a more “airy” look to this tree (“thinning”). Here’s a VERY wordy (detailed and comprehensive) tutorial  on pruning and staking  Japanese.

3. Stake

Acer dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’

Another way to “prune” or train a JM, or any weeping specimen, is to stake it upright until it achieves the ultimate height you want. Again, going back to the Acer dissectum of an earlier post, the leader (most upright branch, or dominant branch) was staked with a curve in it, then allowed to grow a bit, and curved back again. This was done very young, when the branch was pliable. We removed the stake on planting up the container, because we now want the tree to adopt a more natural weeping habit. We’ll keep the lowest branches thinned, and when there is more canopy growth, will probably remove most of the lowest branches so its decorative trunk will always be visible.

Usually staking keeps the leader upright and straight.

4. Multi-stemmed trees

Hamamelis is just one example of multi-stemmed trees. In the winter it blooms and is delightfully fragrant:

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ in winter.

In the summer it can have a nice wide vase shape, or just be a little… blah.

Slightly underwhelming Hamamelis virginiana at A Garden for the House
Slightly underwhelming Hamamelis virginiana at A Garden for the House
(Sorry Kevin Lee Jacobs 😦

I can’t cay that my ‘Diane’ Witch Hazel is any better than Kevin Lee Jacobs’, but here it is today, about one-and-a half years since planting:

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’

Now, I’m a complete novice at this video thing, and have a rather puny camera with crummy sound. But listen closely and you’ll get the gist of pruning out extraneous branches so you can see the attractive multi-stem structure.

5. Choose the Right Trees

Finally, choose the right trees for the available space–“Right Plant, Right Spot”. You’ve heard me say this before, but make sure you check not only the plant tag, but other sources of information about your proposed tree. The tag might include words such as “dwarf”, “nana“, “compacta”, or any “small” words (mini, little…), yet still be bigger than your space can accommodate. Do a quick google search to find out how big–in height and width–your specimen gets in local gardens–forums are the best for that. I love gardenweb.com and the UBC Botanical Garden forums.

There you have it, 5 quick tips for making the best of your small trees. I’d love to hear about your pruning adventures. Leave a comment, question, critique. I’m very keen to learn for others with different experiences.

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Acer griseum. Thanks to Henriette’s Herbal Homepage

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