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Questions and Answers about Deciduous Trees

Question:
I just purchased a Rosewood tree in a 15-gallon container; it is growing straight up and is bending over at the top, about eight to ten feet. It has the makings of some nice strong side branches. Should I nip the top off say at seven feet to encourage a strong tree and to stop the weak top from drooping?

Answer:
Whatever pruning you decide to do on your rosewood tree, never remove more than one-eighth of the leaf surfaces during one year. That is too stressful for the tree and also causes an excessive number of water sprouts to develop. Many people choose to only prune a rosewood tree to maintain its shape. No matter what it does to the shape, always remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches as soon as you notice them. Also, prune suckers. These are the skinny, straight-up branches that grow from the base and trunk of the tree. When working on the shape of the tree, you will want to remove any big branches that cross or rub each other and any double leaders (these are two main top branches that have a narrow branch crotch). With smaller branches that rub or cross, keep the healthiest ones. If you have branches that hang to the ground, cut them back. If you want to control the size of your tree, you may want to trim that top branch. Generally, I do not recommend topping a tree, unless you want to control the size. If you think the two strong side branches are starting to serve as main branches (growing upright), you may want to cut back the center, drooping branch all the way back to the base of the tree. Stand back and evaluate the tree before doing any pruning. Make a multi-year plan if need be and always keep the one-eight rule in mind to avoid stressing the tree too much.

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Question:
I have a 20-foot cedar in my yard. Can I cut 10 feet off the top? If the answer is yes, what is the best time of year and is a regular saw adequate?

Answer:
In all pruning, you should follow the one-third rule. Never cut off more than one third of the branches in any one growing year. Cutting off more than that may severely damage the tree and may permanently stunt its growth. When pruning your cedar tree, you should strive to have one main leader. With your mature tree, more than one leader may have developed. The more you have, the weaker they are and are more susceptible to weather damage. If the lower limbs are starting to die back, they need to be removed completely. Take a close look at your tree and make a plan to cut back the height over the course of several years, never cutting more than one third of the branches off during one year. Cut branches back to the laterals.

The best time to prune your cedar tree is between mid-winter and mid-spring. A regular saw is not adequate for pruning a tree. Its teeth are not designed to give the clean, straight cut your tree needs to heal quickly. I would recommend using a pruning pole saw. Depending on the diameter of the branches, a cut and hold long-reach pruner is a great option. Keep in mind that any time you find yourself FORCING a pruner to cut (having to use two hands or wiggling your wrist), you should stop and switch to either a lopper or saw.

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Question:
I have a Japanese Bloodgood Maple tree. How and when is the best time to prune it?

Answer:
Prune your Japanese Bloodgood Maple tree in the late summer or fall, when the sap has stopped running. Most maple trees do not need much pruning, other than to remove any dead, awkward or crossing limbs. You can remove the twiggy growth from the center of the tree to reduce the bushiness you mentioned. Always cut back each branch to its point of origin. Do not cut off just part of a branch. The branches near the ground are probably water sprouts and suckers. Those should also be removed this fall. Depending on the diameter of the branches on your maple tree, a cut-and-hold long-reach pruner is a great tool to choose. Keep in mind that any time you find yourself FORCING a pruner to cut (having to use two hands or wiggling your wrist), you should stop and switch to either a lopper or saw.

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Question:
When is the best time to prune black walnut trees?

Answer:
The best time to prune your black walnut trees is when they are dormant. This is in the late fall or winter. You should only prune branches that are less than two inches in diameter. This size branch heals much faster with less chance of decay and tree ring separation. You should not need to apply paint or other sealants to the pruning cuts.

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Question:
My 10- to 15-year-old Liquidambar tree has been severely pruned, leaving just three feet at the very top. Will the branches and tree ever grow back again and how long will it take if so?

Answer:
Remove lower branches on a Liquidambar tree in order to encourage the tree to grow taller. Generally, a Liquidambar tree is left to reach its natural shape on the top. Pruning is done when the tree is dormant (from late autumn to early spring) to space branches and to remove diseased and competing branches. The tree should regain is natural shape, but it is hard to predict how long that will take. It depends on the weather, location, root system, nearby competing roots, etc. Give your Liquidambar time, and don't hesitate to ask your gardener why he/she took such drastic measures while pruning. Maybe the tree needed to be rejuvenated or there was a lot of diseased wood.

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Question:
Three years ago I topped my mature Birch tree at 12 feet flat, and that year it did well. Now we have numerous vertical spires growing straight up. What is the best way to prune it?

Answer:
My first recommendation would be to consider having the tree professionally pruned.

If you decide you want to tackle the project yourself, you still may want to consult an arborist. Birch trees generally do not tolerate hard pruning, such as topping it off flat. By cutting the top flat, you have changed the form of the tree, as you can tell with the new vertical spires. It will take some patient work and planning to help the tree recover. Severely damaged trees can sometimes be saved, but once again, I would recommend seeking a professional for more detailed advice in this case.

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Question:
How do I prune a weeping birch tree? We have some upright growth. Does it need to be trained to weep?

Answer:
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that birches are bleeders. Be sure to prune before the sap starts to flow in late winter, or the cuts will not heal well.

A Weeping Birch is usually top grafted at a height of six or seven feet. While your tree is young, prune to one central stem with a few good side branches. Continue to remove branches below the grafting line. If you need to remove a branch, remove the whole branch outside the branch collar (On a birch the collar is easy to locate because there usually is a blackened line running down the trunk at the spot where the branch is joined to the trunk. This line indicates the location of the branch collar.). Otherwise cutting a branch back partway will produce a twiggy growth. Trailing branches may be trimmed to a bud or side shoot if they are in the way.

In order to encourage the growth of a main branch strong enough to support the current and future weeping branches, a bamboo cane or other stake should support young trees. You should not need to train the branches to weep if the tree has been grafted properly. The upright growth should start to weep over to the sides once it has reached the optimal height.

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Question:
My honey locust tree is about 15 to 18 feet tall, and is very tall and gangly. Will it branch out at the top on its own, or what is the best way to prune it?

Answer:
A Honey Locust should be kept to one central branch for as long as possible. Generally, this type of tree does not require too much pruning, except for cosmetic reasons. When pruning is chosen for this tree, the basal pruning method is usually followed.

Start pruning your tree by removing any dried-out or dead limbs. The lower limbs tend to get dried out. You can remove all of these lifeless limbs at any time of the year without damaging the tree. The rest of the pruning should be done in late summer, and do it gradually. As a guideline, never cut off more than a fifth of the tree in one season. Cutting off more than that will be a shock to the tree.

In order to encourage your tree to branch out on top (to create a mushroom or umbrella style) you can remove the basal limbs. This will keep the base open and bare. You can also remove the top straggly limbs to encourage wide growth on top. And if your tree appears lopsided, you can trim the branches to make it appear more even - just always keep the one-third guideline in mind and never cut off more than one-third of the branches during a growing season.

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Question:
I have a potted Rosewood tree. Should I put the pot in the garage near a lighted window for the winter or in my dark shed? I live in Buffalo, NY. When should I bring it in?

Answer:
With the cold weather you need to endure in Buffalo, it would be an excellent idea to move your potted rose tree into a shelter. You could also plant the tree outside and top-dress it with a few inches of mulch. Either way, you need to prevent the sides of the pot from suffering from the cold and winds of winter. If you move the pot inside, keep it out of the sun.

The winter sun may cause great tensions in the tissues between the sunny and the shady sides of a succulent rose cane. It is possible the cane may then rupture inside and then die back. Plan to bring it into shelter soon after the first good frost. Don't worry if leaves are still on the branches. You should check your rose tree about once a month and water it lightly. You don't want it to dry out completely, but you also don't want to water it too much. Too much water may cause the plant to rot or mold.

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Question:
Can you tell me the best way to cultivate a Cypress Tree?

Answer:
Plant container-grown trees in early fall or mid-spring in any well-drained soil in sun. Prune to maintain a single leader in spring.

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Question:
Can you tell me a little about the Italian Cypress? Will new trees grow well in a cool climate?

Answer:
This is a medium-sized, narrowly columnar tree with steeply ascending branches and dark green foliage. It is familiar in the Mediterranean region, and young plants are susceptible to injury in cold areas.

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Question:
How can I best use an Italian Cypress?

Answer:
Use the Italian Cypress in hedges and windbreaks. The shade density is dense, and the tree can grow to 60 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It is quick growing, but grows best where summers are long, hot and dry.

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Question:
How do I prune my 10 to 12 foot Sugar Maple tree? It is very thick with branches. When should I prune it?

Answer:
Maple trees may be pruned in the summer, fall or early winter. When pruning your sugar maple, you'll want to preserve the central leader and keep scaffolds widely spaced. Remove the crossing limbs and dead branches.

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Question:
How do I prune a Japanese maple?

Answer:
Most maple trees are easy to grow and do not require much attention. Your Japanese maple should be grown in a rich, moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Stake your tree until the trunk is well developed. Twiggy growth needs to be removed from the center as it develops. Prune your Japanese maple in the late summer or fall, when the sap is not running. Remove any dead, awkward or crossing branches.

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Question:
The branches on our three-year-old willow are touching the ground already. Can we cut back the lower branches right to the trunk?

Answer:
You can cut the lower branches of your willow tree back to the trunk. It is also possible to shorten just the ends of the branches. Prune your willow in late summer or fall because willow trees do bleed sap when not dormant.

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Question:
How do I prune and care for a mature Japanese maple tree?

Answer:
Japanese maple trees require a rich, moist and well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. These trees also grow best in light shade in hot climates. A young Japanese maple needs to be staked until the trunk is well developed. Remove the twiggy growth from the center as it develops. Prune your Japanese maple when dormant and the sap is no longer running. In your regular maintenance pruning, remove dead, awkward or crossing limbs.

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Question:
Can you tell me if a Pin Oak Tree should be pruned?

Answer:
Young Pin Oak Trees should be pruned while still young to encourage a strong central leader. Oak trees tend to develop twiggy growth. Cut side branches to promote the formation of longer branches, and be sure to cut them all the way back to the main branch. Leaving twigs will only produce more dense twigs. Once your tree is mature, it will seldom need pruning, except to remove damaged, diseased or crossing branches.

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Question:
Can I slice the top off roots of a 60-foot rosewood tree that are above the surface of the ground? What are the long-term effects? Should I root prune?

Answer:
I am going to answer both of your questions together here. Root pruning is done to control the size of a plant. I would not recommend slicing off the tops of the roots that are above the surface. Decay and disease may easily develop in the roots, and end up killing your Rosewood tree.

If you want to control the size of your tree, you can cut into the roots. Make a circular cut just outside the drip line. Cut back the roots that go beyond the circle formed by the outer branches of your tree.

If the exposed roots cause a tripping hazard, are unsightly or get scraped by the lawn mower (these scrapes may be inviting decay into the roots and should be avoided), you may want to consider raising the ground under the tree. Add inches of dirt and then add grass seed, or simply add a ring of thick mulch around the base of your Rosewood tree.

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Question:
We have a dwarf Japanese red maple that hasn't been pruned in two years. When and how should I prune it?

Answer:
Prune your dwarf Japanese red maple in late summer or fall. This is when the sap is no longer running. At this time remove any dead, crossing or awkward limbs. You may also want to remove the twiggy growth that develops in the center of the tree. Leaving this center growth alone will let the tree assume its own eccentric form.

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Question:
When is the best time to prune magnolia trees? Mine needs to be topped and shaped.

Answer:
Prune your magnolia tree after it has bloomed, in the early summer. Be careful when pruning. Magnolias may not always respond well to pruning because the wounds created by pruning do not heal easily. You must remove all dead and diseased wood, as well as suckers and water sprouts. Other than this necessary pruning, let the tree grow with its natural shape and avoid any unnecessary pruning.

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Question:
I have a 60-foot Magnificent Ash tree that drops all its leaves about January 1 and the puts them back on very quickly with blossoms that drop in a couple of weeks. It needs to be pruned and topped. I live in an area that is warm year round--very few days of frost--and hot and dry in the summer and mild and only marginally wet in the winter. When should I prune this tree?

Answer:
The best time to prune your Magnificent Ash is when it is dormant, which would be late winter or early spring. Since your weather is nice and warm for most of the year, I would recommend pruning during the coldest time of the year. The time NOT to prune is in the rapid growing season, which could be late spring to well into fall in your area.

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Question:
Could you tell me about pruning willow trees?

Answer:
When pruning a willow tree, to goal is create one strong central leader and strong upper branches. This will encourage branches to grow tall and arch so they will be able to support the long, weeping twigs. If your tree is still young, prune to one central stem. Keep a few good branches on the side. Continue to remove lower side branches.

The best times to prune willows trees are in the late summer or early fall. This variety bleeds sap, so it is important to prune when the sap is bleeding the least. Be sure to remove water suckers on the branches and suckers at the base of the plant as soon as you notice them. When pruning a branch, be sure to remove the entire branch to avoid twiggy growth. If you have trailing branches that are in the way, prune them at the ends.

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Question:
The center sprout on my Cornus Florida Dogwood is MUCH taller than the rest of the tree (almost two feet) and I'd like to cut it back to help keep the tree more full than tall. Can I safely do this, and when?

Answer:
Dogwood trees should be pruned as little as possible. The sap bleeds in late spring, so prune in late winter. You should be able to cut back the extra-tall center sprout. General maintenance pruning for your dogwood should include removing any crossing branches and water sprouts. Be sure to leave the lowest limbs at 2-3 feet above the ground level. You'll want to use thinning cuts to maintain horizontal branching.

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Question:
I chopped some small Maple tree roots out from underground. Is this harmful to the tree? Can we chop out some of the roots?

Answer:
Cutting the underground roots of your Maple tree shouldn't hurt the tree. Depending on where they were cut and how much was cut, the growth of the tree may be stunted for a while. Once the root system is re-established, your Maple tree should continue to grow at a normal rate. Generally, tree roots are pruned to control the height of a tree or shrub, or to prepare it to be transplanted. On a tree, you would dig a circle just outside the drip line of the branches.

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Question:
I have a large and old live oak. Please share pruning advice and tell me what to do with the gaping holes near the mid trunk where two branches fork. Should these be filled and what would be the best thing to fill with?

Answer:
Holes in established trees are not always a problem. This website from the University of Florida will give you a little more information. As you will read in the above mentioned website, holes often mean the tree was damaged in that area at one time. Sometimes when the heavy limbs develop and branch to one side or the other, these holes develop as the main trunk separates. However, insects and diseases can also create holes in the trunk. I would recommend trying to look at the hole closely to see if there is rotting wood in the hole or if it is a clean hole. Either way, there's not much you can do. Filling holes on trees is not recommended.

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Question:
I have a mature Japanese Maple that has outgrown its spot. Can we cut it way back in height without killing it and will it grown back in a good shape?

Answer:
With any big renovation project on a tree or bush, you should plan to accomplish your task in about three years. You should never cut off more than one third of the growth in any one year. Use thinning cuts and cut evenly around the tree each year. By doing one third at a time, you should have your Japanese Maple back to the size you want in about three years. The best time to prune this variety is in the late summer or early fall.

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Question:
I have a large Magnolia tree with branches hanging over the sidewalk. Can it be trimmed back?

Answer:
Magnolia trees do not respond well to pruning. The wounds just do not heal very easily. Generally, just dead and diseased wood is removed. Since the branches over the sidewalk seem to be in the way and are at risk of being damaged, you can prune off the minimal amount after they bloom in the summer.

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Question:
Can a dogwood tree be trimmed--when and how?

Answer:
Dogwood trees should be pruned as little as possible. Their wounds heal slowly. If you must prune a dogwood, remove just the necessary amount of branches in the late summer. Never cut off more than one third of the branches during any given year. It is too stressful on the tree.

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Question:
How should I prune my Chinaberry tree that is 20-feet tall? It just two years old and hovers over my house near utility lines.

Answer:
First I must caution you about pruning a tree near utility lines. In most areas, utility companies will come out to prune branches near utility lines. Having limbs fall on live utility lines can be very dangerous.

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