Elm Pruning

glgoodrichJanuary 4, 2014


I have a Chinese elm tree that was in bad shape when we moved in a year and a half ago. The previous owner layer landscaping rock all around it and took the black plastic right up to the base of the tree with the irrigation line on top of the plastic. Brilliant...

I transplanted the tree a year ago to a more hospitable place. My problem is the owner before had no clue how to prune trees. He cut randomly and without a goal in mind. I pruned it back to two main branches. He had already lopped off the central lead. I have attached a picture of the tree.

Any suggestions about how I should prune this for optimum health so it will achieve height and a wide canopy somewhere down the line?

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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

Frankly, in that I have a lacebark elm that has developed multiple major branches after a recent breakage incident I wouldn't do a thing. The angle between the two "bullhorns" is good and as the tree develops it will branch out further.

Warning about ice, however. You would have two levers there! But, it could grow strongly enough to support ice.

My last lacebark got caught in a very heavy ice storm with triple split leaders (pic of the previous lacebark). The only problem is that if lacebark gets caught with thick ice due to its late foliage detention it can break from the weight.

Having said all that mouthful, I still would not touch your tree and let it grow with two initial leaders. It could turn out beautifully.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 7:04PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

With palms in the background and a Phoenix Zip Code, I don't think ice will be a problem.
I have a Stewartia monodelpha with a 'bullhorn' branching pattern like glgoodrich has shown. It hasn't been a problem in some very bad ice storms here in the last few years. It's the narrow crotches that gives you problems.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 7:16PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"With palms in the background and a Phoenix Zip Code, I don't think ice will be a problem."

That's what I was thinking!

I just want to know how it grows so well and sideways on such a steep hill. (-:

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 9:29PM
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Thanks, guys. I'm glad to hear that it should be okay. And yes, we don't have much of an ice problem here. Once in a great while we may see a couple of snowflakes during the winter.

I have one more tree in the front yard that I might post of picture of tomorrow to get your opinion.

I really appreciate your help.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 12:46AM
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IMO, the big issue is the overboard pruning that previous owner did to it, and that above all, you need to not do anything for a while, to let the poor thing do some growing. As far as that goes, and I agree with the posters above that the branch angles are good, is that elms generally are not especially handsome trees in youth. Even the American elm is just kind of awkward-looking when young, giving little hint of the imposing structure it will develop later. So yeah, let the tree do some growing, perhaps create some more branches, then see if there is a need to do any subtle leader-training, etc.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 12:51PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

most homeowners can prune up to a one inch branch easily ...

i suggest you come back in about 5 years.. and then think about pruning ...

you expectation time line is a bit fast ... when thinking about trees...

you just planted it ... it LOOKS like it might have a couple dozen food making machines next year .. aka leaves ....

and WHAT???? you want to think about cutting some of them off.. because you have some feral need to prune ... lol ...

give it 3 to 5 years.. to establish.. settle down.. AND THEN WE CAN DISCUSS.... the long term .. 50 to 75 year future ... not now at this size ...


    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 1:23PM
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I was not planning on pruning it more now, just looking to the future. It had hundreds of leaves on it until a couple of weeks ago. We had one night that froze and it lost all of its leaves; my other elms lost a good deal as well.


Thanks for the reassurance. The other elm I spoke of is very lopsided because of previous pruning. I suppose I will just give it time to grow into its awkwardness and love it for what it is.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 5:23PM
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Yup..and especially as the tree puts on new shoots and foliage, new ways of dealing with its structure may emerge. It can be surprising how well seemingly hopelessly misshapen young trees can recover once they've A) Had that chance to do some growing, and B) Had as owner/caretaker, someone with the desire to learn what techniques and strategies can work to help produce a well-structured tree!


    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 8:58PM
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Last questions:

With the tree I posted above, should I not prune it anymore for a few years or still make cuts to stimulate growth? Do you guys know of any good resources to help me learn more about pruning for the long term, particularly for this type of tree (websites, books)? Or do you have some quick tips you can share?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 2:24AM
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I'd say leave it be (Buh-dum-bum) for a year or three. True, removing foliage stimulates a tree into producing new foliage, but that in and of itself is doing nothing for structure. I don't even think a lot of elm species/cultivars respond especially well to pruning, aside from obvious stuff like raising up to allow for traffic/etc. underneath. And in so young a tree, that should not be on the agenda yet either.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 5:42PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"should I not prune it anymore for a few years or still make cuts to stimulate growth?"

Pruning stimulates REgrowth, not growth. The tree merely tries to compensate for what you removed. The regrowth may be in a different direction (removing lower limbs may encourage upward growth, to some degree), but it doesn't make for a bigger tree. In the case of encouraging top growth by eliminating lower growth, a more spindly and weaker tree may result.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 6:07PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Oh, and if you remove top growth (you don't seem to have much lower growth that could be a candidate for pruning), you end up with a bushier plant (probably not what you are wanting here).

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 6:10PM
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