Question about growing trees from seed

Sara Malone Zone 9bMarch 29, 2012

There was a recent thread about whips and why they do not have branches, and various knowledgeable folks posted about how important it was to get a baby tree to maintain a single leader for as long as possible and not develop branching.

Does anyone have advice about how best to achieve this when growing individual trees from seed? For example, I have grown Cornus capitata and Chionanthus restusus from seed and had quite a bit of trouble getting their trunks to attain a decent caliper. I did not cut off any side branching (which started almost immediately), nor did I do any staking. I was under the impression that lateral branches encouraged caliper growth, but now I'm thinking that is not true with very young trees. I have both the Cornus and the Chionanthus in the ground now but with the Chionanthus I finally gave up, cut them off at the base and they immediately shot up much stronger shoots, albeit still with lateral branching.

Thoughts? Does anyone have a good rule of thumb on this? Why I started growing trees from seed at this age is beyond me, but the bug bit me one day and I couldn't help myself.

Thx for any advice you may have!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

total speculation ...

if potted.. and you are providing all nutrients requisite ...

then there would not be the need for every food making machine ... leaf.. so why not prune it up quickly and aggressively ....

and the taller it goes.. the thicker it MUST get.. to hold itself up ..

perhaps your logic is backwards in that point ...

time for 20 more seedlings ... or 20 of what you have.. separate into two groups.. and prune each to a different theory ...


    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 11:47AM
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Have grown several trees from seed, but not the ones you mentioned. In general, most trees will have lots of side branches from the get-go if planted in the open. The usual rule of thumb I follow is to remove about 10-15% max of foliage in a given year. The diameter of the trunk will be a function of the species, the environment, the weather, the competiion, age, etc.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 11:52AM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

What I am trying to rationalize is the dictum that lateral branches along the length of the trunk encourage caliper growth (Chandler, Cornell, Leiser and a host of other PhD types) and my arboriculture textbook goes on to state that 'this is undoubtedly true in young plants and probably true in mature trees as well'. However, my very young trees (2' or so, in #1 pots) did not form strong enough trunks to hold up the load of lateral branches that they produced. I used the same potting mix I always use, which is not crazy enough to encourage inordinate amounts of vegetative growth. Should I have cut the lateral branches in half, thus retaining the union with the trunk but lessening the load?
I just wonder why whips produce strong young trees given the lateral branch/caliper size relationship.
Maybe I should just go back outside and do some more weeding.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 5:56PM
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F&F, "the dictum" is mostly true. Thing is, it's not the only facet one is typically dealing with. IOWs, while caliper will increase more and faster when all branches are retained, one is apt to end up with a too-low branching on their tree(s). So a modified approach is called for. Don't go nuts removing every branch that is lower than where you ultimately want the branching to begin. Take your time. Both you and the tree have plenty of it!

As far as seed-grown stuff, I like it the best of all, hands down. And I'd add, trees generally "know" how they should grow. Like Scot said above, the openness of the site is the reason these plants are not behaving like their forest brethren. Sunlight is hitting them strongly from every angle, so they are branching out to take advantage of it. Just curb their natural impulses judiciously.


    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 6:32PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Scott and Tom thank you. This is making more sense to me now. And I think that I was trying to approach this in an 'all or nothing' fashion, whereas moderation, as you note, is the answer. Judicious is one of my favorite words so I will be able to keep it in mind as I go forward playing with seedlings.

It is pretty cool to see the trees in the ground (admittedly only 3-4' tall now) that I started from seed. A friend brought back some Cupressus sempervirens seeds from a trip to Corsica as a memento a couple of years ago and I offered to start them for him and he was surprised that it was possible. Those plants are almost 4' tall and he is thrilled to have REAL mementos of the trip!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 7:00PM
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Very cool. I'm impressed with the results of man's tinkering, be it an intentional hybridization, a selection made out of ten thousand seedlings, or a foo-foo grafted plant of some sort. But there's much to be admired about the results of Nature's own millenias-old experimentation out in the wild. Plus, just like Gumps' box of chocolates, you're never quite sure what you're going to get!


    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 10:54PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Well said. I agree - there is a purity to growing from seed that just can't be duplicated. It isn't necessarily better than anything else, just satisfying in different ways. I'm glad that I discovered it, albeit a little late in the game. I started gardening at the age of nine...if I had planted some tree seedlings then, I'd REALLY have something cool now!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 11:48PM
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