UACES Facebook Pruning


February 27, 2016



I have two large Bradford Pears that need to be cut back, when is the best time to do heavy pruning? Is February ok? They are already starting to bud already.



You probably won’t like my answer, but if they need really heavy pruning, why not remove them entirely and plant something that fits the size of your landscape?  If I wanted to keep the Bradford pears, I would prune after bloom. The main reason people plant the trees is for their spring blooms and their fall color. Enjoy the spring blooms and then prune.   Bradford butchering goes on all the time, and these trees are becoming quite invasive. They also commonly fall apart in wind storms. There are much better choices. 


(September 26, 2015)

QuestionI know this question has been asked over and over, but I have to ask it again cause my daughter and I are having a debate about this. When is the best time to prune Crape Myrtles? 


Answer I do believe this ranks as the number one question I get on gardening, and yet as many times as I have answered it and written about the correct way to prune a crape myrtle, we consider to see crape murder across the state.  Late February is the normal time to prune a crape myrtle –prior to new growth beginning.  This past late February we were under attack by snow and ice, so many did not get around to pruning until late March—so timing will be determined by weather.  If you have a standard crape myrtle prune it with three to five main trunks or a single trunk.  Let the branching begin about 5-6 feet off the ground and prune out anything smaller than a pencil in diameter, any crossing or rubbing branches, and then let them grow and become trees


(October 2012)

QuestionMy husband and I are going to trim the crepe myrtles on Military Dr in NLR for the Amboy Neighborhood Association. When is the best time to trim crepe myrtles? Also, can the bushy ones be thinned down to three or four stalks and trimmed up like trees?

AnswerThe best time to prune crape myrtles is before new growth begins in the spring—typically late February. It is preferable to trim a standard variety as a tree, instead of a bush, but it can take a few years to change.

(January 2013)

QuestionWe have a large magnolia tree at each end of the house and they have gotten too large and overhang the house. I had our other trees trimmed in September and the tree guy said not to trim the magnolias at this time. He said February was the right time for them and he could cut the tops off and trim them so they wouldn't be so large. What do you recommend?

AnswerMany magnolias were damaged with the recent snow storm, so you may have no choice but to start pruning. Normally, I would recommend waiting until after they bloom before pruning--May is the normal bloom period for a standard southern magnolia. I never recommend topping a tree, since it will cause the internal wood to decay and ruin the natural shape of the tree. If the height is an issue, you might consider replacing the magnolia with another tree. Standard southern magnolias can easily grow 60 feet tall by 30 feet or more wide. One pruning is not going to stop their growth. There are numerous dwarf magnolia varieties on the market that are better suited to a standard home landscape.

(December 2012)

QuestionIn the spring of 2010 I planted four Bradford pear trees. They are growing straight up; they don’t seem to be spreading out like I thought they should. Should I cut the tops out of them? If so, when should I do this?

AnswerTopping a tree is a practice that should NEVER be done to a tree you want to keep long-term. When you remove the entire top crown of a tree, you create internal decay in the tree. It will eventually put out more branches and look like a tree, but the damage done internally will last for a lifetime and makes the tree structurally unsound. However, you can remove certain branches and take the top buds off of each branch you leave, without removing the crown, and this will encourage branching. The top bud on each branch has dominance, and left unchecked, will grow straight and taller. Removing the top bud (or even going lower on a branch) will encourage lower buds to grow, which should start to give your tree a fuller top. Pruning done correctly will give you a fuller and healthier tree. Keep in mind that many ornamental pear varieties, particularly Bradford are very susceptible to storm damage, and they often have too many branches which cause them to resemble a lollipop on a stick and they break easily.

(November 2012)

QuestionWe have a 7 foot tall Japanese lace-leaf maple by our front door and another by the house. The one by the door I've kept somewhat thinned out and trimmed up so its graceful branches are visible. It's grown nicely and filled out in a pretty irregular branch style that I really enjoy. I thin out some of the tiny branches in the spring. The other maple has a rounded, helmet shape since I have left it alone. Is there a preferred way to let them grow? I have only seen my tree shaped like this and wondered if I am harming it. I would appreciate your thoughts on "do or don't" thin the branches.

AnswerFor the Japanese maple, there are many different opinions as to how they should be pruned. Many like them thinned out to expose their graceful branching. Others like the more natural shape of the tree, so I think it is your preference. I do not like to see them shaped into an artificial ball shape or topped, but thinning them out or removing wild branches is perfectly acceptable.


QuestionSomeone told me last week that if you top a sweetgum tree it won't produce gumballs for 4 or 5 years. Is this true? I have a huge sweetgum tree in the backyard that my wife loves for the shade it produces, but I hate the gumballs I have to deal with all year long. I want to cut it down, but if topping it will stunt the gumballs, I'm willing to try that.

AnswerNot true, and very, very bad for the tree to be topped. Topping a tree leads to a hollow, unsafe tree so should never be done. Sweetgum balls can be a nuisance, but the fall color and the overall shade make it worthwhile. If you grow hostas, the sweetgum balls make a great mulch to keep slugs away, and if neighborhood cats use your garden as a litter box, sweetgum mulch keeps them away. I am still surprised that some enterprising gardener hasn’t bagged the stuff and sold it for either or both uses. Maybe you have a new cottage industry in your yard.

(August 2012)

QuestionWe live in north Boone County and have experienced two hot dry summers. We have a Japanese Cherry tree which is about 18 years old. This spring we had to remove a large dead limb from the tree which we assumed was caused by last year's hot weather. Now there is another large limb dying. When this limb is removed it will leave the tree badly misshapen. Should we remove this limb and try to prune the tree back in to a better shape or would this add to the stress. We have been trying to make sure it gets enough water but we only have a yard sprinkler and don't really know how long or how often to water. Would appreciate any advice you can give us.

AnswerJapanese cherry trees are one of the prettiest trees when in bloom, but unfortunately in our climate, they aren’t one of the longest lived trees—and that is even in years when we don’t have the type of summer we have had this year and last. They do need ample water, but remember the way to water a tree is to let it run low and slow for a long period of time over the entire area—a tree typically has feeder roots out as far as the tree is tall. Many folks are putting the hose out at the base of the tree, and while this adds water to the soil, it is questionable how much help this is giving the tree, since again, the feeder roots aren’t at the base of the tree. By now, the tree is in the process of setting flowers for next spring. I would enjoy whatever blooms it has to share next spring, and then do the shaping and corrections in the spring after bloom.


QuestionWe will be expanding our front porch this fall, which will necessitate removal of a single low hanging branch from a nearby oak tree. Given the heat and drought of this summer, when is the best time to have it removed? The tree has been watered all summer and does not show any signs of distress.

AnswerIf you are just removing some lower limbs from established trees, there shouldn't be any issues. For small, young trees, we want extra foliage to help keep them established, but I think it will be fine to prune them as needed.

(Sept 2011)

QuestionYear before last I had a beautiful bed of hosta. It was in the shade of a large persimmon tree. We had a storm and had to cut the persimmon tree down, that left the hosta bed in the sun. The hosta bed is on the south side of my house. I have planted a mimosa tree in place of the persimmon tree. The mimosa is doing well, except for one problem. It has one very tall branch and one short one close to the bottom of the tree. Do I need to cut the top out of the Mimosa or will it finally branch on its own?

AnswerYou are probably going to have to provide some assistance. Prune it to a strong bud and it should branch out. Do so in late February to early April to catch the resurgence of new growth next spring. I know that many folks like mimosas, but they are not my favorite tree. They tend to be fairly weak and are susceptible to a wilt disease which causes an early death. Probably more information than you wanted since it is already planted in your yard. Watch your trees growth each year and gradually train it into the shape and size you desire. Wherever you prune, you should encourage branching. It may take a few years to get the desired shape.

(April 2012)

QuestionI have a Harry Lauder Walking Stick Tree that is approx. 15 years old. It started putting up suckers and I have continued to remove them. The suckers keep returning, more each year and larger. I am thinking about cutting it down at this point unless there is a solution to eliminate the problem since it is getting more difficult to cut off the suckers. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

AnswerMost Harry Lauder Walking Sticks or contorted filberts are grafted onto a common filbert rootstock, so suckering is a common complaint. Other than pruning, there isn’t much you can do about them. I love the look of the twisted, gnarled branches, so I would continue to prune out suckers. If you really can’t take it, they do now sell Harry Lauder Walking Sticks that are not grafted, but grown on their own root stocks, and they will not sucker.

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