Lazy S'S

 Farm Nursery

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Geranium 'Brookside'

Trillium erectum

Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine'

Lobelia x 'Sparkle Divine' Cardiinal Flower

Lobelia 'Sparkle Divine'

Dicentra 'King of Hearts'



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Training Young Trees


When you see a 6' tall beautifully shaped tree at a garden center, you can be sure that someone spent time in the early years at a nursery training it!  In the case of a young quart size tree, that responsibility is yours for the next few years!  There's very little we can do to a tree so young it will fit in a quart pot that will ultimately effect it's shape -- so it comes like a blank artist's canvas for you to create the perfect shape.



By necessity, many of our trees need to be periodically pruned so they can fit in our shipping boxes and live in a quart pot.  Some trees do not readily form a new central leader and those must be shipped in an extra tall box.  In such cases, the customer will have to pay a $4.00 box charge for the often separate and much taller tube box since we can't cut the tree back.


For those trees that readily form a new central leader, we simply prune them when necessary.  To retrain a new central leader, simply select the most upright branch and cut side branches away as shown at left.





For the first few years that you have the young headed back tree, don't do any additional pruning, even if it appears shrubby with multiple stems.  Of course, if there is a dead or damaged branch, that should be cut off.  This will seem strange as in garden centers you never see a tree at this stage -- that occurs in tree nurseries as the young tree is growing the first few years.  But, the very young, quart size tree needs as many leaves as possible to feed the tree for faster growth for the first few years.

As it grows for the first few years, one or more branches will clearly take a more vertical direction. 


Once the tree is 3-4 feet tall, you can start retraining the tree to a new central leader.  This is what you would generally see at a garden centers -- young trees having been pruned to a strong central leader.  

  The basic steps are:

     1.  Remove any dead or damaged branches.

     2.  Select the strongest and most nearly vertical branch for your central leader and cut off any competing branches.  A young 'headed back' tree, there may be no completely vertical stem but it will become more so with correct training and time.   And what seems like a major 'crook/bend' in the trunk in a small tree will appear completely straight as the girth of the trunk increases.

In the photos left, the tree is larger than 3-4 feet but still young, with 4 very vertical leaders. 


On the far left the tree before pruning to a new central leader and on the right with the competing leaders removed.  Again, note, the new chosen central leader is not 100% straight but if you could come back to this tree in a couple of years, the normal increase in the girth/width of the trunk will correct that. 

Also side branches that were rubbing, etc. are removed and the beginning of removing other side branches has begun.


3. Regarding side branches: Some arborists say don't remove the side branches until they are 1" in diameter.  Training trees is actually an area where different folks have different opinions! You will continue to remove lower branches until it reaches the height you want branching to start and then look for side branches that radiate equally around the tree (see photo at right).  This training takes many years.  To some, tree training is nearly an art form!


This is a VERY SIMPLIFIED version of how to create a new central leader which is generally the customer's main concern and starting to think about the tree's ultimate shape.



Anyone growing a small tree would do well to spend some time reading and studying about tree pruning and shaping.  A tree is going to be with you a long time and take up a fair amount of space in your landscape so laying the proper foundation for it's shape is worth doing right.


If you have an hour and really think you'll do the training rather than bringing in a professional, this is a YouTube Video that is the most thorough we've found on the Internet from the University of California.



Training Young Trees for Structure and Form




Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee'

Asclepias tubrosa Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tubrosa

Vernonia fasciculata

Sedum 'Blue Pearl'

Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners'

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but please read the information on the above page - it answers almost ALL questions!  :-)