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.
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
DON'T DO THIS TOO QUICKLY!
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
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
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
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
Training Young Trees for Structure and Form