pruning a large camellia for tree form - best number of stems?

davidrt28 (zone 7)August 19, 2011

I have a Camellia 'Survivor' I'd like to become a tree. I bought it about 4 years ago at 3' tall and it's up to 6.5' tall so it's making almost a foot a year of growth. I don't fertilize it.

I have several large old American hollies on my property that area all > 25' tall. They are all multistemmed (or multi-trunked) but so good at shedding snow (>2 ft. in the past 2 winters) and so strong limbed I can never see them being split down the middle as sometimes happens with multi-trunked/divided trunk trees. Bradford Pears are notorious for that...

Camellia Forest notes the original plant is > 30' ft. high. I've been there but I can't remember if the largest camelllias had one or more stems. Should I prune mine to have just one stem, or leave it with the 3 main stems it has now? Do the best looking tree shaped camellias in the south have one trunk or more?

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

How a shrub should be limbed up depends upon the physical structure of the individual plant. One has to make that decision, I believe, based on the existing 'bones' as they exist in reality. This is especially true at the size of your camellia. A very young plant can pretty much be shaped into any form you wish with very little problem. Yours is past that stage.

Also, your decision to make your tree a multi-trunked specimen or a standard (one trunk) will be a subjective choice. Some of us simply like one or the other more. The standards tend to look more formal and might be better suited to certain kinds of architecture while the multi-trunk ones can look graceful and interesting.

I'd wager that your tree has already made up its mind to be multi-trunked. I don't think I'd mess TOO much with what Mother Nature has already designed. Of course, you can begin by limbing up those three trunks and thinning out the canopy somewhat. Be sure to cut TO the branch collar and not into it and make internal cuts to an outward growing branch, not leaving any forsaken stubs. Also, I strongly urge you to wait until the winter to do this work.

The very last thing you want to do is trigger a growth response at this time of year, which heavy pruning will certainly do. That wouldn't be good for your tree at all.

Bradfords split and break because of their abnormally narrow crotches. It doesn't take a snow load, either. Just look at one funny and its bound to shatter into pieces. Hate those things.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 3:30PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Thanks, I realized after I posted that the situation with Bradford Pear was not exactly analogous. What I was trying to get at though was the question of whether or not there's a trade off...obviously if you have more than one trunk, you have a "spare" if something goes wrong with one, but, OTOH, does having more than one trunk tend to cause more problems to even occur in the first place? I'll think I'll leave this one multitrunked; as you say, I probably should have made my move the year I bought it if I wanted it to have a single trunk.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 8:12PM
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Please leave it multi trunked it will look much more natural most of the large ones I have seen that have been pruned into tree form are multi trunked. You actually can look at some of the older post that show really older plants and many of them have been pruned up with all the major trunks left. My question is being as small as it is now. What was your decision on making on making it tree form. I would think that since you are in an area with snowfall, the more lower limbs would be good for the plant to help ward off more severe freezing. A good bark buster winter and your camellia may get killed to the ground. Just my thought.
James in Florida.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 11:35PM
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