thoughts on the possibility of safe augmentative pruning
You see here a picture of the top of a 9' Abies firma:
This was purchased as a highly pot bound 6' species in fall 2010. I cut or unwound the roots and was able to spread a couple feeder routes out about 3' from the base of the trunk in either direction. I think that accounts for its fast establishment, even though both summers since then were hot and dry by local standards.
As you can see, it grew at least 20"/50cm this year, with no watering or fertilizing.
This is meant to be overstory to Asian BLEs like rhodies and camellias. My goal is to keep it growing up as quickly as possible - while maintaining good plant health and form. Merely trimming away some lower branches could be done, but I think that would be a bad idea. For one thing, you're removing photosynthetic capacity. You're leaving an injury, however small.
Here's my crazy idea of the day: wait until late winter just before the buds start to visibly swell. Go around the lower branches and remove perhaps 70% of those buds with a small pair of scissors. With a mind towards keeping those lower branches symmetrical - it's a little lopsided at the moment, because of the way it was growing in the nursery. Then, as the plant sends up sap the remaining buds should receive more, causing them to elongate more than they otherwise would have.
I'm sure I'm not the first with this idea. Does it seem like a good or a bad one? Of course, I might only do this for 3-5 years, and it might only cause the plant to be 2-3' taller. But hey, every little bit counts. That's 6 inches more of morning shade that will be cast over one of my prized camellias. (Protecting camellias from morning winter sun is the name of the game around here. The difference in plants that have this and ones that don't can be astonishing.)