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Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Posted by whaas 5a SE WI (My Page) on
Sun, Feb 26, 12 at 11:26

Shooting out an example here.

Lets say you have a spruce or fir that puts out a 15" leader. By late summer you notice only a couple buds along the leader.

Since I like full plants I end up cutting the leader half way back to one of the buds late winter.

The only reason I'd do this is that I'm under the impression that shoot isn't likely to put out additional buds.

If the leader is loaded with nice radial buds there is no point in cutting back the leader (unless you want a fatter plant).

OR am I better off cutting back that 15" leader early summer in hopes of getting bud development up front?

Thoughts?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Never cut the leader! When it has finished expanding, it will always set an apical bud, and a neat, symmetrical whorl of side bids, at the tip.

If you cut the leader, you lose the neat, whorled symmetry of the crown, and many fewer side buds, so also potentially a less dense crown.

Resin


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

I definitely agree with Resin. But I don't aim for unnaturally "full" plants. IMO, the growth form of most any conifer, and most definitely spruce and fir, is just way too perfect to mess with.

+oM


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

  • Posted by whaas 5a SE WI (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 26, 12 at 14:43

So at the end of the day you guys are saying the vigorous leader is likely to develop the necessary buds to fill the plant out?

I don't actually have a spruce or fir that has this issue just asking.

I did notice the issue on a pine though. It grew almost 18" so you only have the buds at the top and a hollow area if you will, in between the tip and the next set of radial branching.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Sorry, I don't agree. I always cut the leader to 12" or so. Depending on bud set, sometimes shorter. At least until the plant is 8' tall. To build a house you need a good foundation. With out prunning when young, many plants are just open and ugly. The more prunning, the more branching. Also, look for the smallest bud on the leader to prune it back to. Femove excess buds. Leave 1" of wood above. Those small buds havnt completely decided if they will be branches or new leaders. Another trick is to cut a piece of PVC about 1 1/2" long and place over the bud. Place a wooden close pin under the PVC so it doesn't slide down. When the bud comes out it will reach up towards the light and become straighter. You may need bamboo to make sure the new leader is straight. Just my opinion. I like full plants. I don't like to see daylight out the other side. It does take a lot more work though. But I don't want a forest. I want a landscape. And the less it grows every year the better. Every tree I plant has a shelf life and will be gone when it overstays its welcome. Have fun with it!


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

I never realized that a conifer didn't know how to properly.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Well,jth is simply expressing the fact that his goal differs from say, me. I don't ever consider the normal growth form of the plants in question to be ugly though. Another thing-18 inches of bare trunk may seem like a lot when it's in the form of a one inch thick leader. Give that same tree some years to grow, and the branches that do form at that point will be heavy and pendulous. The gap all but disappears.

+oM


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Your right. I shouldn't of said ugly. My goals are for super compact plants. I have been raised to only grow full plants. I do like the natural form, but often they require a lot of space. To each their own.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

to each his/her own is correct. it's actually a form of bonsai, done with candles, leaders and new growth, etc...allowing us to shape a conifer (if one desires to) by directing it's energy elsewhere ;)

Here is a link that might be useful: basic pruning


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Thanks all, this was really helpful...I have one P. engelmanii 'Bush's Lace' that has a leader about 18" long...my inclination is to cut it back after reading this, but does anyone have any thoughts about that specific variety? The tree itself is about six feet tall, so still pretty young.
Loved the comment in the linked article that there is no place for 'recreational pruning' in conifers - that's a new term to me!

Here is a link that might be useful: Form and Foliage


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

i though you prune leaders in late spring.. just at about the time of max extension ...

so that at bud setting time [the 6 or 8 weeks thereafter] .. new terminal type buds will be set..

whats this suggestion of cutting now or in late summer???

i have no problem pruning damage..

but am of the opinion .. that once pruned for shape.. then you prune for shape for the life of that tree.. and that could decades ... and at some point.. to coin a phrase.. recreational pruning becomes a PIA ....

hence dads attempt to grow a strobus on the corner of the house 4 feet from such ... what a resinous PIA ... forcing a conifer with a 100 foot potential.. trying to keep it 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide ... looked like a pine soup can ...

buy a plant that fits the required space ... because sooner or later.. you will lose interest in pruning them ...

ken


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

My solution is a chain saw. Adios PIA. :) Thats me. I figure they are harder to kill when they get too tall. Im looking at a 18' tall Vanderwolf's Pyramid that wil meet its maker soon. Then its a 10' tall Larix 'Diana'. But thats me. Everyone has their own style. I guess my yard is more of a display garden then a normal persons. Like I said have fun with it. Trees keep growing. Nothing a shovel and a new plant cant fix.

And with the Bush's Lace, Leave the leader, but prune the tips of the top whorl. That will keep the plant narrower.

Just a little trick.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Thanks on the Bush's Lace. Not looking to prune it for size, but rather as whaas noted the plant might look better fuller - this one internodal distance seems long but as someone noted, will not seem nearly as long once tree is bigger and branches above droop down. It can get as big as it wants; nothing in its way! That attached article said to prune leaders during dormant season, that's why I figured if I was going to do it, I needed to get on it. Winter was apparently cancelled out here and the deciduous trees are all breaking dormancy ahead of schedule, so the conifers may not be far behind.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Then its a 10' tall Larix 'Diana'

larix is one of the few conifers that has dormant buds all over it ...

i took an 8 footer.. and trimmed it to 2 feet.. in ground bonsai... 3 years later.. its getting back to 6 feet ...

i would play with that one.. before i chainsawed it ... just cut it to 2 feet.. and watch what it does ....

ken


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Mmmmhhh.....pine soup!

;^)

+oM


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

I might give that a try after I take scion wood off of it this year.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

I don't interfere with my conifers natural ability to form themselves. They usually in the long runs straighten themselves out.

I never cut a main leader back.

There are several exceptions and I will intervene to correct.

I do train up new leaders if one fails to form or remove one if two form as shown in photo of Picea g. 'Pendula' One cultivar you sure don't want two leaders in competition with each other. In the case of this one the right one was removed and the left promptly took the leadership position.

Dave

5-20-2011


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

good call dave. btw, on the right, is that a Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead'? i have one and after reading the linked article a while back, i decided to 'encourage' a more open, upright form. i leave only 3 candles to develop on each branch and only the ones pointing where i want them to go. i hear the japanese have been doing it a while... ;)

Here is a link that might be useful: pruning pines


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

  • Posted by whaas 5a SE WI (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 28, 12 at 20:49

Magic posted a nice link that I've seen before that is inline with what Jason mentioned above.

Here is the Fir/Spruce video. This is a guy I'd trust given his credentials at the U of MI.
http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/videos/pruning-single-needle-conifers.aspx

Jason, can you explain why you choose a smaller bud to prune back to? Also can you elaborate on the close pin trick? I like the idea of the PVC pipe then I don't have to worry about getting out there right away to straighen the leader before it hardens off.

Sorry bud, last question. Re the 'Bush's Lace' are you saying make heading cuts on the shoots surrounding the leader?


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Sorry whass I don't mean to hy-jack your thread.

'Thunderhead' it is.

Yes you can work with this cultivar for the look your after.
I am slowly opening this one up for better air circulation. I also candle the sides every year to keep it in its assigned space. A very heavy needle dropper which becomes very congested inside if not cleaned out. Also noted for limb breakage under heavy snow loads. Just give it a shake.

Dave

A better photo.

Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead'., I have seen the cultivar name sold both ways: 'Angelica's Thunderhead' or 'Thunderhead'.I purchased mine as 'Angelica's Thunderhead'.According to van Geleren and van Hoey Smith (1996) this cultivar was introduced by John Vermeulen, New Jersey; and Jacobson (1996) states that it was selected by William Devine of Angelica nursery of Kennedyville, Maryland.(Distinctivecharacteristics.) Named for it's long clusters of silver-white buds that develop during the spring, Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead' is a beautiful specimen in any garden setting. The needles are a dark green color, heavy in texture and are very plentiful. This dwarf has a broad habit growing to about 5' wide by 4' high in ten to fifteen years.As with most Pinus thunbergii it is hardy to Zone 5 although the needles could burn at temperatures of -10? to -15? F. Especially vulnerable during times of wide and rapid temperature fluctuation. If possible winter protection from the effects of wind chill could greatly increase your odds on having this specimen in your garden.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

yes, i remember it now. probably 3 years older than mine. deep green color, substantial needles and it apparently likes that spot ;)


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Mmajicmann thanks for that great link to the pine pruning article. I have really gone after my 'Thunderheads' as I don't like the congested look. In their lifetimes I have probably taken more off of them than remains on them! They don't seem to mind; the article was very helpful in giving me more background and direction, as have been all of the above comments. This was a very helpful thread to me - thx whaas for starting it. After all of the comments I have decided to leave the 'Bush's Lace' alone. Unlike the pine, I have concluded that it doesn't need (or want) manhandling. Or in this case, womanhandling. Patience is the most important attribute that I have learned from my arborist and my pruning classes...


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

you're welcome! those pines are like unruly schoolkids... they need a little 'guidance'. i'm fascinated by how we can re-direct the energy of the plant.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

formandfoliage,

You are growing Picea e.'Bush's Lace' in Zone 9b?

For how many years?

Very cold hardy and will struggle in hot climates above Zone 6.

Dave


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

It's been in a couple of years. Regarding the climate preference - it is the heat of summer or the lack of cold in winter that it dislikes? I'm guessing the lack of cold in winter as Zone 6 can get pretty hot in summer. Washington State Extension says it grows well there and I think that they are zone 8...
Any advice for making it as happy as I can? I have a 'Blue Harbor' as well - also in about 2 years.
Thx!
Sara


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Sara I see that you live in Northern Cal? I would assume on the coast? Since summers there are fairly cool, your spruces would be fine. Dave is used to the blistering summers in the middle of the country.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Sara,

Unique micro climate for zone 9b. Northern California is exempt.

Very mis-leading.

dietzim is correct.

Its the summer high heat and humidity they don't like but mine does real well in 5b. The key is a water cool down in the extreame.

Dave


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Oh thanks to you both...the zone thing is really confusing especially out here in the land of the microclimates. We used to be 8b which never made sense to me, now are 9b which is much more realistic, but we do much better with the Sunset zones which take account of the proximity to the ocean, elevation, etc. I am in the milder part of 9b (I can even keep Bouganvillea going, it just freezes to the ground every 5-6 years) (I hate it - it is here because my husband likes it!) and we do have summer fog not infrequently as we are not far from the ocean. We are the opposite of the midwest in that our summers are dry (until the fog comes in) and our winters are humid. What we hear from the conifer aficionados out here is that even if you water using drip (which I do), the conifers need overhead water from time to time, especially in a heat wave. I have a big sprinkler that I move around periodically to give everything a shower. Keeps things cleaner, too, as we generally get no rain between April and October.
Thanks all for your info. I have learned so much from this forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Form and Foliage


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Whaas,

The idea is that the small buds have not completely decided weather they will be the new dominat leader or if they will just become another side branch. Make sure to only leave one bud within the top 2" or so. Otherwise you will get multiple tops.

The PVC and close pin is real simple. The close pin is just to stop the PVC from sliding down the leader. The close pin is attached to the leader about 1" below the bud. The PVC is then placed over the top of the newly cut leader and it rests on top of the close pin. The bud comes out, can't go out so it must go up towards the light. Then all those fancy hormones tell the bud that it is now the new top. Remove the PVC and close pin once the new leader is 6-8" tall or so, or you might not be able to get it off later.

On the Bush's Lace, yes cut off like 4 or 5" off the first set of branches. These less dominant buds remaining will weep down faster and make a narrowe plant.

Make sense?


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

"On the Bush's Lace, yes cut off like 4 or 5" off the first set of branches. These less dominant buds remaining will weep down faster and make a narrower plant".

Make sense?

Yes to a point. What are you going to do when it becomes to tall to continue this pruning process to keep in narrow?

End result: Fat lady at top with skinny legs. A totally out of balanced conifer.
Believe me. This is one conifer you do no want to alter its growing habit when young because eventually it will grow out of reach of those pruning shears and then free range.

Dave


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

If you don't mind a super wide Bush's Lace, then Yes, don't prune it at all. But if you are like 90% of the population and only have room for it to be semi wide, I would just cut off those 5 or 6 branch tips at the very top of the tree. Just takes a minute. I have 25' telescoping pruner. The kind the bough cutters use up in the mountains to cut branches for making wreaths. I can get real high, real easy. After that, I don't think it will even matter, unless you have an arboreteum or somethging like that. If you have the space for that plant, then sure, leave it alone. But its too wild for me as is.

What is the tallest you have seen? And how wide?

Just my opinion. Not trying to say you are wrong, just a differnce in cultural practices.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Not arguing the point. Just presenting a few facts.

Most people will not own a 25' telescoping pruner. They will be to inexperienced to make the right cut let alone take the time to groom a conifer that is planted with not enough room to expand naturally. You are the exception and that's ok.

This conifer is best suited as a specimen plant or anchor plant in a island. Again with much thought given to not exceed given area to grow in.

"What is the tallest you have seen? And how wide"?

In person I have one growing one 6 ft. tall. They are rarely grown in the Midwest. If done require special care to survive long enough to acclimate. Same thing applies to Picea orientalis 'Skylands'.

Google for larger specimens of 'Bush's Lace' 40 X 15 is possible.

If my memory serves me right I think Ken has a large specimen. Maybe he will post it for you.

Dave


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Great photo Dave - Picea glauca 'Pendula' is one of my favorites. So much infact that I purchased 1 last year and another one will be here in a month.

See the link for the origional Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace' from ConiferJoy

Here is a link that might be useful: Link


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Good deal. Beautiful for an island. The largest I have personally seen is about 15' tall and like 8' wide.

Kind of a fast grower.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

  • Posted by whaas 5a SE WI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 1, 12 at 14:01

That is what I figured on the clothes pin. Just wasn't sure if the pin would restrict the flow of water/nutrients.

So does that mean the larger buds have decided what they want to do? Meaning the smaller bud is more easily coerced if you will.

Dave,

The pruning would apply to the top portion as a one time pruning. So I'm thinking you'd have a thinner/narrower look above where you stopped pruning vs. fat top, skinny legs due the simple fact of time and growth.


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RE: Cutting back vigorous growing leaders (Picea & Abies)

Use cheap close pins with a weak spring. No restriction problems.

The larger buds put on an aggressive side branch.


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