Social Distance XV: Pruning Research

Care for Your Garden

Home gardeners might appreciate the ornamental value of a pendulous (“weeping”) tree, one that has branches that hang down. Many varieties of such trees are available for garden use. While a small number have naturally hanging branches, most weeping trees have been developed by grafting a mutated variety on to a compatible rootstock.

Basic pruning techniques apply to most trees and shrubs, but weeping trees have particular pruning requirements. This column explores the specific task of pruning a weeping tree, as an example of the general task of researching unfamiliar challenges in gardening.

A related memory illustrates the value of timely research. Several years ago, a group of Master Gardeners volunteered for a one-day project to help maintain the fairly large garden of one of the members. The garden included a young Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’). The garden owner prized the tree’s weeping and contorted branch structure, and had it growing in a large container prominently placed near her house.

The volunteer project proceeded well until one of the participants (not me!) pruned off the Camperdown Elm’s pendulous branches, which the well-intentioned volunteer regarded as misshaped.

This act of horticultural vandalism shocked the garden owner, who was very upset. The specimen tree would recover, but only after several years of new growth.

Recently, in my own garden, I contemplated an overgrown Weeping White Mulberry (Morus alba ‘Pendula’). I received this plant as a gift from a friend years ago and enjoyed its graceful branching as it grew to seven feet high. As I looked for ripe berries, I saw that the tree’s pendulous branches were reaching to the ground and spreading like a trailing gown. The effect was not unattractive, but the tree needed pruning for ideal overall size and form.

Seven foot high Weeping White Mulberry (Morus alba ‘Pendula’) needs pruning.

Surfing the Internet, I soon learned important differences in pruning a Weeping White Mulberry versus a standard White Mulberry. A major difference: for a weeping tree, prune the upward growing branches; for a standard tree, prune the downward growing branches.

Another difference: remove no more than one-third of a weeper’s branches; remove a standard’s branches as much as desired, even to the ground. It will grow back.

A basic recommendation for pruning weeping trees is the same for all trees: prune during the winter months, when the tree is in dormancy and leafless branches reveal the tree’s structure. This is vital for the Weeping White Mulberry, which bleeds heavily when pruned during its growing months.

The time to prune this beautiful tree will be during the coming winter.

Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

This situation brings to mind the carpenter’s traditional advice, and suggests a horticultural version: “Research twice, cut once.”

When the gardener confronts an unusual task and has access to the Internet, a brief search for online advice often will yield positive returns in the form of improvement and in some cases survival of valued plants. Fortunately, most plants will recover eventually from thoughtless mistreatment, but all plants will look and grow better when the gardener uses methods that are consistent with natural processes.

The first step in an Internet search is to identify the subject plant’s botanical name. If that name is not readily available, search for its common name and the botanical name will appear shortly.

Search using key words. In this column’s example, I searched for “prune weeping mulberry.”

Then, explore the links that the search has generated. Review several advisories to screen out any fringy ideas and discover the common wisdom.

Enrich Your Gardening Days

True enjoyment in gardening comes confidence in knowing that you are caring for your garden on a foundation of knowledge and experience.

Keep your emotions positive and your viruses negative and enjoy your garden.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.