Training and Pruning

 

Growing Method for a Feature, Single Stemmed, Specimen Tree

Many Eucalyptus produce very stately specimen trees, making an excellent focal point.  They add structure to the winter garden with interesting evergreen foliage, architectural habit and beautiful bark.
A specimen tree has a clear trunk for about the first two metres followed with a head of well placed branches to form the canopy.

In this section we have:
Rules of Pruning
Being a little hairy around the trunk is ok.
A little and often is best when young
Longer Term
Neglected Trees
Time of year
Growing without a stake
Choice of Species for a Specimen or Feature Tree

Rules of Pruning
As a rule, Eucalyptus do not require much in the way of pruning, but if you want to carry out a little shaping and tidying, the process is straight forward. You observe the same rules as with other trees;

  • use sharp bypass-style secateurs, loppers  and a sharp saw
  • prune to maintain or develop a strong leader
  • avoid weak branch angles
  • cut just above a bud without leaving a snag
  • avoid gouging into the trunk or a main branch
  • always make a clean slanting cut without damaging the surrounding bark, preferably facing south, so it drys and heals quickly
  • paint pruning cuts with a wound sealant (Arbrex Seal and Heal or Medo).

Many Eucalyptus have thin bark, so sharp implements are important to avoid tearing and ripping.

Being a little hairy around the trunk is ok.
For the first two to three growing seasons, leave on the side branches emanating from the trunk. They are photosynthesising, feeding and building up the strength of the tissues and their premature removal will weaken the trunk.  They also help to prevent the tree becoming top heavy, which can lead to wind-throw.

The species with a more multi-stemmed habit tend to be bushy, pushing out many lower side branches (also known as 'feathers' in young trees).  If you are after a single stem tree then retain these, but nip out the ends,  keeping two to three pairs of leaves.  If a branch becomes wayward, prune it back again, but do not remove it completely.  

With time, the tree will naturally shed them as it becomes more mature.  

Dead branches could and should be pruned out avoiding  leaving dead snags.

Once mature, wispy bits can be trimmed off to clean up the trunk with no worries.

The faster growing species tend to shed their branches very quickly and require little pruning.

A little and often is best when young
It is best to keep an eye on your young tree for a few years, shaping it and controlling its growth a little and often rather than leave it to mature and be forced into lopping off large limbs.

Eucalyptus respond well to pruning and if the young tree becomes top heavy as it matures (approximately years three to eight), you can remove large amounts of branchlets and foliage without much ill effect.  This will slow it down a bit, giving time to strengthen the stem and allow the root system to catch up.

Once established and growing with gusto, a young tree responds to heavy pruning by generating a great deal of epicormic growth from the trunks and larger branches, these tend to be vertical shoots and may require thinning out.  It is also why initial placing of any tree is important, because you don't want it growing straight up into telegraph wires or power cables.

Longer Term
As long as you stick to the basic
rules of pruning (see above), a healthy Eucalyptus can be seriously pruned every three years or so, to keep it under control. Select from the shoots that sprout as re-growth and keep the best well placed ones to continue the tree canopy, thinning out and removing the rest. This can continue indefinitely for the life of the tree and means you can enjoy a well managed otherwise large species, in a controlled situation.

Neglected Trees
Unfortunately, if you have inherited a large tree, which is in need of remedial surgery, you will not have much choice other than to call in the arboriculturist (tree surgeon) to give it a serious prune.  However, this can lead to the ingress of disease and shorten the life of the tree.  Large cuts (anything over 1 cm diameter) should be treated with a pruning compound to protect against infections.  I have seen very large Eucalyptus that have been heavily pruned, re-sprout vigorously. They do look butchered initially, but given a few years growth, they do attain a degree of elegance, but not what they were. Far better to select the right species and prune from the beginning (as you would a Apple or Pear tree)

Time of year
The optimum time of year for pruning Eucalyptus, in the U.K. is between April and September.  Pruning after late summer means that the wound will have insufficient time to heal prior to cold winter weather. Frost can attack the pruning wound resulting in the bark peeling away from the trunk and may even kill the whole tree. Timing is not so critical in counties where frost is not an issue.

Grow without a stake
After planting your tree, try to grow it only with a short stake to secure the root-plate in the ground, whilst establishing. Remove the stake after a couple of years.

The tree itself needs to be able to sway to strengthen the trunk. Strapping it to a full length tree stake will only weaken the tissues, resulting in the tree falling over.

See pruning for windy locations and correcting wind-throw.

Eucalyptus naturally produce a strong leader, but admittedly an arrow-straight trunk does not always follow. This is species dependent, but within a batch of trees, some develop an architectural but elegant shape, a trunk with a slight 'S' bend, which we think is rather attractive.

If your young tree begins to lean, you can sometimes correct this by tying it with a wide, soft tree tie and then rope to a stake positioned some way from the tree. This allows the tree to flex in the breeze, whilst being supported in the upright position. The timber will lignify with time and the tree then remain vertical.

Choice of species for a Specimen or Feature Tree
If choosing a Eucalyptus for a single stemmed specimen, say as focal point in the garden, take a look at the following:

E. archeri                    E. crenulata

E. coccifera                E. dalrympleana

E. glaucescens          E. kybeanensis

E. mitchelliana           E. nitens

E. nitida

E. pauciflora and its subspecies

E. perriniana              E. rubida

E. subcrenulata         E. urnigera

Choices for an arboretum with space for a tall tree:

E. deanei

E. delegatensis

E. obliqua

E. regnans - a tree of truly Olympic proportions, great fun to grow if you have the space

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