Shaping a young specimen
The first objective in shaping young trees is to develop suitable primary branches whose size
harmonize with the trunk. These primary branches are important, as they form the tree’s basic
structure. Start by letting the branches grow freely until they reach the desired diameter, then begin
the shaping process. Once you have defined the basic structure of the tree, proceed with the
development of the secondary and tertiary branches.
When you let primary branches grow without restraint, the secondary branches appear automatically,
but usually with internodes (space between the buds) are too large. Also, the secondary and tertiary
branches usually grow too long, making them of little use. Pinching and defoliation help address these
Pinching and defoliation
Generally with young trees, let the new shoots grow freely from their first appearance in spring. These
new shoots will eventually form the new structure. To maintain the size and shape you want, prune
them in autumn. However, if you want to increase the number of secondary branches, cut the tips of
these branches in late spring or early summer. This trimming also slows down the development of the
This task, called bud pinching, also impact the development of new branches, initiating a second flush
of secondary shoots. The tree responds to this trimming by redirecting energy from the tips of the
branches to the new shoots. These new shoots emerge from buds located near the cuts or further down the branch. This is called back-budding.
Another technique for producing fine secondary and tertiary branching is complete or partial defoliation, the removal of some or all of the tree’s leaves. Generally, the best time to defoliate is the beginning of summer. Be sure not to disturb the dormant buds when you cut. These dormant buds are usually found at the base of the leaf stems. Defoliation awakens these dormant buds and leads to the development of new shoots. To avoid damaging these buds, don’t brusquely pull on the leaves as you remove them. Instead, cut them off in the middle of the leaf stem, leaving part of the petiole (leaf stem) attached. Soon the remaining stem will fall off by itself. In this way pinching and defoliation allows secondary branches to develop where only one main branch would have grown. For best results, pay special attention to the time of the year when you do this. The optimum time varies among species. Research the specific needs of each of your trees and be faithful to their requirements. The yearly pinching of buds, metsumi, together with defoliation and a subsequent selective pinching of buds, mekaki, is critical for developing and maintaining superior ramifications. Be diligent! For best results you must tend to these important tasks every year.
Once the secondary branches are developed.
At this point direct attention to the tips of the branches. Even though it may look like the tree has reached maturity, its biological reality is something else, each branch continues to grow unceasing producing new shoots. The consequences, unless you control the growth, the tree will lose the attractive shape you worked so hard to develop. In order to maintain shape, it is not enough to cut the branches every time they project outside your trees profile. This only makes the branch tips thicker and coarser.
Instead trim slightly inside the ideal profile of the tree, at points where the branches fork. This produces better ramification, eventually filling the outline with a filigree of delicate shoots.
In other words, look for buds inside the profile of the tree where you want new shoots, and prune just above these buds. Doing this in a timely fashion produces striking improvement in the overall appearance of your trees.
When pinching, don’t neglect the interior of the canopy. If the external branching is too dense or has so many leaves that air and light don’t penetrate, the interior buds will wither. Little by little the interior will become empty, with all the foliage concentrated at the tips of the branches. If for any reason one of the branches is lost, there will be no possibility of replacing it with an interior shoot. The result is an unsightly void. Letting this happen leaves no means of shortening the branches, or if you do shorten them, the tips will be an unacceptably course. Then, the only remedy, unless you take drastic measures, is to allow the branches to grow out beyond the silhouette of the tree. No one wants to face this dilemma. Once your tree has developed dense foliage, selectively defoliate the external leaves or cut them to reduce their surface area. This allows air and light to penetrate the canopy.
I do hope you are all safe and well.