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I have a pair of large (roughly 30' tall I guess) cherry trees. They're mossy. They don't produce well (at least not for the 2 seasons we've had them for). What they do produce is so high that I can't net or harvest the fruit safely. The branches are a mess.

I don't know the age (we've only owned the home for a year and a bit), and I get the impression from our neighbors and the overall state of the yard that the former owners weren't all that concerned with upkeep.

The birds get most of the fruit now, but the few cherries that are low enough to harvest are delicious.

  1. Can I aggressively prune them? When, how, and how much? Am I hoping for too much to want to get the trees down to about 15-20 feet tall?
  2. Is the moss a problem? Should I just pull it off, or do I need to treat it with something?
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up vote 16 down vote accepted

The type of pruning you're looking for is called crown reduction. The main purpose of this is to reduce the height of the tree by cutting down its crown, as explained here.

Since you say your tree is 30+ feet high, it is advisable to get professional help instead of venturing out to do this on your own. Note that the pruning cuts that will be made are quite large and could lead to diseases in the tree. This can be mitigated by sealing the wound quickly with tar.

Crown reduction is inherently aggressive and could send the tree into a temporary shock. I would suggest that you reduce the crown and minimally prune the smallest of the messy branches the first year. The second year, you can remove more of the smaller branches (as you would in a normal pruning).

You will have to be patient with the tree and give it a year or two to recover and start producing a bountiful crop.

enter image description here

Image source: See link above

As for the moss (probably lichen) on the trunks, it shouldn't be a problem as the thick bark provides protection for the tree. There might be cause for concern if it spreads to the leaves, as it could be symptomatic of something else and prevent respiration/photosynthesis, but until then, it should be fine. I personally think trees with a bit of green moss growing on them look pretty.

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+1 for linking to "How to Prune Trees" by the Forest Service. "This can be mitigated by sealing the wound quickly with tar", nowadays by the vast majority of arborist's it not recommended to seal tree prune cuts (if those cuts are done correctly). Tar sealing is "generally" considered old-school. – Mike Perry Jul 24 '11 at 21:56

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