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I recently purchased a bare root Japanese zelkova tree online. It came with the leader pruned back. The whole tree is barely 2' (60 cm) tall at this point. I've found in some cases that nothing will grow upward from that point. Is there any way I can notch or cut the top at an angle to promote growth upward?

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My take on this would be to do nothing immediately, but wait for it to show signs of active buds. Apical dominance is very strong and the leader will want to go up. As soon as you can see buds breaking prune right above the topmost and when the lower ones are large enough rub them off leaving the leader as the only shoot. The leader should soon be vertical and establish the framework. It might not be immediately upright; there may appear to be a slight crook at first, but this will only last a few years - as the tree gets larger and broader the bend will become less pronounced until you can't see it. Keep rubbing off lower buds to ensure that all the growth goes to the single leader for the first few years.

  • I agree with the principle behind the advice, but looking at pictures of Zelkovas on the web, they mostly seem to have a fairly short main trunk that splits into several near-vertical branches all starting at the same height, so trying to produce one "main trunk" may not be what it naturally wants to do. BTW the best time to plant any bare-root trees and shrubs is when they are completely dormant in winter. Depending on your climate, "right now" seems anything from 3 to 6 months too early. But of course if your tree has been delivered now, you have to plant it now. – alephzero Sep 10 '18 at 15:49
  • … in the UK, reputable nurseries would not normally start delivering bare-root plants at all until after the first hard frosts - which would very rarely be before mid November, and maybe not until February in a mild winter. (Of course you can order the plants well before those dates, and then wait for the right weather before you receive them!) – alephzero Sep 10 '18 at 15:54

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