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Is there a minimum age, height, or trunk girth before I can start training or pruning a seedling / young tree? I am concerned that starting too early would be detrimental to its early growth.

Specifically, I have a wax apple tree that is just 8'' tall. Its leaves are growing much faster than its branches. Some leaves seem to be pushing into the frail branches. Can I cut off these overly strong leaves?

Another specific problem I have is a Wonderful Pomegranate seedling about 1 foot tall. Unexpectedly, All its branches are growing away from my South facing window. I want to make some heading cuts to promote a more balanced structure.

  • Oh heavens, the pomegranate is IN your house? 1'tall? Make sure the pot is no larger than 1 or 2 gallons. Upgrade to a slightly larger pot when you see the roots filling the 'good potting soil' and beginning to grow out the drain holes. Just keep turning the pot...it will grow more evenly. Water deeply and let the soil dry out so that the pot feels markedly lighter than it did after you soaked it. Done in the shower you'll also get rid of dust and insects...maybe once per week? No rocks in the bottom for drainage...just soil...what zone do you live in? Can it be planted outside? – stormy May 18 '14 at 23:17
  • @stromy I'm in zone 9. I keep it outside in a this container, where it gets 10 hours of sunlight. There was so much horizontal growth that the branches started pointing diagonally downward. I said "heck with it" and made heading cuts to every branch. I wanted to promote a lollipop shape instead of a pyramid shape. – JoJo May 19 '14 at 15:15
  • Putting it outside is great...what variety of Punica do you have? I've never grown a Pomegranate. Yum. Watch for salt build-up, white crusting on top of your soil. The shower watering will help wash out excess salts (If you are using conditioned tap water). If that is a saucer on the bottom, take it off for watering and let it drain in your shower before putting it back on. These guys like to dry out in-between waterings. I'd use Osmocote, a synthetic extended release fertilizer that lasts for 4 months. – stormy May 19 '14 at 17:21
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Trees are generally not pruned a lot in their first year. This means they are usually just unbranched sticks (whips) at the end of their first year. In the second year, the whip's tip is pruned to force it to start branching. The next year, the three to five best branches from what has grown in year two are selected as the main scaffolding branches for the developing tree. Everything else above and below the height desired for the scaffold is pruned off, and in that way new growth is directed out to the young main branches for the duration.

Pomegranates are generally bushes and not trees, and I believe they fruit on 2 year old wood. So your pruning for shape on that could probably begin now if you wanted it to, but be aware that if you don't let some of the branches become mature it will take longer for it to begin fruiting.

  • How do the seedlings become whips when they reach 1 year old? Is it through gradual thinning or do you thin it all off right when they become 1 year old? – JoJo Feb 22 '14 at 18:05
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    Most young trees that haven't been pruned or broken off will during their first year put all their growth into just one stem. – TeresaMcgH Feb 24 '14 at 15:58
  • I see one strong trunk on my wax apple tree, but my pomegranate is already growing as a bush - its branches are growing quite fast. I don't know if I should prune seedlings that will naturally grow up to be bushes. – JoJo Feb 26 '14 at 17:07
  • Seedlings that will grow up to be bushes are sometimes pruned to limit the number and control the placement of their main trunks. Some are not pruned at all, though, so I guess that's up to you whether to do so or not. – TeresaMcgH Feb 26 '14 at 17:31
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Are these seedlings in pots? If they are outside, make sure they weren't planted too deeply. There is a line between the 'root ball' of the tree and where the bark begins. Any soil, bark chips, mulch, rocks that covers this bark will eventually kill the tree. Bacteria eat at the bark if moist and just under the bark (scrape your fingernail and you will see bright green...) is the vascular system of the plant. It is very thin and once this is compromised the tree will die.

Make sure that there is always a circle of bare soil/mulch around the base of the tree that is as wide as the root ball in this case and later as wide as the 'drip line'...if your tree were an umbrella the drip line is where the rain falls off the umbrella and onto the ground. The drip line can stay 4-5' in diameter once the tree is established enough to compete with a bit of lawn or plants.

Do not over-fertilize or under fertilize. Either learn the symptoms of nutrient deficiency and excess or get a soil test done by your county extension service. Or both. Slow release or organic fertilizers are best.

As for pruning, yes, you can prune damaged branches, crossing branches and branches that angle towards the center of the scaffold of your tree. Tiny branches that have very small diameters compared to the trunk of the tree (or main branches) from which it grows should be pruned. The difference in diameter means that the leaves on the little diameter branches are not situated properly in relation to light to produce enough or efficiently for the tree. The tree in turn is not supporting those branches and they will die naturally. In this way you are helping the tree by cutting off non-productive branches and the energy that branch used albeit small is now being diverted to more productive branches.

Leave the leaves alone. If they come off with branches, fine. Leave the tips of the branches alone. Pruning the tips of branches is called 'heading' and is used if you want dense shrubs. Tree species have identifying shapes...to change this shape by heading, pollarding should be left to professionals and those that like to create a high-maintenance tree.

Something to remember; when you have a branch on a tree it is AT the height it will always be...and as the diameter grows, it actually is lowered. Don't worry about any major pruning until the tree is the height you need it to be. Now it is all about optimum health and growing.

At the end of a branch, the terminal bud, is where most of the energy in that whole branch resides. We are talking about any branch. When that bud gets removed all that energy is then diverted to the lateral buds down the length of that branch. Instead of the branch getting longer, it is now getting 'bushier.' More shading of the center of the tree, more non-productive branches and you'll end up with a bush on a stick.

What you want to be doing right now is allowing your fruit trees to get big enough to begin to produce fruit. Later on, you WILL want to control the size of your tree, prune to allow ventilation and maximize fruit production. At 8" I can't imagine what needs pruning. DON'T prune the 'leader!' Later on, you might have two or three branches vying for that position and you will have to decide which one and then one day you will remove the leader once it has reached the desired height for producing fruit you can reach. You'll learn how to prune for maximum fruit size and production.

Leave the little branches that grow from the trunk...or at least a few of them. They help to increase the trunk size for strength. And while I am thinking about trunks, don't stake your trees! The only time I ever stake trees is when I plant bare root trees or transplant mature trees with lots of canopy and have compromised root balls. Trees need to MOVE in the wind. This movement causes the tree to grow more root structure and thickens the trunk to protect against wind. Staked trees are being set up for failure. With their movement restricted (in essence telling the tree that the wind is always going to be but a breeze) the trunk stays skinny, the energy goes into the canopy instead, the root system stays whimpy and when the stakes are removed and even if they aren't removed the weight of the canopy WILL cause the tree to break or pull up roots falling over. I am terrible...I walk through parking lots during the winter (roots grow all winter) and cut the ties to the trees if they are leafless and out of danger. As well as those who have been forgotten and the ties are becoming part of the tree and will die from girdling or will break at the tie or will be blown over. At least they get a chance.

When planting a B&B tree, balled and burlapped tree from a nursery, the root ball is usually clay and all the roots that tree needs are all in that ball. I ALWAYS take the burlap off...completely (burlap is usually treated with chemicals that inhibit decay), unwind any roots that have encircled or are in danger of encircling the root ball, disturb the clay ball as little as possible, plant on top of undisturbed subsoil the exact depth of the root ball or an inch or two shallower to allow for mulch. If the soil is clay and it is planted in a more freely draining soil, I make a ring with soil around the circumference of the root ball and/or shove a piece of pvc pipe, 2"-4" diameter with holes drilled in the sides so that water gets into that root ball and isn't shed off the sides and into the native soil.

Your trees must have come in a pot or bare root? Main thing is to help you see what is happening below the soil. For now, only 'thin' to prune, fertilize sparingly, improve your soil by mulching with decomposed organic mulch within the drip line and past a few feet but NOT near the bark and to be patient for a couple of years. You'll have plenty of time before you need to make any other decisions about your trees...I hope I've answered your question and I apologize if all the other information you already knew and didn't need. Have fun...a few years go by awfully fast!

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