If the shrubs and bushes are not pruned regularly, they can take over the whole landscape and give an impression of a neglected garden. But if you learn how to prune a shrub into a tree, your outdoor area will be transformed into an artistic and graceful garden oasis.
The element that gives a shrub a tree identity is a strong stem that develops into a trunk. Therefore, it may take several years before the shrub is ready for the big change. At that time, its bushy canopy will achieve the rich and lush appearance that you were aiming for, and the pruning process can begin. It can be performed on the young shrubs also, as long as you can reduce its stems and still get stable support for the plant. Sometimes, you can separate a couple of stems and achieve the appearance of a proper tree.
We will guide you through the process step by step and later suggest some shrub species that respond to this specific pruning the best.
Follow Garden Pruning Experts’ Guidelines
- Locate the straightest and strongest stems that will serve as a stable base for the plant.
- Choose your weapon (shears or a pruning saw) and cut the remaining stems to ground level.
- Cut the lateral branches from the main stems, BUT do not cut through a branch collar (the foundation of the branch), since that will damage the plant.
- If the shrub doesn’t have a solid trunk, you can use a stake and tie it to the main stem with a string or twine. That will keep the stem – soon to be the trunk, straight and well supported for growth and thickening. Feel free to remove the stake when you notice that the plant can develop on its own.
- Keep the lower third of the plant clear from new outgrowths until the wanted height is reached. This also stands for the ground growth – only the main stem should be sticking out.
- After you get the trunk you want (the next spring season if the plant is young), we move to the plant’s upper part – remove damaged, broken or dead branches and choose 5,6 healthiest ones. Spread them evenly through the shrub and go for the balanced canopy look. Now, cut around 10 cm of the chosen branches’ ends. This will encourage them to grow laterally and help bush development.
- The strongest branches should be the only ones to stay on the shrub to form the tree. You can be creative as you want with pruning the tree to achieve the desired shape.
- Whenever you are performing regular garden maintenance, make sure to dedicate some time to remove any branches from the lowest part of the trunk and trim the diseased ones from the top.
Which Shrub Can I Turn into a Tree?
Let’s begin with an all-time favourite – Lilac. Its wonderful fragrant flowers beautify numerous gardens all over the country, and since it grows from a single stem, it is ideal for this specific pruning.
Pyracantha Angustifolia or Orange firethorn has been cultivated as a garden ornamental, especially in the temperate regions of Australia. Older plants have large trunks and small berry-like orange fruit that surely can pass for a real tree if properly pruned. Many berried shrubs make beautiful small trees.
Magnolia stellata is a true, delicate beauty whose white flowers cover the whole shrub during spring. Since it falls under the category of the shrub-like tree, its pruning is not very complicated since the plant is fully equipped to grow up to two meters in height.
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Owner/operator of Artview Landscapes, Brian Baker is a talented landscape designer who has been managing, designing and building structured landscapes in Sydney for twenty five years. He has personally built or managed over 800 landscape construction projects ranging in value from $5,000 to $250,000 for residential projects and between $10,000 and one million dollars for commercial projects.