Prune Your Pines Now—In Early Fall-
If we’re very busy with fall things like getting kids back to school and thwarting cold weather with insulation, we may have limited time to wire our pines. And yet simply pruning pines in the early fall is the main technique for reining in a leggy pine, and will also greatly enhance the vigor of interior shoots and will likely create new buds.
- The stronger one prunes, the more buds will form
- New buds created in the fall will be set up to grow in the spring
- Spring is not a good time to prune a pine, for the tree will lose time creating new buds and may simply skip that and elongate the buds that are already there
- No need to prune every year, this is something for the rangy tree that has gotten leggy and long in the tooth (like our example Red Pine below), to create better branch taper, or to shorten the odd branch here and there.
Fall pine pruning brings new buds. New buds brings more ramification. More ramification means shorter needles. In short, in addition to wiring them, periodic pruning back will help improve your pines.
Japanese Red Pine before fall pruning.
Red Pine after fall pruning. Long and strong shoots were removed, leaving the moderate energy shoots and the small ones.
And the pine is immediately put back out into the sun. Without full sun for pines, back budding is simply a pipe dream.
A bit of background on this particular pine: It has a Ponderosa Pine trunk and was grafted with Japanese Red Pine about 7 years ago. The lime green needles are typical of the light and airy foliage of Red Pine. The choice of Red Pine was determined by the wriggly trunk line that this Ponderosa exhibited. It strongly reminded me of the Red Pines I had seen in Japan, and it was during a time I was grafting many pines out of curiosity to see what we can do with smaller Ponderosas.
A new bud forming on a Red Pine after pruning
New bud on a Ponderosa
3-year old buds on a Shore Pine—buds that followed a fall pruning 3 years ago.
To return to the point of this post:
- Fall pruning creates buds—but for best results don’t prune too late in the fall or budding is unlikely to occur (in a temperate climate). September through early October is a good time to prune.
- By November the tree won’t have much of a chance to respond to pruning and put out buds before dormancy sets in.
And two final points:
- We started by saying ‘The stronger one prunes, the more buds will form’—and yet over-pruning will weaken a pine. Leave a reasonable amount of foliage.
- Pruning back is done at the same time and in concert with another important technique, needle reduction on stronger shoots. If enough fall needle reduction is performed, similar bud production may be seen. But that is a story for another day.
I used to caution users of this blog more frequently in the past, but just to reiterate the main cautionary tale: The statements I make here are limited. They do not mean ‘go out and prune all your pines’, for instance. This may be a technique for some of your trees this year, if they have gotten leggy. Take all of this case by case and with a grain of salt.