What Happens If You Cut All the Branches Off of a Tree?

What Happens If You Cut All the Branches Off of a Tree?

With a pruning saw in hand and a scrawny plant in sight, suddenly you realize that you trimmed too much.

It’s tough finding a happy medium with pruning. Trim too little, and you leave behind unruly branches. Cut too much, and you can threaten the plant’s structure and health.

Kate from South Carolina had a few camellia shrubs that she feared fell into the “too much” category. She asked, “Can camellias come back from massive hacking when there are no branches left, only a few feet of the main trunk?”

More than likely, Kate’s shrub (and your over-pruned plant) can bounce back from massive cuts.

How to Fix an Over-Pruned Tree or Shrub

While some plants need a heftier prune than others, in general, the golden rule is to trim no more than 15 to 20 percent of a tree’s canopy at one time. Keep that in mind for next time.

Let’s focus on the now. If your plant was already pruned too much, use this step-by-step guide to fix the damage.

  1. Know what you’ve got. It matters what type of plant you have! Some shrubs can be cut to the ground and will grow back as if nothing happened. Others that are pruned too much may start to languish or die.
  2. Be patient. If the tree’s branches weren’t extremely weak or diseased, they should be able to initiate new growth. But, you probably won’t see new blooms in the first, or even the second, year after a massive over pruning.
  3. Get an expert’s opinion. An ISA Certified Arborist® has the expertise to let you know if your tree will likely bounce back (or not).
  4. Provide an extra boost with proper plant health care. Your tree’s struggling without its branches, so help it out a bit. Water it when it’s dry (and right before winter). Keep it mulched to provide extra nutrition to the soil. Finally, see if your tree needs to be fertilized.
  5. Help the plant take form. Once new growth comes in, a pruning technique called thinning will help even out the canopy and keep the tree’s main branches strong.
  6. Don’t make the same mistake twice. It takes a long time for your tree to look good again after it’s been pruned way too much! So, next time, be sure to ask these questions before hiring someone to trim your trees.

Request a free consultation for first-hand advice on how to help your over-pruned tree.

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