When deciduous varieties get shaggy in Spring, it’s often a good indicator that it’s time for cutback. To keep these trees strong, I generally cutback to 3 or 4 buds and only remove growth in strong areas. A small number of cuts can make a big difference in appearance.
Plum – early May
Plum – after cutback
For more vigorous varieties like Korean hornbeam, I but back to 2-3 buds and partially defoliate by removing most of leaves but leaving weak and interior foliage alone.
Korean hornbeam – May
As the interior leaves are shaded by the exterior leaves, I tend to move partially defoliated trees under shade cloth to give the tender foliage a chance to adjust to the light. I also watch the watering after defoliating as reducing the number of leaves on a tree often reduces its water needs.
Depending on the weather, new buds can appear within days. Here’s the same tree about one month after cutback and partial defoliation.
Korean hornbeam – one month later
I typically leave these trees alone in Summer, and then add fertilizer in Fall to give them the food they’ll need to push new buds next year.
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