Last year I tried a variation on my normal spring cutback for ume. Instead of reducing mid-sized branches to 2-3 leaves, I left them long but defoliated them (see “Cutback” for details).
I found that the defoliated branches leafed out but they didn’t regain their vigor. As you can see from the photo below, the branches (minus the foliage) looked the same in November as they did in June.
The main benefit of the approach is that the defoliated branches slowed down while allowing the weaker interior shoots to stay healthy over summer.
As far as I can tell, the technique has no effect on flowering. In recent years, the tree has produced ample flowers on the lower branches but very little color on the upper branches.
Pink flowers – February, 2021
The tree left out well this spring and has grown vigorously since then.
This year I’m going back to my previous approach of pruning all but the weakest branches back to 2-3 leaves. I left a single branch long to help thicken the upper part of the trunk.
After cutback – 16″ tall, 21″ wide (excluding sacrifice branch)
I’ll let the tree grow freely through summer and will look to prune again when the leaves turn color in fall.
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Terence Krista says
Wasn’t that a little frightening when you defoliated your ume and no leaves grew back? I would have been on pins and needles wondering if I’d killed it. Your spring bloom was spotty, but then it took off like gangbusters with new foliage! I find ume strange beasts. I have one. Sometimes good spring flowers, other years not. And it has taken forever to build any trunk size. I live in the bay area and wonder if they do better in a continental climate with colder winters. I was just thinking about all those Japanese scrolls of ume blooming in the snow. Anyhow, thanks for your interesting story.
Jonas Dupuich says
Thanks, Terence. Ume can be strong growers, but they do take a while to thicken. I also think they’d like more cold in winter than we can offer, though the tree in the article seems to be growing the same this year after wintering in a cooler climate.
Tia LaPiana says
Perfect timing on this post! My first major (for me) purchase was an Ume from a nursery this past April. I wired it at that time and now was hesitant about pruning it back when I took off the wires. After reading this I was much more comfortable cutting the branches and leaving a sacrifice branch. I definitely need to thicken branches and develop them into having a mature ramification. I can’t help admiring the trunk on your Ume. Where is it from? Is it carved by you or was it naturally that way?
Jonas Dupuich says
Thanks, Tia! The tree was field-grown in central California and has been trained since the mid-90s. Some years back the top died off leaving one branch that I used to create the current design. As the bark comes off you can see the remaining wood. I’ve done very little carving.