December 7, 2010

Pruning a Barrel

The spruce outside outside our front door looked like this the year after we moved in:

Five years later it looked like this with spiky new branches sticking out all over:

And in five more years it is going to encroach on the front steps, and after that, spread entirely across the walk and engulf the entire front of the house.  It is too big for the space it is in.

On a cloudy day last June I noticed the topmost branches looked droopy, arching over in a funny way.

Not good.  Not good.  The dreaded pine weevil causes this, and will quickly kill off the whole top leader, with each successive stage of branches keeling over.  It's not a tree killer, but it badly deforms trees.

It's called a "pine" weevil and it severely affects white pines, but also spruces like this one.  The tiny immature white pupa is burrowing inside the inner bark of the leader stem, separating the bark and girdling the stem.  The only solution is to cut off the infected part.

Here's what the top of the spruce looked like after its surgery:

So now I had a tree too big for its site, with a flat top chopped so the whole thing looked like a stubby barrel, and it's right at the front door.

Get the pruners.

The key is to trim back a branch to a whorl where several branches meet in a circle.  And not to take off more than a third of the tree at a time.

I pruned it this summer.  It's still too rotundly barrel shaped, and needs more trimming in the top middle reaches, but I wanted to avoid a severely sheared look, and I had taken off a third of the size of the tree by the time I got to this.  I'll go after those upper middle branches next spring after I see what any new growth looks like.

After the haircut, there was cleanup.  You can't begin to imagine the sap.  It was everywhere --- on the tools, on my gloves, smeared across my glasses, gumming up my hair, sticking to the instep of my left foot (yes, I had shoes on), webbing my fingers together (and I had gloves on too).

The effort was worth it, I hope.  I am going to need to control the size of this monster at the front walk, and I needed to get rid of those pine weevils.  Look at your conifers and see if there is any sign of the drooping upper branches.  If you see that, you have the pine weevil and you'll need to cut those branches off.

Then you have some prunin' to do, Lucy.


  1. I'm rather impressed, Laurrie, you got right on that sticky job. Well done! The tree looks better already.

  2. Very impressive work. I think I would have gone the lazy route and chopped it down completely. When trees and shrubs get so big I can hardly get my head around how to handle them.

  3. Well rescued! Turning disaster into success. Hope the dreaded weevil stays away. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. Garden Ms. S, Marguerite, and Plataliscious,
    thanks --- I had no real idea what I was doing, but the pruning seems to have been effective, although awfully sticky.

  5. You could make a nice big wreath to decorate for Christmas with all those prunings. Good job.

  6. Lisa, I wish all that pruned greenery was still green so I could use it for the holidays. But I pruned this back in the summer and the clippings are now browning in the compost pile.... still useful but not pretty.

  7. The tree looks good!

    The problem with my Caryopteris is being in soil that's too wet and rich. It needs a leaner soil. Then hopefully it'll look as good as yours. :)

  8. Thanks, sweetbay. Yep, your blue mist may need a move to another spot.


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.