June 14, 2011

Progress Report

This is an update on the injured, deformed and struggling trees in my yard. 

Nyssa sylvatica
Black gum staked, holding pressure on a side branch keeping it upright

Black gum last summer
The young black gum, or tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) that had lost its leader and was growing saddle shaped last year has been trussed up to create a new leader from a side branch.  Black gums have very stiff horizontal branching, but I tied plastic roping around a lower branch, used pressure to pull it upright and have staked it to hold it in this upright position.

Over time this upright position will encourage the tree to send growth hormones to this branch to give it dominance and re-create the leader this pyramidal tree needs.
a little better shape now
From an angle that hides the stake, and with the leaves concealing the trussed arrangement in the small canopy, it looks more natural shaped already.

Stewartia monadelpha
Stewartia last fall
winter damage to the stewartia monadelpha
A beautiful stewartia monadelpha that I planted last year had such an elegant shape, but winter was cruel to this little tree.

The top did not leaf out this spring.  It was just dead above the middle of the canopy.  I had to cut out the dead top, and similar to the black gum, tie a side shoot upright to encourage vertical growth of that branch.

The stewartia's branches were much more flexible than the black gum, and all I had to do was use a velcro strip to hold the side branch to the remaining stub of the cut leader.  No need for pressure and staking.

I hated losing fully half of a new tree, but it does survive, and it will hopefully regrow a nicely shaped top.

side shoot tied to the stub of the cut leader
new shape of the stewartia, tied up


Cornus mas
cornus mas in rehab last winter
I also lost half of a very tiny corneliancherry dogwood, a cornus mas, last winter.  The top was holding on by the skin of the thin bark, and I clipped it together with a bag clip to see if it would grow back together.

It wasn't strong enough to hold on, the clip weighed more than the twig it held, and I lost the top half of this tiny sapling.

Now, beheaded, this little tree is barely a foot tall.  But it leafed out fully, it even mustered a yellow bloom on a lower branch in April.  It wants to live, and it will grow.  I'll let it fill in more, then cut back some of the longer side branches to shape it better.  And then I just need to wait several years while it puts on the height it lost and puts on some bulk.

Growing trees is all about patience.
Cornus mas --- chopped in half but growing

Acer palmatum
last winter
And my weeping Japanese maple 'Crimson Queen' which was split in two from the weight of the snow load, is looking good.  You can't see the clamp or the plastic chain holding it together, but they are still there hidden in the drape of leafy foliage. 

I need to remove the clamp, and insert a stainless screw to hold the two trunk halves together permanently, but the leaves came out and I got behind and it didn't get done.

I do need to limb this tree up again this summer, and I'll get Jim to help me install the screw then.  When I first saw the damage to this tree I thought it was lost, but of all my injured trees currently in rehab, this one may recover the best.
 Acer palmatum fully clothed, held together with clamps and chain

Trusses, ropes, chains, clamps and screws.  Who knew gardening required so many trips to the hardware store?


  1. Your trees look like they are responding well to their prescriptions Dr.

  2. Great update Laurrie, I am having similar problems with a couple of my trees. My redbud leader died out as well, and my magnolia 'Daybreak' is quite weak and has lost a couple of branches. Glad I am not there to see the carnage.

  3. Laurrie - what a fantastic job you're doing fixing up these trees. I'm finding that my tree transplants are also in varying degrees of dismay but thus far I haven't done anything to repair them. After seeing this point I think I'll get outside and reevaluate what can be done to help them.

  4. I thought I was the only person who had tree tops to die. My beloved red maple tree had at least 1/2 (or more) to start leafing out and then stop. It was dead. We have cut the dead out and will see what will happen this fall.

  5. Lisa, thanks. Prognosis is good!

    Deborah, Nature is so cruel, but plants do heal. You may see improvement when you next get back to Kilbourne Grove.

    Marguerite, Mostly trees will heal on their own, but if you want them to have a nice shape you have to do some creative rehab, trussing and staking.

    Anonymous, With a maple you may want to try to get a new leader going. Find a side branch that you can tie upright so it starts to grow as the dominant tallest central branch.

  6. This was a winter to challenge tree lovers, for sure. That nyssa will eventually get so tall you won't see the top anyway! That acer looks great with your hardware and tlc :)

  7. Hi Laurrie,
    I like the new look. And that plant inventory is an impressive bit of work! I bet lots of novice gardeners will find it very informative and inspiring.
    You have done such a great repair job on those trees. The Japanese Maple looks especially well recovered.

  8. I'm so glad you gave this update. I was just wondering about this a day or so ago after pruning a lot of winter damaged shrubbery at a client's house. Trees have an amazing ability to heal themselves. We'll be doing some creative pruning to try to save some beech trees damaged during the recent removal of much larger oaks in our yard. Your successes give me hope.

  9. I like your updates. They are all looking pretty good. The leafing out is a great sign.

  10. I've often wondered about the Japanese Maple. So glad to see all your trees are responding so well to your doctoring skills ;)

  11. Cyndy, you're right. I need to save all these early photos ---when the trees tower over my head it will help me remember the struggles to get them growing!

    Jennifer, thanks so much. I do have hopes that the Japanese maple will be just fine in the coming years.

    Joene, Trees and shrubs were awfully hard hit all over the state this year. Beeches should respond really well to pruning --- at least young ones will, I'm not sure if old mature beeches can be drastically pruned.

    Donna, I was so glad to see the damaged trees leaf out this spring. One did not -- I completely lost a new redbud planted last summer. It never leafed out at all this year and is now gone from the garden, but the others are ok.

    Cat, I do feel like a doctor, ministering to the maimed and injured!

  12. You had a rough winter. :( The trees are looking good, even if halved in size. The Japanese Maple looks beautiful.

    Love the fall color on the Stewartia.

  13. Every garden needs a surgeon from time to time. Great work saving the trees. :)

  14. I remember this Japanese maple, Laurrie--it's good to see it not only has survived, but is looking so good right now. You've done a fantastic job helping these trees survive and grow to their potential beauty.

    I haven't done anything quite like this, but I did feel pretty macho when I picked up some rebar and hammered it into the ground to anchor a new arbor bench this spring:)

  15. Sweetbay, thanks. The stewartia is a particularly beautiful tree, and it's so hard to only have half of it now.

    Garden Ms. S, I like thinking of myself as a surgeon : )

    Rose, gardening gets fun when you get the hammers and tools out!

  16. Laurrie, I heard about this technique with the Japanese Maple and I didn't see a split so I thought my issue was some other thing. I ended up whacking off the "top" of the tree where the branches had no green to them. Now reading about your black gum tree, I am wondering if JM trees don't also have a "leader". My poor little tree looks so pathetic. I'm tempted to build a wheelchair ramp leading to it and declaring it a "mildly disabled". I don't have the heart to throw it out.

  17. Wendy, If your Japanese maple is an upright one, not a weeping one, you probably do want to create another leader by tying a side branch up.

    Your poor "disabled" tree. Maybe it does need a wheelchair!


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