Cutting back a redbud when the aims are "small" and "floriferous"

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Every three years we prune this redbud to keep it small. This is this round's before-after. Elapsed time from first cut to all clippings cleaned up: 2 hours. 

Redbud, potential: 25-30 feet. Desired: 15-20 feet. A pruning possibility!

First we cut each of the main branches so that one of its lower side branches becomes its new tip, and that tip ends within the outline we've set.  (Below, center image.)

We use a hand saw and 3-cut method to make cuts without ripping.

( What's Coming Up 156 illustrates that 3-cut method.) WU156Pg12.jpg

This takes 30 minutes.

Then we shorten the branches that remain, to bring all tips within the outline we've set. (Below, right.)

That outline is a height-and-width limit chosen to match the plant's naturally round habit. It's actually two lines, one that's our upper acceptable limit and an inner line that's the within the first by how far we see the plant can grow in three years. (Red and yellow lines, below, right.)

(For more about gauging growth rate, see What's Coming Up 50, pages 3-4. )

This takes another 30 minutes.

(Examine these three photos more closely.)

RedbudStrtBN5491s.jpg RedbudStep1N5504s.jpg RedbudStep2bN5534s.jpg

Then we clean up by cutting and tying branches into 4' bundles.

The clean-up takes 60 minutes.

We've cut this redbud in this way twice before. (You can see the heading cut on this trunk from the last pruning sessions.) We know we can do it because we've seen trees kept small, attractive and healthy for decades and longer, using this method.


We schedule most of our pruning in late summer when the aim is to keep big plants small. We make exceptions like this late spring cut to the redbud when the plant is of a species that blooms in early spring, and we want the best flower show possible, and we can accept the possibility of excessive suckering that can come from hard cuts made during a plant's spring push.

About those main limbs

We selected this main framework of five limbs (below) when
we first decided to keep this tree small. There's more about that decision in Prune to keep a tree small.


When we  head back a main limb -- cut to make a side branch into the new tip -- we look for one that is well placed and at least 1/3 the diameter of the limb that produced it. (Below.) If the new tip is much smaller than the limb we cut, we will probably have to revisit to remove some of the suckers that will arise there. RedbudHeaddBkN5537s.jpg