Major Pruning in Pines

I’ve been reading through some of Jonas’ oldies but goodies. The one from July 2015 titled “Redirecting growth on pines” is particularly interesting. Does everybody agree that the right time for major pruning in JBPs is the same time decandling takes place (early July for temperate climates like mid-atlantic or northern CA)? What other times of the year do you do major pruning in pines?

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Interesting statement!
I agree that making a major pruning cut at decandling time is a powerful tool to use during development of young JBP. JBP are one of the few pines that can be pruned in the spring!
The specific timing varies in climatic zones and also year to year as the weather varies!
For example decandling in California as you mentioned might be the end of June, beginning of July. Whereas up here in the Pacific Northwest decandling can occur in Mid May to the middle of June.
With young pines under development I will often remove a strong sacrifice branch or apical leader at the same time to produce a strong response of lower back budding and shoot growth. At the same time allowing a new apical leader to take over.
The calendar is not my guide so much as the stage of candle development and the overall health of the tree. I wait for the needles to stand out from the candle before decandling. If the tree is weak or has just been repotted then I do not decandle that year, nor do I make pruning cuts in the spring.
For pines closer to refinement I prune regularly as part of fall maintenance. For young pines that were repotted or recovering in the spring then pruning can often occur in the fall maintenance routine.


It’s a great question. I might answer differently depending on what is meant by “major pruning.” To some degree, I do major pruning on pines year-round.

In the article you noted, reducing sacrifice branches at decandling time can give a boost to the branches being decandled.

I also do a lot of pruning on young pines in summer as it’s a good time to catch up on work I didn’t get to in fall or winter.

To come up with a good plan for a specific tree, I’d want to consider the stage of development and the goals of the cutback.

Thank you Frank and Jonas. as always, this forum doesn’t disappoint! One of the pines is going to be a fairly easy decision. When I pruned last year I left an unneeded branch not to thicken a branch or the trunk, but simply because I didn’t want to prune too much from a fairly young tree. I was worried about health impact. I assume that falls under a very broad definition of “sacrifice branch” and it’s safe to remove that branch at this time.
The other JBP is more tricky. It’s very large (4 feet tall, 5 inch trunk, harvested two years ago) and most branches are leggy. The problem is that the tree did not settle in very well last year and the growth was mediocre. This year it’s doing a lot better, but I’m wondering if it’s still too early to remove peripheral growth to foster inner growth and back budding. I tend to be conservative in these situations, but I’m also not looking forward to losing another year of progress.

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I like to leave collected pines alone until they start producing good size candles. This usually happens quickly once the trees have good roots.

I did some big cuts and wound cleaning at the end of winter this year on some field grown pines that had sat idle for the first year out of the ground but had produced good candles last fall. That tree was also 4’ tall but I want it to eventually be closer to 18" so I started reducing it.

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I agree with Jonas, and I also prefer your cautious approach. If you note that the candles are a lot stronger on top of the tree than you could decandle just the strongest candles sending some of the energy downward to strengthen the lower part of the tree before starting reduction of the tree height!
The other step I would consider is making sure that the lower portion of the tree is wired out to benefit from full sun and that no portion of interior growth is shaded by needles above!
This will also strengthen the lower portion of the tree and encourage additional interior growth.

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A post was split to a new topic: Decandling approach red pine

Thank you, both. Given that the tree is fairly sparse at this point (which means that sun is reaching easily every candle) I’ll just keep feeding, watering, and treating to let it gain a lot more strength. We’ll resume the conversation in a year. Keep up the good work!

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