How much can I trim podocarpus trees back?

Written by g.d. palmer
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How much can I trim podocarpus trees back?
Podocarpus trees can be trained as bonsai plants. (outdoor bonsai image by craetive from Fotolia.com)

Podocarpus macrophyllus -- also known as the Japanese yew, Buddhist pine, yew podocarpus or simply podocarpus -- is an upright shrub or small tree. These trees resemble pines, with flat, needle-like leaves and cones. They produce a red to purple fruit above a blue seed and grow well in fertile, well-drained soil. Podocarpus trees are popular as shrubs, due to their slow growth. However, if left unpruned, these trees can become extremely large.

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Size

Podocarpus trees grow relatively slowly, but over time can reach heights of up to 40 or 50 feet, with branches spreading up to 15 to 20 feet wide. These plants can be grown in tree form by removing the lower limbs, and produce an open shape with large spaces between the branches. Unpruned podocarpus plants tend to assume an oval shape. These trees can also be pruned into columns or short hedges, but they require regular upkeep to maintain their shape.

Conditions

These trees grown best in full sun. Providing extra sunlight, especially when the tree is young, will encourage it to grow more vigorously. Podocarpus planted in sunny spaces may need a little extra pruning to keep their shape. Podocarpus planted in shady areas grow much more slowly and have larger spaces between branches, but they still do well. This tree can tolerate acidic soil, little direct sun and cool temperatures. Do not grow podocarpus trees in wet soils, however, as this can stunt their growth or kill the trees.

Pruning

Regular pruning keeps podocarpus hedges and columns looking attractive. The University of Florida recommends pruning these trees using a hand pruner, rather than an electric hedge trimmer, for best results. Avoid pruning large amounts from the tree at once, since this can invite disease and insect damage. Instead, trim small amounts from the tree each season. Texas A&M University recommends removing no more than 1/3 of the tallest, oldest branches per year. Attempt to maintain the overall shape of the tree, rather than simply lopping off the top.

Bonsai

Podocarpus works well as a bonsai plant and can be pruned whenever it produces active growth. You may need to pinch or cut off new growth to stimulate budding on other parts of the plant. This plant may also be wired into shape. Do this when the growth is new, and keep the wire loose to avoid damaging the plant, since old wood is difficult to bend. Avoid pruning the roots of podocarpus when repotting it, since this tree is less resilient when root-pruned. The Columbus Bonsai Society recommends removing no more than 1/8 of the root mass at 2- to 3-year intervals.

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