Calling Deciduous Designers: looking for guidance on cutting back nursery stock to get the foundation set

hello Designers! below is a western Red Red Bud (Cercis occidentalis) i picked up at a nursery that has some good nebari that i have decided to build into a twin apex tree and was wondering how far to cut back to get the foundation set.

i have some obvious cuts in red, and a 5 branch intersection to make some decisions on, but my question is: how far back to should my initial cuts be to start the transition of taper? is the process of starting a tree like this to take it back to an identified first branch and just have a handful of branches on each of the 2 primary trunks? My inclination usually is to leave more branches than i probably should to keep the basic “tree” structure and avoid the “Slingshot” look, but i don’t want to sacrifice a growing season in unnecessary growth above the eventual outline if the common practice is to cut back hard to set the initial branching off the trunk and then manage new branches as they come in.

if anyone has a before and after with an “ugly” cutback and progress that would be awesome. I have a few vine maples i have taken back to a leader and a trunk, but haven’t seen the fruits of my decisions pay off yet.

I appreciate any imparted wisdom you may have!

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Alternatively, keeping the larger branch to the right, for the wider movement is a possibility too.

I think that big branch on the right has to go. It’s too thick and out of proportion with the tree.

I like the direction laid out in the first picture, except maybe I’d move the left trunk to be the higher apex rather than the right one. Once that big branch is gone from the right, I think the left trunk will look more dominant.

In the orange circled section, that will be an interesting decision. If you remove the big branch, you probably will want to keep at least one of the branches moving to the right. And you’ll probably want to keep one of the upright trunks to be the new leader. I like the little branch that pokes forward but I’m not sure if it’s the best choice to keep.

So, that’s probably where I’d start. I don’t have experience with redbuds but that’s probably where I’d start. And I’m sure that’ll all change once you get it on the turntable :slight_smile:

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Good Morning Jason,
You have an interesting design question. My choice would be to eliminate the thick branch on the far right. As far as next steps in cutting it back, you might want to give some thought about cutting the left branch much lower down. The height of your main trunk sets the first increment for internodal spacing. Subsequent splits or divisions should create shorter internodal spacing. I would cut back the branch on the left at the point where the second shoot is emerging on the left side. The smaller branch on the right ramifies into two branches at an internodal space that is smaller than the first division from the main trunk. This makes sense. But leaving the branch on the left 2 to 3 times the length of the right branch before it divides seems a bit long. In addition, it creates an internodal space that is longer than the one set by the main trunk. That would seem to be problematic. As far as the right branch is concerned, of the four branches you have circled, I would remove the two on the outside in order to create a slightly longer internodal space. In addition, creating your first major branch division on the left branch where suggested, puts the internodal space slightly larger than the branch on the right, which would make sense since the left branch is larger. Question: The red bud has leaves that are quite large. Have you had muck success at getting them to reduce to be more in scale with the size of the tree? Keep us informed on how the tree develops and good luck with whatever you decide to do.:sunglasses:

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Look at the average internode distance you get in this tree, count back some 4 or 5 of these from the position of the final silhouette you want and that’s more or less where you could cut to account for 4 or 5 levels of branching.


My two cents: I think you’re not well served by ditching the rightmost branch. It’s dominant, but it could be valuable up to the point where it becomes a straight line.

If it were my tree, I’d keep the rightmost branch as the apical branch, and chop it at approximately the leading rightmost edge of the orange circle. Then I’d cut everything else back to primary branching proportional to that chop.

I think any other decision leaves you with a straight up and down tree. I like the lean.

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I was similarly inclined when it came to making the cut, and cut the right branch just above a live shoot with some room for dieback that will come off once it starts to push. I did like the more obtuse angle, but will wait to see how it leafs out this spring before taking any further action. That middle branch may need to be cut back to avoid a bulge, but I didn’t want to look at a slingshot for the rest of winter😄

I picked this up in the fall on sale, and it didn’t have any foliage, so we will see how the leaf size comes in. From pictures, the red bud blooms all along the branches and may be more of a spring treat, but perhaps it can be reduced through ramification over time.


That is a great way to break it down Rafi, I wasn’t looking at it in that way (measuring future growth by looking at the existing internodes and working back from where I want to end up on the canopy!) I was coming at it from the trunk and was getting squeamish about reducing it to single branches. I guess I will see how the spring goes to see how much backbudding I get — coming up on my 1st full year at this I haven’t seen what the trees respond to, so I may get more aggressive next year on this one!

Love all the dialogue thank you everyone!