Trunk chop on Western Hemlock nursery stock

Many of the nurseries that I visit this time of the year in the PNW (specifically around Portland, Oregon) have a lot of tall western hemlock for sale. I’m wondering how well these respond and recover from trunk chops? I’ve been searching around here on Mirai and other resources but haven’t found much information. Plenty about pruning and grooming material, but very little information about hard trunk chops that you might execute on deciduous species.

Most of the material is several feet tall (4-6’). I’ve read mixed opinions about the ability of Tsuga heterophylla to backbud - some people say it will, others say it won’t. My goal here is to experiment with some nursery stock and get comfortable working with and maintaining this iconic PNW conifer. Any input appreciated!

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Hi @JadedEvan
I don’t have enough experience working with hemlock to comment, but with spruce I have cut back to just above the first 2-3 branches and the started development from there. I wouldn’t risk a deciduous chop with no branches below the cut.

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Gentle reminder note: do NOT bare root a hemlock… they dont take kindly to root work ; from experience… more than one dead victim…
Im jealous, not seeing these in east Wa state… roadtrip!

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You’re spot on about the bare rooting of hemlock. A few years ago a neighbor down the street who runs a landscaping business had about 5 young hemlocks he was giving away. I got too aggressive and ended up bare rooting them when I transferred them to different containers and soil (100% pumice). I even went so far as to wash the roots to remove the nursery soil. Terrible decision that killed all five of them promptly once the temperatures started to rise for the summer.


@JadedEvan , did you try this chop?Anything to report?

@KurtP I did not try the chop. The cost of the material and the uncertainty about the potential success were enough to scare me away. It was a twin trunk western hemlock at Portland Nursery - their material can get expensive quickly.

I’ll update this thread if I end up finding some more suitable material next season!

Hi Evan! Here are some photos where I took $45 nursery stock mountain hemlock and gradually but significantly have pruned back to interior branches

The apex is a branch that I wired upright for reasons of taper. It wasn’t a huge chop, though. The former apex I removed was about my thumb in thickness and ~6 inches tall.


Strong growths this year:

Decent needle size in 2018:



2014 winter:


Will the roots air prune in that bag?

At the sides of the bag, the roots did not encircle, so that was successful.

The 15-gallon bag was a bit too large and had too much organic material, so overall it wasn’t quite right. The bottom remained pretty wet—the roots remained above the wet section.

Every time I come upon threads that say “trunk chop” I rush in hoping to see a crime scene; branches, leaves, twigs everywhere. And the sap, Oh God, the sap.



$45 what a deal! I think I’m in the wrong state.

@parhamr thanks for sharing those photos - your results are extremely encouraging. I’m going to be taking a recently purchased mountain hemlock to a workshop with Scott Elser, my hope is to start pruning back branches like you’ve done with the tree you shared here. This has given me more confidence in making the move!

Scott knows hemlocks well! Great.

I forget if I’ve shown you this—in 2016 I felt confident enough to cut back to inner growths and removed coarse branches as thick as my thumb

The top 9 inches or so of that tree are from a chop in which I then wired a branch upward.

I’ve also had successes with heavy cuts on juvenile western hemlocks. I think you can do it!