What is up with Kentucky coffeetree, Gymnocladus dioicus

This tree was collected early this year. As far as I can tell it is 7 years old and apears to have never even attempted to grow a branch. The leaf structure is very unusual on these trees this one has only 5. I want to know if anybody knows how to encourage them to grow branches. By examining the trunk I can see it produces a bud above the base of each leaf but each year only one of them matures and produces more trunk the following year.

Hack it way back and see what happens?

You’re buying trouble.

If you want to encourage branching, cut off those top two leaves and see what happens. As long as the top of the tree is rewarded, there is no reason for the roots to send up hormones responsible for new branch growth.

Back to the trouble:
A) That trunk is too skinny for anything you’ll be doing with those leaves.
B) That pot is too small to get the girth you’ll want out of the trunk. Put it in the ground and let it grow. Cut off the tips of all the roots first. That’ll help encourage root ramification and discourage one big fat tap root.
C) When that tree drops a leaf, it’ll look like it dropped a branch.
D) Discouraging large leaf growth will require frequent pruning.

My story: I love southern pecan trees. The leaves are HUGE compound leaves. Damn squirrels plant pecans all around my yard and in my bonsai pots. One such tree was growing just outside of the back door. I’d pass it every morning and pinch off the new compound leaves. I would leave only the first two leaflets. Interestingly, the leaflets remained small and internodal gaps were being reduced. I thought I’d found a way to bonsai a pecan tree! What I found was a way to dedicate my life to one damned tree. Too many leaflets. Too much time required. Oh, and where I’d cut off the rest of the leaflets there would be a brown spot at the end of each pair of leaves. Not very attractive.

If I ever get put into a nursing home, I want to have a pecan tree as my only bonsai. That way I’ll have something to do every damn day during Spring and Summer.


Interesting that you say that because I have a pecan tree that I acquired this year for free. Top got broken off at the nursery during a storm. It started out with just a single branch at the top and has grown well this year. Decided to try a little partial defoliation to see if I could get ramification. I could only get the leader to throw another branch. On the lower branches a new compound leaf (aka CL) would just grow in place of the old one. The old CL would then drop after the new one was strong enough to contribute to the tree. :confused:

I figured that it could just be a hormonal thing and I should have clipped the entire tip of the branch. The tree is still recovering though, so I didn’t want to do too much too it. So, are you saying that as the new CL grows I should cut it back to the first two leaflets? I work from home and I’m in my yard twice a day. I don’t mind doing the busy work. I kinda do the same thing with my nandina display.

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Yes. Soon after a new CL emerges, clip it to two leaflets. I was pinching with my thumbnail and had a noticeable brown spot at the cut. Scissors may give better results.
The internodes between CL will shorten, as well.

I’d love to see your progress. I was told within a week of starting bonsai that pecan trees cannot become bonsai. Pinching the leaves might be the best direction.


Okay, so it sounds like the strat is to not let the tree accumulate too much strength or it’s just going to run. I do wonder if constantly trimming off 70% of the foliage will eventually kill it.

Thanks guys

It was difficult for me to find one of these at a collectable size so I really don’t just want to find out what treatment it doesn’t like. I can wait there has to be someone out there who has already experimented on a few.

I don’t believe it will ever be a great bonsai but bipinnatly compound leaf trees are pretty unusual and a coffeetree can even become tripinnate. I just like to try to collect as wide a range of trees that I can. I have had some success with black locust another compound leaf tree tree but the coffetree just seems to behave much different.

Here is one that has decided to become a root connected forest. This year I cut it back hard in spring and have been cutting the leaflets back to 2 pairs about once a week. I am also removing the growing tips maybe every other week. This has resulted in much bifurcation and many of the interior leaves being as short as 2 to 3 inches. If left alone this tree will grow leaves 12 to 18 inches long.