Issue: February 24, 2007

Fruit and ornamental tree pruning and transplanting


I have a purple-leaf plum tree. I've pruned it a little the past couple of years. It's approximately 14 feet tall and well balanced. Can I trim back the taller vertical trunk? I want a containable tree, since I have a small front yard?

I have a dwarf peach tree on the south side of my house. It produced well last year. However, it was initially pruned very badly and the "new leader" is not growing vertically. Can it be trained to make it more vertical, or should I leave it alone?

I have 3 crape myrtles. Two are on the north side of house and haven't grown much in the past 2 years. I'd like to take them out and plant a rose bush. What do you think of this? The one on the south is doing much better, but I would like to relocate it a few feet. Should I do this? When is the best time?

Joseph S.


It is possible to maintain a smaller tree by pruning the central leader and any other branches competing to be a trunk. However, it is important to do this correctly.

Don't top the tree! Topping is indiscriminate cutting somewhere on the trunk. Proper pruning would involve a selective, well chosen, pruning cut made just above a smaller branch on the trunk. This branch should be at least one-third the diameter of the trunk and should be healthy. Since it is a smaller branch, cutting to this branch will reduce the height of the tree.

Choose a branch that is growing in a direction that is appropriate for the space. If necessary a second pruning cut may be made part-way up this branch at another smaller branch. By pruning in this method you are able to maintain a smaller tree, but avoid the injury caused by topping a tree.

You can try to straighten the central leader (trunk) in your peach tree if you wish. When you do this don't damage roots when you drive supporting stakes into the ground. Use a soft material to tie the trunk upright. Use old tee-shirt fabric or old panty hose which will not cut into the branch. Don't wrap these completely around the trunk, but wrap partly around it with material from each of two or three stakes. Allow the branch to move in the wind because this will help the branch develop strength. However, you may choose not to straighten the branch. Many gardeners train their peach trees in a "vase shape". In this manner, there are 3 branches equally spaced around the trunk trained to grow from the trunk at a 45 degree angle. This more horizontal growth causes increased flowering and fruit production. It is your choice, depending on the space for the tree and your personal preferences.

The crape myrtle prefers warm planting sites, so the north side of the house is not a good location. Removal makes sense. However, unless there is sufficient light on the north side, the rose may not do well either. If there is sufficient reflected light from other structures, then the rose should grow and bloom in that location.

You can move the crape myrtle before growth begins in the spring. This is a plant that delays growth until the weather has warmed, so you still have a lot of time to make plans for moving it. Prepare the planting site by loosening the soil over a large area as if you were preparing a flower bed. Plant the crape myrtle in the middle of this prepared site. This allows for good root development after transplanting. When digging the crape myrtle, dig as large a root ball as possible. Many roots will be lost in the process, but by taking as many roots as possible in a large root ball, you will increase the chances for success. After transplanting it, apply a 4 inch or deeper layer of organic mulch to keep the soil moist and prevent soil compaction.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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