by Mary Stickley-Godinez
One way to make your garden more unique is to do some specialized pruning. Trees should be pruned in order to keep them healthy and safe. However, there are some types of pruning which you can do that are simply for decorative purposes.
These pruning styles are called Bonsai or Espallier, Pollard, shape or pleach. To “bonsai” a tree is my term for pruning it as if it was a bonsai even though it is not.
This can easily be done on Japanese maples, and some of the smaller evergreen types of trees. Weeping Japanese Maples have such a beautiful branch structure and bark texture. However, the trees grow very thick and arch over. In addition, this species has a tendency to kill off branches which have been shaded from the light. All of this covers up the trunk and hides it from view. The dead branches should be removed annually anyway, but if in the same process the top of the tree was thinned to allow “windows” into the center of the plant it shows off the branches so that they can be enjoyed year round. It is a very simple touch that isn’t obvious to the average visitor but adds a great deal of interest to the garden.
“Espallier” is a French method of pruning whereby the branches are trained in a specific manner and usually the plant is kept to a flat plane, often along a wall or fence.
Historically, there were specific guidelines as to the structure, but now in modern times whatever looks good is acceptable. Quite a few types of trees, evergreen or deciduous, will work well for this method. But using a slow growing dwarf type tree will reduce maintenance as the tree needs to be pruned fairly often to train the branches. It is also easier to keep up with a shorter version rather than having to haul out a ladder each time the tree needs pruning.
Pollarding has a more limited application but in the right location can add quite an interesting look to the space. This technique also originated in Europe in very early years. It is a bit murky as to the reason why it started but the most commonly held belief is that when wood became scarce the people started pruning the trees rather than cutting them down completely. Each year the small sprouts are cut off at the same place and over time the tree builds up a large callous around each branch. This is a technique that must be started when the tree is only a few years old. It cannot be implemented after the tree branches are more than half an inch in diameter or else it becomes very unhealthy for the tree.
Shapes can be pruned into various evergreen trees although junipers are most commonly done. These can be spirals, pom poms, squares, balls, and as many other shapes as you can think of that may look good. These designs are also usually started when the tree is fairly young and the foliage is trimmed into the desired shape.
Branches are also removed when they do not contribute to the look. However, remember the new growth must be trimmed at least once annually and training must continue on as the tree grows upward. Often I see trees which were purchased in shapes but were allowed to continue growing in their natural form. It tends to ruin the effect over time.
Pleaching is another interesting technique which can be done. In this method the branches are woven together for a specific effect. Arches, tunnels or living fences are the most common applications.
Branches can be simply tucked around each other or they can actually be trained in horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines. Excess sprouts are then removed from the plant to keep the look clean and tidy. Again, this technique must be started while the plant is young and the branches are still pliable. Faster growing or weeping types of trees tend to do best as they fill in and complete the design much more rapidly.
Remember though that most of these techniques will draw a lot of attention and should be used for focal point applications. There is nothing worse than a garden with too many focal points. They will also need more maintenance and can be a bit time consuming. But each of these methods will bring added interest and variety to you garden helping to make it special and unique.