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Ask an Arborist

November 5, 2016

Dear Arborist,

My young tree is growing crazily. I know I should trim it, but I have no idea where to start. Help!


-Branchy in Sacramento


Dear Branchy,

Your tree is growing like a typical “teenage tree”! A little all over the place, and it has not yet defined a central leader… Not to fear, this is very common for many species such as Chinese pistache and trident maple. I recommend you attend one of our Arborist-led pruning workshops where you can learn how to make a good, clean cut just outside the “turtleneck” and how to train a young tree to grow up strong and healthy.

The best time to prune your young shade tree is in the winter when the tree is dormant and the leaves are off. It’s also easier to see the branch structure at that time!

We also have a pruning guide you can download from our website, and a lot of other great tips.

In the meantime, here is what I would do for your tree.


In short, young trees are not really supposed to have the form they will have when mature. An adult Chinese pistache is always round and full, but when young it’s helpful to train it to grow tall and strong first before it spreads out. That includes: selecting only one central leader (aka main trunk), removing or reducing the competition to the leader, and shortening lower temporary branches to less than 2ft long.

You can practice pruning virtually on this fun, interactive site from the Arbor Day Foundation!

Another option is to hire a certified arborist to prune your tree. Investing a little bit right now will pay off big when the tree grows up because now is the best and easiest time to train a young tree how to grow up strong and beautiful and you won’t have to do as much fixing when the branches are bigger and taller. 

Good luck with your tree and feel free to send more questions to treetips@sactree.com.