Defoliation 101

markyscott

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Combination cases where there might be more than one objective!
For example lateral shoot development lower down while continuing apical leader growth!
Some species it is important to develop lower branching prior to continuing with taper and apical growth.
Hi Frank - yes, I’ve tried to describe the basics. I think once you have the concept that removing leaves from one part of a tree and leave them in another is a way to direct and control growth, you can start to employ the technique in all sorts of situations. Growing a pine with a sacrifice branch is one case I can think of that describes the example you mentioned. In such a case, you can remove leaves (needles) on the sacrifice, allowing light and air to get to the lower shoots you need to keep while simultaneously slowing down the sacrifice.
 

choppychoppy

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Observation #2
Defoliation (without shoot pruning) does not trigger dormant lateral buds to grow.
If this is only about crepe myrtles I guess some of this is accurate. Defoliations behave differently from species to species and have different purposes...

This is a crepe myrtle so your observation about triggering new leaves is correct - a crepe won't - but on many many other true deciduous trees (and tropicals) leaving the tip growth while defoliating the rest of the branch/shoot WILL produce new growth.

And ficus, elm, maple and crepe myrtle all have different techniques for defoliations and results.
 

markyscott

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I have a trident maple with fairly well developed branches and I’m trying to reduce the length of the internodes to create dense ramification.

This describes a tree in what I call refinement and I typically perform a combination of techniques. When you have the basic branch structure in place, you can start to move on to this stage of development. Trident maples are pretty robust, especially when you’re fertilizing aggressively and you’re in a warmer climate. They’ll stand up to some pretty aggressive techniques. I let that first stage of growth flush out and the new shoots begin to extend. In the early stages of refinement, I let them extend more - later, I don’t let them extend as much so as to avoid coarse growth at the end of the branches. I generally avoid fertilizing during the fist flush of growth. You’ll just get really long internodes that you can’t use. I go through every extending shoot on the tree. If the internode is short enough, I cut back and defoliate at the same time. If it’s not, I cut back all the way to the base of the shoot. Here’s an example.
A418A99F-1714-4F1B-91C6-DD37B7790F19.jpeg 9E25A9E5-ED13-4928-BA3D-3EB5A8EA7B25.jpeg 83283CEB-0C5F-4AA0-8F66-800806D9B18E.jpeg

See? The first internode is too long to use. So I cut back all the way to the first set of leaves. I shoot pruned and defoliated at the same time. Hopefully that second flush will produce a shorter internode that I can keep. If it WAS short enough, I would have cut back to the first node and left it at that. In my climate, I can do this three or four times a year on a healthy trident.

I only do this on the outer canopy where the growth is very strong. Where it is medium strength, I shoot prune, but I don’t defoliate, but I might leaf thin. I may even cut the leaves in half. On the weakest growth, I just leave it alone.

After a few weeks, you’ll get another flush of growth - where there was one shoot, there will be two.

74E811E5-B47C-4800-94FA-C7FCEEA39149.jpeg C9EE5FC7-7DFC-4911-9A26-4D2FD6A1803C.jpeg

Scott
 

markyscott

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If this is only about crepe myrtles I guess some of this is accurate. Defoliations behave differently from species to species and have different purposes...

This is a crepe myrtle so your observation about triggering new leaves is correct - a crepe won't - but on many many other true deciduous trees (and tropicals) leaving the tip growth while defoliating the rest of the branch/shoot WILL produce new growth.

And ficus, elm, maple and crepe myrtle all have different techniques for defoliations and results.
This is not my experience, but I’ve not tried every species. I definitely believe it to be true in trident maples, for example, and at least some ficus species (microcarpa in particular). In fact, what I’ll do is this - I’ll defoliate a shoot on a trident maple, a Japanese maple, a Chinese elm and ficus microcarpa right now leaving the growing tips intact. I’ll share the results in a couple of weeks. Why don’t you do the same. If I’m wrong, I’ll stand corrected. In either case, we’ll all learn something.

- Scott
 

markyscott

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This is not my experience, but I’ve not tried every species. I definitely believe it to be true in trident maples, for example, and at least some ficus species (microcarpa in particular). In fact, what I’ll do is this - I’ll defoliate a shoot on a trident maple, a Japanese maple, a Chinese elm and ficus microcarpa right now leaving the growing tips intact. I’ll share the results in a couple of weeks. Why don’t you do the same. If I’m wrong, I’ll stand corrected. In either case, we’ll all learn something.

- Scott
Here are my experiments. @choppychoppy got me curious. This should be fun.
267EF571-C7FE-4248-8FDA-ACD586E96A9C.jpegDB4E086A-F920-4BC9-8F72-E24CEE6BE2AC.jpeg4BD7B82E-C35B-4A99-B52A-594F5678AAD9.jpeg48671702-F106-4E7B-B3F3-1F72206F44D8.jpeg26B5D086-9BB6-4F35-ACD3-A536CCA74E5C.jpeg9C6E9657-67BB-4267-AA42-3BCF5E83D153.jpegC2B1D51F-4604-48BD-99DD-80074D0D40C5.jpeg683DF180-B259-4D3D-AAA1-33E15B59D0B7.jpeg
 

River's Edge

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Hi Frank - yes, I’ve tried to describe the basics. I think once you have the concept that removing leaves from one part of a tree and leave them in another is a way to direct and control growth, you can start to employ the technique in all sorts of situations. Growing a pine with a sacrifice branch is one case I can think of that describes the example you mentioned. In such a case, you can remove leaves (needles) on the sacrifice, allowing light and air to get to the lower shoots you need to keep while simultaneously slowing down the sacrifice.
I was actually thinking of Ume when I posed the situation, but it translates to multiple scenarios as you suggest. Another example of basics being applied being applied in a specific sense rather than just as an overall approach. Thanks for contributing the great posts above.
 

choppychoppy

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This is not my experience, but I’ve not tried every species. I definitely believe it to be true in trident maples, for example, and at least some ficus species (microcarpa in particular). In fact, what I’ll do is this - I’ll defoliate a shoot on a trident maple, a Japanese maple, a Chinese elm and ficus microcarpa right now leaving the growing tips intact. I’ll share the results in a couple of weeks. Why don’t you do the same. If I’m wrong, I’ll stand corrected. In either case, we’ll all learn something.

- Scott
No need I can show you now. Especially with tridents ;)

The first pic is a crepe myrtle defoliate and shoot cut. Notice the new growth from the cut ends but no growth lower. This is a specific behavior of crepe myrtle.

The second is a trident defoliated 1 month ago but a few ends were left intact with leaves on the tips to extend and they were defoliated below and still produced new shoots and new ramification.

The third shows two trident shoots. Tree totally defoliated 1 month ago. One shoot cut one not, but both regrew leaves and set yet another set of latent buds.

Oh well none of my fukin pictures work and haven't for a while on this site. No wonder I quit trying to post here.....

Forget it....
 

markyscott

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No need I can show you now. Especially with tridents ;)

The first pic is a crepe myrtle defoliate and shoot cut. Notice the new growth from the cut ends but no growth lower. This is a specific behavior of crepe myrtle.

The second is a trident defoliated 1 month ago but a few ends were left intact with leaves on the tips to extend and they were defoliated below and still produced new shoots and new ramification.

The third shows two trident shoots. Tree totally defoliated 1 month ago. One shoot cut one not, but both regrew leaves and set yet another set of latent buds.

Oh well none of my fukin pictures work and haven't for a while on this site. No wonder I quit trying to post here.....

Forget it....
No problem. We’ll use my pictures. Thanks for the input.

S
 

Michael P

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Great thread! I have a question on this topic.

This year my cedar elm just began to leaf out and immediately developed a massive scale and mealy bug infestation on the lower third of the tree. I've never seen anything quite like it. I got it under control with a combination of physical removal, soapy water spray, and a systemic insecticide. The tree now appears pest-free.

The top two thirds of the tree are growing strongly, but the bottom third never fully recovered. No branches died, but all have sparse foliage. I have been fertilizing and letting the tree grow freely to regain strength. But the top is dense and the lower branches are not catching up.

Should I let the tree continue to grow freely this year, or should I prune or partially defoliate the top to redirect energy to the lower branches? This tree is a collected specimen that I styled in a workshop with Nick Lenz, so I really don't want to lose it, damage it, or have to redesign it.
 

Carol 83

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Thank you for taking the time to give a really detailed explanation and examples of what and what not to do, and why.
 

jason biggs

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I think a lot hinges on where one lives...
for example we are going into mid winter now and I defoliate all my ficus completely...
They are all pushing awesome new growth and the plants are healthy (even though minimums will drop to about 5 degrees)
What I have in my favour is that daytime temps go to mid 20's every day...
The few trees that aren't defoliated yet look unhappy and shabby - and are begging for an extreme makeover..
Maybe I am just the exception to the rule??
Thanks for your passion in your posts 👍 👍
 

Paulpash

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No need I can show you now. Especially with tridents ;)

The first pic is a crepe myrtle defoliate and shoot cut. Notice the new growth from the cut ends but no growth lower. This is a specific behavior of crepe myrtle.

The second is a trident defoliated 1 month ago but a few ends were left intact with leaves on the tips to extend and they were defoliated below and still produced new shoots and new ramification.

The third shows two trident shoots. Tree totally defoliated 1 month ago. One shoot cut one not, but both regrew leaves and set yet another set of latent buds.

Oh well none of my fukin pictures work and haven't for a while on this site. No wonder I quit trying to post here.....

Forget it....
Look at the file size of the pix. Mine uploaded much easier when I dropped it down. You can play about reducing the pic dimensions or resolution. Under 1mb seems way more reliable.
 

defra

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Thank you @markyscott for this thread.
You've responded to my ficus defoliation question thread couple days ago.
I've defoliated with three toughts:
1: it drops/replaces leaves one by one when moved outside
2: it grew leggy
3: now I could clearly see the branches and wire them

Step 1: defoliated
Step 2: Pruned back the branches including the growing tips
Step 3: wired the tree
The tree is not yet at refinement stage at least not all the branches, some are getting there.
The tree was healthy and can handle it
Was it OK to do or what do you think?
 

markyscott

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Thank you @markyscott for this thread.
You've responded to my ficus defoliation question thread couple days ago.
I've defoliated with three toughts:
1: it drops/replaces leaves one by one when moved outside
2: it grew leggy
3: now I could clearly see the branches and wire them

Step 1: defoliated
Step 2: Pruned back the branches including the growing tips
Step 3: wired the tree
The tree is not yet at refinement stage at least not all the branches, some are getting there.
The tree was healthy and can handle it
Was it OK to do or what do you think?
I think the tree will be fine, but I don’t think you advanced it’s development by completely defoliating. I’d look to your indoor setup to try and figure out why your trees drop leaves when they’re moved outdoors.

Scott
 
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