Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Gardening Tips and Tricks: How To Make Trees Grow Faster

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, March 20, 2017

“The Man Who Planted Trees,” in Mosaïcultures Internationales Competition at the Montreal Botanical Garden. Image by Flickr user AV Dezign, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“He that plants trees loves others beside himself.”

– Dr. Thomas Fuller, MD (1654 – 1734), British physician, writer, intellectual, preacher, in Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, 1732

Over the years, I have observed (and learned by experience) that I have quite a knack for making trees grow rapidly.

Even slow-to-moderately growing trees (such as oaks) have responded phenomenally well under my guiding hand.

What and how to accomplish that?

Aside from planting in a well-lighted area, with adequately drained, properly hydrated & fertilized soil, there is but one thing we can do to encourage growth in trees. That one thing is proper training. Allow me to further explain.

Trees grow three ways, all at once:
1.) Down in the soil;
2.) Up in the air, and;
3.) Out with the branches.
Like other plants, trees get their nutrients from sunlight via the photosynthesis process, in which light is transformed into energy by absorption through their leaves. We can’t do anything about the “down in the soil” part, so that leaves (pun intended, you’ll see why) the “up in the air,” and out with the branches” parts.

In the development of a plant or tree, what’s one of the VERY FIRST things it does upon emerging from the soil?

It leafs!

Literally, it puts out a few tiny green leaves to collect solar energy to grow. In a way, the plant looks somewhat like a green Q-tip – a spindly little twig with a leafy green tip.

As the days go by, the leaves will often increase in size, and in number. It is in this initial stage that the plant grows the most rapidly. From the seed with an initial rootlet, to the burgeoning little stalk with a leaf… from a seed to a seedling is ~the~ most rapid, dramatic and transformative stage in a tree’s life. In a sense, as it begins life, it is “starving” (euphemistically, as in EXTREMELY hungry) for energy and must produce an equally enormous amount of energy first to survive, and then to thrive.

Again, recall that the tree is now growing three ways simultaneously – down in the ground (with the roots), up in the air, and out with the branches (both with the leaves). And recall once again, that it takes an enormous amount of energy to grow three ways simultaneously, especially at the beginning stage.

If left to their own devices, trees will naturally do what we suppose they will do, and put out as many leaves and branches as they possibly can to “feed the need” for their energy and growth. The result is that in it’s initial stage of growth, a tree often resembles a little bush around 18″ tall. And, altogether, that’s an inefficient model, particularly given that it’s possible to encourage growth.

I’ll take a slight detour – albeit, a germane one – to first briefly explain the “whys, and wherefores” before proceeding with the technique & process to encourage rapid growth in trees.

Pear Tree in Espalier pattern

Fruit tree against wall in espalier pattern

Topiary is the art & science of “training” a plant – most often shrubbery, but trees as well – to grow into an often ornamental shape, form, or pattern. By cutting (pruning) into the plant, certain very fascinating and creative shapes, forms, and figures are made by skilled master gardeners. That skill is practiced world-wide in various ways. “Tree shaping” is also a very unique art with science in which equally marvelous shapes, forms and figures are made from, and with trees, which is a uniquely and distinctly different practice from the topiary art. Similarly, the scientific art and craft of espalier, is yet another method of training trees. Bearing in mind also, those plants so trained are also growing three ways simultaneously. (I have confidence that you’ll read more about those tree-training practices.)

Variety of espalier patterns

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

What I have found to accelerate tree growth is to engage in some variation of the horticultural practices mentioned above. Recalling again, that in significantly large part, we can’t do anything about the “down in the ground” part (with the roots – or 1/3 of the three-fold equation), but we can do something about the majority, two other parts – “out with the branches,” and “up in the air.”

As the young, sprouted seedling grows, minimize the plant’s inherent “will” to grow “out with the branches.”

Literally, remove (pinch, cut, break off, etc.) ALL buds (which will become branches) below the top of the already-rapidly-growing seedling, and only leave on (pun intended) the upper leaves in the top of the plant. Again, it should look somewhat like a green Q-tip – a spindly twig with a few green leaves at top. Continually reinforce that practice as the tree pursues it’s upward-to-the-air journey. Do NOT allow any branches to develop – NONE WHATSOEVER! Only the upper leaves at the top of the plant should remain.

By so doing, the 1/3 equally shared division of energy required for growth is changed to a 50/50 equation – down with the roots, and up in the air. Literally, 1/3 of the energy which the tree would naturally expend upon growing “out with the branches” will be redirected equally to “down in the ground,” and “up in the air.” By limiting tree growth (redirecting energy) to those two remaining aspects – roots and vertical height – the tree will grow much more rapidly. In essence, the redirection of the 33% of energy required for growth gives a 16.5% increase in available growth potential to the tree in the same time frame!

I have seen that work in every tree upon which I’ve used it. Oaks, which are historically perceived as slow growing trees, have rocketed into huge shade trees with enormous boughs. The lovely redbud, with it’s magenta-colored spring-time flowers, performs similarly. The lovely pink-flowered ornamental cherry does so as well. Even the evergreen cedar responds well to such training. Aspens, birches, peaches… and yes, even pecans have all benefited from such training under my hand.

So… there you have it!

How to train trees to grow rapidly in ONE easy step!

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