Conifer trees are a popular choice for many gardeners due to their evergreen foliage, fast rate of growth and ability to thrive in a variety of climates. To ensure the health and aesthetics of these trees, it is important to understand the process of pruning and shaping. In this guide, we will explore the best time of year to prune conifers in the UK, whether it is possible to cut the top off a fir tree, and whether conifers can grow back when cut down.
Common Types and Names of Conifer Trees
Conifer trees encompass a diverse range of species that vary in size, shape, and foliage characteristics. Here are some of the most common types and names of conifer trees found in gardens and landscapes:
- Pine Trees: Pine trees are recognised by their long, needle-like leaves and distinctive cones. Some popular types of pine trees include:
- Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
- Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
- Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)
- Spruce Trees: Spruce trees have short, sharp needles that are attached individually to their branches. Commonly planted spruce tree species include:
- Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
- Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens)
- Blue Spruce (Picea glauca)
- Fir Trees: Fir trees have flattened, soft needles that are usually arranged in two rows on opposite sides of the branch. Some well-known fir tree species include:
- Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
- Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
- Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri)
- Cypress Trees: Cypress trees often feature scale-like leaves and rounded cones. Common species of cypress trees include:
- Leyland Cypress (× Cupressocyparis leylandii)
- Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
- Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa)
- Cedar Trees: Cedar trees typically have feathery foliage and produce small, barrel-shaped cones. Some popular cedar tree species include:
- Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica)
- Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
- Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
- Yew Trees: Yew trees have flat, needle-like leaves and produce vibrant red berries in the autumn. Notable yew tree species include:
- English Yew (Taxus baccata)
- Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
- Anglojap Yew (Taxus × media)
These are just a few examples of the many types of conifer trees available. Each species has its own unique characteristics and growth requirements, so it is important to research and choose the right conifer tree for your specific garden or landscape needs.
Remember, when selecting a conifer tree, consider factors such as size, growth rate, soil preferences, and climate suitability to ensure the tree thrives in its designated location. Consulting with a local nursery or horticulturist can provide valuable guidance in selecting the appropriate conifer tree for your specific area.
The Best Time to Prune Conifers in the UK
The ideal time to prune conifer trees in the UK is during the late winter or early spring months, typically between February and April, although in our temperate climate firs do tolerate pruning all year round. This is when the tree is still dormant and the risk of disease or pest infestation is relatively low. Pruning during this time allows the tree to heal before the warmer months of active growth, promoting healthy development.
Can You Cut the Top off a Fir Tree?
Fir trees have a central leader – a dominant vertical stem at the top of the tree – which gives them their characteristic shape. Removing the central leader can result in the loss of the tree’s natural form and can lead to multiple top shoots competing for dominance. This is a common practice for fir hedges – the sides grow strong but the centre remains weak.
It is advisable to consult with a professional arborist or tree surgeon such as Arbex before considering pruning.
Do Conifers Grow Back When Cut Down?
Very few conifers have the ability to grow back when cut down. Yew and Thuje are common exceptions. However, it is important to note that the regrowth may not precisely resemble the original tree, and it may take many years for the tree to reach its previous size.
If conifers such as the Leyland Cypress (the classic hedge fir) are cut too hard, the sides will not grow back and will remain brown and ugly.