Pruning spindly Redbud


Hello, Master Gardener:
Thank you so much for your response to our Redbud pruning question (which I’ve attached below for reference). I am sending along a photograph of the tree to show you the spindly branches it sent out this year, wondering how and when I should or shouldn’t trim them back. Your response would be much appreciated.
Thank you,


Lucky you to have a Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. The tree blooms with lovely rose-purple flowers on bare branches in the early spring, even before leaves emerge.

Pruning should be done in late spring, just after blooming. If you prune the tree now (it’s November) or in the winter, you risk reduced flowering. However, simply getting rid of a few unsightly branches should not affect the spring blooming. As it was a rough year for redbuds, though, you may want to leave the tree alone until spring.

When pruning thicker branches do so to just above the raised area that’s right above the crotch of two branches – this is the “branch collar”. For small branches, like those you describe, prune either to the collar or to a terminal bud or branch. Remember to disinfect your pruning tools with rubbing alcohol before & after making cuts. For small branches up to 1.5 inches in diameter, use lopping shears.

And how lovely to have a clematis happily growing up the redbud tree. Any vine growing up a tree trunk can cause structural problems for the tree – e.g., the additional weight can lead to broken branches, and more snow/ice may be deposited. The vine can also decrease the amount of sun the tree leaves receive. Leaf debris from the vine near the tree’s roots could promote fungal/bacterial disease by trapping moisture. Some vines (not clematis) can even strangle the trunk & tree limbs.

Clematis is considered to be a relatively slow-growing vine, so should be fine growing up your tree. As long you prune the clematis each year, it should not grow too large or heavy to damage the tree. A suggestion is to let the clematis grow as much as it wants through the summer, then prune back any portions that extend into the tree branches – keep the plant confined to the trunk area of the tree. And make sure there is no plant debris/leaves on the ground against the tree. And in case you want information about pruning this lovely vine, see the Pruning Clematis overview on our website.


Thank you for your photo. It really does not alter our previous response to your question about pruning your Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’.  Remove any branches and twigs you feel are undesirable just after blooming in late spring. For example, some branches may grow out at too wide of an angle or in an undesirable direction. Remove these branches. This tree’s low growth and multistemmed habit may produce lateral branches that are too low for your landscape. For example, some low, lateral branches may make it difficult to mow or may block a window. Once again remove these branches just after blooming. Remove branches that are rubbing or growing toward the interior of the tree, as well as those that show signs of disease. Remove branches that are broken, dead or diseased at the first notice of the problem. By the way your tree doesn’t look so spindly. It does appear to be a fairly young tree so it would be advisable to limit pruning to avoid the threat of disease (such as canker) entering the cuts.

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