I don’t know what species this tree is, but it used to be a nice umbrella shape, with all the branches drooping down. I think reckless pruning has ruined its shape. Can you tell me what kind of tree it is, and what I might do to fix it?
By enlarging the photo it appears that the leaves that are just starting out are deeply veined and will likely be oval or ovate (slightly wider toward the bottom of the leaf). Even so, the bark and leaves together lead me to the commonly planted Weeping Mulberry (Morus alba ‘Pendula’). The leaves vary, and most people are familiar with the deeply lobed leaves seen on mature trees.
Grafted cultivars like the mulberry are pre-pruned by the nursery, so they already have their attractive shape. They are quite striking and make a nice specimen, especially in a small yard. However, they do require maintenance to keep that attractive shape.
You are quite correct, this tree has been improperly pruned, and possibly been neglected in its past. The upright stems at the top can be described as ‘water sprouts’, often associated with fruit trees. These can be pruned back to the main stem. Weeping Mulberry, as they mature, have arching stems that climb upward over time. The overall shape, while dormant, looks like a cascade of branches, overlapping each other to reach the ground. It is these that need to be pruned. To hang attractively, the inward facing branches should be removed as well as the ones pointing skyward.
There is some argument regarding the mulberry and pruning. The professionals would recommend only pruning up to a third of the branches to allow the tree to continue uptake of nutrients and water. This method also allows the tree to form the cascading effect as it grows taller.
Many mulberry owners prune their trees, in late fall or winter while the tree is dormant, right to the knot of former branches on the chosen main branches. This allows only one year’s growth of branches to hang attractively and maintain the short stature of the tree.
I think the latter method was used initially. After pruning out the sprouts and inward facing branches, assess your tree again to see if it is starting to take shape. If you don’t feel confident about your pruning skills, you may want to hire a certified arbourist to get the tree back into the umbrella shape and give you advice on how you maintain it on a yearly basis.
For more information, the following blog was written by our own Toronto Master Gardener, Helen Battersby.