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Hi Growing Club,

My parents live in SW Florida and I planted a sugar apple sapling several months ago (similar to the cherimoya). I’ve included a picture of when it first started growing and a most recent picture when it began a new growth cycle. I’m wondering 1) why it seems to have grown irregularly and 2) how we should go about pruning it for the future. It’s about 4 to 5 feet high right now. I’ve heard of urban gardeners who prune back half of all new growth about 3 times a year to help it grow wider not taller, is this advisable for all trees or only certain species? When are the best times to prune?

Sugar Apple 1 Sugar Apple 2

Thanks!

Jake

Answer

Hey Jake,

Great question! Your right that the tree does look a bit strange right now, but this is a problem that is easily remedied. Your tree is currently growing as what is known as a “central leader”. That means it is growing one trunk going straight up, and will put out lateral branches later. This is the natural form of many trees, and will eventually lead to a large tree. If you do nothing, the tree will continue growing up, and the side sprouts will come out in time. ¬†Alternatively, if you want to keep the tree shorter, you could “top” (cut) that tall main stem, which will force the tree to grow lateral branches. If you choose to do that, you want to do the following:

– Cut the main stem.
– Allow new sprouts to come out, and then prune down the sprouts to just 4-5 sprouts, each going in different directions.
– When the sprouts become branches, you can cut them to a desired length as well, to keep the tree to a certain size.

Pruning is a bit of an art, so its going to take some time to get it down. With practice, you’ll figure out how it all works. Taking a tree pruning workshop can be very helpful.

Hope that helps! Happy gardening!

– Rishi