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Garden tree help

Started by cypher, December 07, 2011, 01:27:13 am

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Hello, new member here  ;D. My question was, ive noticed tons of pics on Japanese gardens and notice lots of tall (skinny) narrow trunk trees. What kind of trees are these and is there a certain way of training them to keep them thin at the trunk? Thanks for any advice.


Welcome to the forum, Cypher!  You could be referring to a couple of things - can you provide a picture?


These are just examples i got online. I know alot of these are Japanese Maples but im pretty sure there are other kinds of trees aswell. How are these trees so tall and thin? Are these slow growing trees, or is there someway to train them to  keep them thin? I would like to mimic some of these gardens in my backyard. Hence the question about the trees. Thanks for any advice. Plus i live in Socal zone 8. Do you have any advice on what trees i can use that will have that look?


Cypher, welcome..
The technique is a duplication of forest growing trees that are elongated due to a limitation of light in competition. Most are second story or middle canopy trees of various species.
Essentially a tree is grown as a multi-trunk specimen, and if the original is a single stem tree then the trunk is cut off so that multiple trunks emerge that when combined amount to the girth of the old single trunk. These multiple trunks are then reduced to 2, 3 or 5 trunks.
Next the sun deprived or shade loving specimen is studied for the pattern that emerges when there is high light competition and high root density. The lower branches are removed in patterns that are probably more readily seen in ikebana. Meaning that if I wished to see a minimalistic pattern that has aesthetic value then it is easier to study ikebana if one does not have a dense forest of examples close at hand.
for the most part, as the examples you have shown are maples, the pruning techniques would be for maples. However, these could as easily be (in my area) Alders, Birch, Hawthorn, Oak, (etc) that are pruned in a maple manner (technique) wherein the emphasis is on the canopy rather than the lower and mid-branching.

Mathematically if this is easier, there is a single large trunk, replaced by many small trunks. The density of leaves is the same, and reduced by removing the inner branches in a seemingly random pattern..

and when the neighbouring trees canopies encroach on the other canopies the trunk numbers are further reduced, so that the tree is thinned (weakened), the root masses also encroach on each other creating a limited space for roots. With a finite root system the tree needs to be maintained with a lesser number of trunks and related leaves over a wider area of canopy.

simply put: less roots = less possible leaves      -- until a balance is created between the competitors that fulfills your aesthetic.
This gives a sense of deep forest and dappled sunlight, that also reduces the amount of maintenance work to be done.

I am not overly familiar with plants in SoCal and would suggest others closer to the area answer your species question.
            (how do you come to appreciate this aesthetic? Or why do you wish it? need it? (please explain) It is quite advanced in garden aesthetic timelines (hm, wrong words perhaps, however nothing better comes to mind)   edzard


Good question and great photos!  Your use of the photos really illustrated your question well. I've often wondered the same thing.

Excellent explanation!  Thanks!

- Mark


Well, the reason why this kind of garden (scenery) attracts me is because, just looking at the pictures, it gives me a sence of peace and tranquility. That being the main reason why i would like to mimic the technique or cause of lots of trees with narrow elongated trunks and soft on the amount of canopy leaves. It gives a good feeling of lightness. Shade brings a sence of relaxation to me.  I also like the feeling of Japanese courtyard gardens. I would like to come up with a design for my garden that has the influence of both these types of garden. I live in a valley in So Cal and in the summer days, the first thing i look for is realxation from shade in a garden. Its very hard to grow Japanese Maples in my valley so that would almost be out the question unless i have a good windbreak or taller trees to give shade to the maples.


I was talking to a nurseryman in Japan about this recently. As Edzard pointed out, the trees are grown in/to represent shady woodland.

Sometimes they are grown from a small size in situ, but in new gardens are usually planted 'ready grown' from the nursery. They would either have grown naturally in the mountains (nurseries secure 'harvesting rights' to plots of land, and pick out trees which they then bring to the nursery for a while to recover from the transplant, before selling.) These trees are the most sought after, because of the natural shapes. Alternatively they may be produced as thin-trunked trees by the nursery, whether single or multi-trunked, by trying to emulate the mountain conditions (shade, lack of nutrients etc). A shortcut version for the multi trunkers, rather than cutting them back to reshoot, is to plant several cuttings or seedlings together to give the impression of an old coppice. This sounds like cheating to me, but is quite common - it has a different look to it, with the trunks coming out from the ground rather than a stump or shared base.

Interestingly, I was told that the nurseries in Kanto area (around Tokyo) don't grow many trees in this natural style, as their soil is too rich - they bring them in from further south where the soil is worse (where i spend my time in rural Osaka the soil is very bad - perfect!)

If you're trying to grow your own in a sunny area, you really need some shade to get started, but you can help by growing them close together and removing the lower branches as the trees grow, which  will encourage tall, thin growth.



Right. I thought of planting several at close range and at about 7 to 8 feet tal to start off. removing the lower branches and thining the leaves to give it that affect. I seen a local small backyard nursery that has some tall narrow trunk trees. She is very reasonable in price but low on selection. She has lots of Camphor, Crape Myrtle and some white birch's. I was looking at some oaks but couldnt figure out which ones have the small leaves. I think the small leaf trees look best. Any other ideas?


December 08, 2011, 07:50:33 am #8 Last Edit: December 08, 2011, 07:59:46 am by Jando
Welcome Cypher, as you can see our forum has many members with wonderful knowledge for you.

May I suggest to take some time to form a plan for your garden. 

Also when planting new plants, it takes some time for them to recover from the shock of transplanting.  I would caution you to give them some time to become established before pruning and stripping leaves and be sure you know what time of year the species you have planted best responds to pruning.  The nurseryman you purchase your plants from should have that knowledge and be more than happy to share it with you. You could also ask them to show you how to prune your new plant properly if you do not know this information. 

I think we often forget to use the professionals knowledge we give our business too.  They want us to be successful and become repeat customers.  They also know what plants are successfully grown in your area.  So I recommend you visit several of your local nurserymen and pick their brains, they should know which species would respond well to the pruning required to create the look you want in your garden.  And you may find a great friend and ally for helping you create your garden.

Good luck,



I hope this helps to get a better idea with what i have to work with. I wish i could photoshop to place trees and plants where i vision them. I will draw something as an arial view and ill post it to give you an idea of what i have in mind. If you have any ideas, please feel free to throw them out. Im very open minded. Of course i want to have a water feature.
1)The first picture shows where you come into the back yard from the rear of the house. The wall to the right is my garage. The wall to my left is my house. The brick pathway would be taken out and replaced by a center walkway made out of stone. I would also like to put a bamboo wall at the end of the house wall going into the pathway but not fully accross, seperating the back of the yard to the front. Almost like a 7 foot long partition. I would like to put several tall with narrow trunk trees along these two walls to create a thin nice canopy. This where i would like it to be like a courtyard garden. I was standing on the east side of the yard facing west. As you all can see, i took these pics at around 1:00 PM pacific time and my backyard has a goo amount of shade.

2)The second set shows the very back of my yard where it "T's". To the right side of this is a cemented area where it would be closed out by a wood or possibly a bamboo wall. That where we keep our trash dumpsters. The orange tree will be knocked down and removed. I wish to replace it with a Black pine on a mound as my focal point. To the left of this picture is my shed. I would like to put either a pond with a waterfall on either side of this picture. Of course in a corner.The path will split here. One way going to the shed and one way going to the enclosed cemented area, with stepping stones going around tha back way of the black pine. I would also like some background tress along the rear wall. Plus a wall extension or another tall wall to block that eyesore i got behind my house,  I was standing facing NW in these pics.

3) When you get to the T and turn left, you get to the very back of my house where another orange tree is present  :-[. These things are so messy. That one is also coming down. The path will continue on to the shed and around the side of my house. I would like to place a Sakura right in front of the shed on the side of the small window with maybe a small lantern and small shrubs. Trying to give the courtyard feeling to that area aswell. Plus, about two tall skinny trees by the rear wall to my house with some lower shrubs.


Several of your internet photos are taken at Portland Japanese Garden.  The tree trunks you admire are considered faults by our garden experts.  This has happened because the garden is built on land "leased from the City of Portland Parks which used to be the Portland Zoo. The grounds had a large number of 100 foot plus evergreen trees on the site and the "lease" requires these trees to remain.  They cause too much shade and restrict normal growth.  Because of  climate differences between Portland and Southern California, I think it will be a very big challenge to duplicate the look in your zone.  Please make the trip to Portland and see the garden yourself.


Cypher- fear not. Although Terry is quite right in that you'll probably struggle with the same plants as at Portland, I reckon you can achieve a similar effect with plants more suited to your area, if you pick the right plants! Basing my opinion on Mediterranean plants, I have seen garrigue ladnscapes with evergreens such as Quecus ilex, phillyrea and viburnums, which get pretty close to what I believe you are after. Camphor and crepe myrtle would give a very Japanese woodland look.
Attached is an image of Quercus ilex (holm oak) in Provence, France. I suspect they were once part of a much bigger grove, and the shapes suggest a shady environment.



and if you're not bothered by non-Japanese plants, there's always olives...


Seeing the kind of sun exposure you have, and if your air circulation is good, i would go with crepe myrtle - esp the varieties with Indian names. I like the look of olives, but their canopy is a little thin for the effect you want i think.  And they can make messes too!

In your open area, ginko might make an interesting grove but they grow slowly.  Are you familiar with Texas persimmon?  Diospiros texana is drought and heat tough and has interesing white trunks with exfoliating bark.  Females are messy for about a month.  JGO has a section on alternative plants for JG that has not been developed, but may have some plants for your area: http://www.japanesegardening.org/reference/jgplants.html

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