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suburban permies: keeping trees small

 
Ronnie Yu
Posts: 31
Location: Orange County, CA
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Is it possible to keep a tree a manageable size indefinitely by pruning it? I would like a Camphor tree in my yard, but I know they eventually can grow quite large.

I recently saw a video with Alex Ojeda where he shows a small olive tree growing in a compact area surrounded by other plants. I don't know how quickly they grow, but won't that tree eventually take over that entire part of the yard?
 
John Elliott
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I can answer that question in two syllables -- bon-sai.

It's really a fascinating art to see how they can take a bald cypress, something that can grow 100+ feet in the wild, and make it into a 2' high living sculpture. Take a look at the Bonsai Collection at the National Arboretum in Washinton, D.C. I've been there, and it is amazing at what can be done to prune trees and keep them at a certain size.

And on this page, it says that camphor is a popular tree to use for bonsai.

 
Ronnie Yu
Posts: 31
Location: Orange County, CA
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Is bonsai something that can be done with trees growing out of the ground? I always thought it involved small containers and a lot of root pruning. Then again, I don't know much about it.


John Elliott wrote:I can answer that question in two syllables -- bon-sai.

It's really a fascinating art to see how they can take a bald cypress, something that can grow 100+ feet in the wild, and make it into a 2' high living sculpture. Take a look at the Bonsai Collection at the National Arboretum in Washinton, D.C. I've been there, and it is amazing at what can be done to prune trees and keep them at a certain size.

And on this page, it says that camphor is a popular tree to use for bonsai.

 
John Elliott
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I think we are getting into a gray area here. If a tree gets root bound in a pot, but it's 5' tall, is it a bonsai? If you have it planted in the yard, but the roots are constricted by a sidewalk or a planter of some type, is some bonsai type action going on?

I've known people who had lemon trees in planters by their front doors, but you wouldn't want to call them a tree, they were really more of a bush. They put out plenty of lemons for one family, but they were certainly much smaller than they would have been were they to be out in the open. Plus they regularly got clipped if they tried to stray too far from the confines of the planter.

I would say it's worth a try. At least you will learn something by trying it.
 
Michael Newby
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When the trees being cared for are in a container, it is bonsai (or penjing or many other regional names), but when in the ground the Japanese call it niwaki.

You can keep a tree at a certain size but it will require careful pruning every year or every other year depending on tree type and vigor. It really depends on how much effort you want to put into the tree.
 
Ronnie Yu
Posts: 31
Location: Orange County, CA
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Thanks fellas, I'll do some experimentation. I guess that after doing a lot of reading, my "vision" of permaculture is that it should be a sort low-maintenance, self-sustaining system (eventually). But I guess that's not very realistic on the small, urban/suburban scale.
 
Kelby Taylor
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Location: SE Pennsylvania, USA
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Probably the most useful thing for you to check out is fruit tree pruning to control size. The basic idea would be to remove vigorous growth and cut back to side shoots that are 'weaker' on a yearly basis.

Root pruning may also be suitable. Go out about 3-4' from the trunk and cut into the ground with a shovel every couple feet to damage part of the root system. This will reduce overall plant vigor and growth.

Or you can do my favorite suburban tree trimming catastrophe and cut back to the whole darn thing to a trunk and branch stubs every few years. Not really good for the trees health and they tend to look pretty terrible 2 out of 3 years.

I'm not at all familiar with this tree type (about 4 zones too cold here), but maybe do some research if there are dwarf varieties available.
 
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