I collected this Cedar elm, Ulmus crassifolia, in February of 2018. It recovered and grew so fast that I was able to slip-pot it in June. One thing I really like about this tree is the low branch. I think I see something really unique is the ultimate design.

As with most collected deciduous trees, this one got trunk-chopped and therefore needs to have an apex built. I got an email from a reader this morning about the process. It’s not as easy to describe as it is to illustrate, hence this blog. Building apexes/crowns in your deciduous trees is one thing you’re going to need to do over and over again. So here’s how I go about it.

The first and perhaps most obvious step is that you need to train up a shoot near the chop. But that’s only the first step in a fairly complex process. Let me show you the next step with this tree.

First things first. I’m thinking this tree looks better from this angle. What do you think?

Next order of business: why is the leader so long and untapering? When you train up a shoot near the trunk chop on your trees, it’s obviously starting out as a very slender bit of growth that needs to get a lot thicker at the base in order to make it look believable. So you put some wire on to get a little movement in it, then just let it run. I was able to prune it back once last year, but regardless, it’s too long without any taper. What to do?

This is the answer for today … but there’s more to the story.

This probably looks all right, but the fact is I pruned it longer than it needs to be. Why? Just to be cautious. I don’t want to take any chances of dieback (very unlikely with Cedar elm).

Now let’s get into the details. If you look closely you’ll see I actually have three dormant buds on this pruned leader. I cut a little above the highest. But I don’t want to use that one as my new leader when it comes out. Why is that?

Here’s a very important principle to live by when you’re building an apex. If you let a section grow too long without taper before pruning it, you’ll never get any more taper in that section and it’s going to look unnatural. So to avoid that problem, you measure (or eyeball, once you get the hang of it) the thickness of the new leader at its base. Then you find a spot two to three of that measurement above the base of the leader, and cut to a bud or shoot there. If you do this, you’re sure to have a natural looking taper in your crown.

This is where we are with this tree for now. I think that by summer I’ll have the opportunity to prune back the apex yet again, and taking this tree into its next phase of development. Stay tuned for updates.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think of today’s work.