Ask Rosie: September 2019

Remove errant branches to save ‘weird’ tree

Posted on Sep 02 2019 in Backyard
Photo courtesy of J.K.

Q: Please don’t think I’m totally crazy, but I couldn’t get anyone around here to answer this question and I thought someone at Purdue could. I have two trees in my backyard that are growing branches that are completely different from the rest of the trees. It is NOT another tree coming up under them, which is what most people tell me. Am I correct in guessing this is a cultivar that went wrong?

Do we cut them both down and start over, or can we just cut off the branches that do not match? I hate cutting down trees but honestly, this looks VERY weird sitting next to my house. — J.K., St. John, Indiana

A: This is a great photo. What’s happening to your trees is not really a rare occurrence. You are indeed on the right track. These are dwarf cultivars that are reverting back to what is the normal growth for the species.

Dwarf evergreens such as yours are usually selected from a plant that showed a mutation/genetic variation from the species. Sometimes this is a dwarf habit such as your plant. In other cultivars, it could be a unique color variegation in foliage or flowers, twisted leaves, weeping habit, etc.

The plant in your photo appears to be a dwarf Alberta spruce. The best approach is to prune out the errant branches, the sooner the better. In addition to the larger branch habit, they tend to be more vigorous and can take over the plant. It is best to remove the branch by cutting back as close to the point of origin without damaging the main trunk. The plant may continue to send these out from time to time, so keep after them.

Here are a few articles that we’ve published on this very subject. You can see you are in good company!

Additional information on pruning technique can be found in Purdue Extension bulletin HO-4, Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.

B. ROSIE LERNER is the Purdue Extension consumer horticulturist and is a consumer of Tipmont REMC. Questions about gardening issues may be sent to “Ask Rosie,” Indiana Connection, 8888 Keystone Crossing, Suite 1600, Indianapolis, IN 46240-4606, or use the form at