PRUNE DWARF ALBERTA SPRUCE AND OTHER CONIFERS FOR REALISM AND LONG LIFE
By Don Herzog, Miniature Plant Kingdom
ONE OF THE greatest challenges facing many outdoor railroaders is keeping upright conifer trees healthy as the landscape matures. We often tend to plant young trees too close together in order to create the effect of a forest. But as the trees grow up, they crowd one another just as trees in a full size forest. Unless we prune them, the lower branches will die from lack of sunlight and result in a green canopy above with unhealthy trunks and branches below. Such a situation could lead to insect infestation and disease.
What can we do? Prune. We will end up not only with healthier evergreens, but trees more closely resembling their full size counterparts.
MARK AND TRIM
If you have neglected your plants for a long time, transplanting may be necessary as the scenery matures. But if you prune occasionally, you may avoid transplanting altogether.
Trim each tree to allow its branches to receive the maximum amount of sunlight and moving air. That will enable you to see every tree in your forest and help the trees to maintain good health. The procedure requires only four steps. Begin either when your trees have reached one foot in height or when they begin to crowd one another:
1. Remove all branches from the lower one-quarter to one-third of the tree. That will let you see the trunk and suggest older trees. You will also be able to add such scenic embellishments as cabins, rocks, people, or animals to the forest and that will create a more interesting scene. It is unnecessary to remove the lower branches from every tree. A few trees in the background or in clearings, for example, may look better with their branches extending to the ground.
2. Choose the branches you want to keep and those you want to remove. How? Select a sturdy branch at the bottom of the tree. Use a piece of string, yarn, or a clothespin to mark the branches you will retain. Then choose a branch about one-third of the way around the tree and slightly higher up than the first branch. Mark it. Choose a second branch another one-third of the way around the tree and again slightly higher than the last one. Mark it, too. The name for each trio of branches is a "whirl".
3. The second whirl of branches should begin slightly higher up the tree than the last branch you marked. Its branches also should be between the first and last branches you marked as though you were building a spiral staircase. Each whirl of three branches should be offset so that every other whirl will be in approximately the same line. Obviously, it will be impossible to line up each branch precisely but come as close as possible. Continue to mark branches until you approach the top of the tree. It us unnecessary to go to the very top because those branches usually are too small to work with.
4. Prune away every unmarked branch between the whirls and you're done. Your tree may look a little bare because it will have lost two-thirds of its foliage but don't worry. New growth will fill in nicely.
AND NEXT YEAR?
It should be necessary to prune your trees only once every year or two. You should remove new growth between the branches, any branch extending straight up or down, and all growth between the trunk and one-third of the distance to the end of each branch. You also should thin any fine growth on the branch ends to allow light to penetrate.
Within a few weeks your conifers will be healthier and better looking than ever.