can an established, large, wild plum tree Harpephyllum caffrum be pruned in order to try shape/reduce the width of its canopy? I have a huge wild plum tree in my small townhouse garden and it has a very wide canopy going over my townhouse roof and over my grass area. The trunk is very thick as it is established, and some of main branches leading off the main trunk are also very thick. secondly, I need to know whether the root system of the wild plum tree is aggressive? reason why I am asking is because the wild plum tree is quite close to a wall. Please can you give me some pruning advice (if it is possible or not to prune a well established huge wild plum tree or not... and best way to go about pruning the tree without killing it). and if you can advise regarding whether the roots will damage the wall or not. The tree has been there for at least 20 years and I don't note any visible damage to the wall. so I am hoping this means that the roots won't damage the wall in future? kind regards

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Sep 03, 2021
big old wild plum tree !
by: Caroline

I find your information on not seeing root damage very interesting. I took pains to plant my trees far from walls because of the reputed aggressive roots. I've seen them in our street lift the tar on the pavement..BUT... NOTHING like the damage done by ficus and Brazilian pepper ! So its all relative. The Harpephyllum in our street are growing straight in the tar and must be starved of rain water and nicely aerated fertile soil. They look very stunted and may have less aggressive roots. I am not sure how fast yours is growing and how big is big ? I only know that in the wild the Harpephyllum occupies the forest canopy layer... in the eastern Cape etc. I have seen one on an old farm in Cape Town that has a height of maybe 14 meters and a spread of twenty ? and a trunk over a meter in diameter. That is really huge, but the tree is probably hundreds of years old. It depends on what kind of legacy you want to leave I guess. Glenice Ebedes of responds to a host of questions that may interest you. She says Harpephyllum caffrum can have an aggressive root system and should not be planted less than 4m from any structure, but qualifies this by stating that root systems can vary depending on the growing conditions, so this serves as a guide. The city council planted them on the pavement, right next to many boundary walls and garages, but perhaps they regret doing this. I think if you cut back the top, the roots will self trim.
Harpephyllum can be pruned, even grown in pots. With such thick branches close to the house it may be advisable to call in a professional tree surgeon who will lower the branches with slings so that they don't fall on anything and break it. For myself I prune up to about 10cm thick branches myself, anything bigger gets really crushingly heavy. Even branches this size I trim by taking the smaller branches off and then the bigger branch in sections. Say you have a troublesome branch you want to take off, I usually trim it back gradually to a point at which another branch can take over, say back to a fork, so that the eye follows the tree's rhythms without seeing a big stump there. I always continue cutting in sections, until I've removed the stump of the branch. They can look so ugly and make the tree look mangled and damaged. After cutting you can cover the wound with tree seal to prevent borer beetles getting into it as they are attracted to fresh tree wounds. Some people just use acrylic paint. Others use specialist products. The tree specialist may want to lift the crown (cut off lower branches and leave the top) which I happen to find useless in a small urban space. I would think one would want to drop the crown lower for the sake of safety and being able to maintain the trimmed tree yourself. If you are doing it yourself, don't just top it (cut through the main trunk). Leave quite a bit of foliage and cut it down in stages so that it can recover between cuts. Look at the shape of the tree, what you'd like the branches to do and make a quite artistic decision that makes the tree look as 'whole' or interesting as possible. You can turn it into a giant bonsai or train it anyway you want. Cut off the heavy branches in sections. It is easier to cope with the weight and also prevents having a massive branch dropping and taking a long strip of bark off. When You have a stump left, cut it level with the branch you are removing it from. There are specific ways of cutting heavy branches I don't want to advise you on, because it would take a lot of space, and I only found the results on google and its not based on experience and also because of your safety. If you just suspect you don't know what you're doing, or the branches are thicker than 15cm hire a pro. Cutting down a big tree is dangerous. People actually get killed doing it because they think its an easy job and they weren't going by the safety regulations and they get hit by rebounding branches like a battering ram, or by the chain saw. I have also seen horrible youtube clips of people destroying their homes on a sunny weekend. Makes for lovely viral viewing though !

good luck and thank you for your interesting question and observations.

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