When to Prune a Strawberry Tree?February 12, 2009
Kathy from Browns Point, WA asks:
“When can I trim my stawberry trees, to grow wider?”
By Strawberry Tree, I’m going to assume you’re referring to Arbutus unedo. Several plants have the common name Straweberry Bush or Strawberry Tree, so we’ll go with the Arbutus for this answer.
The Arbutus unedo is a cousin of our Pacific Madrone Tree (Arbutus menziesii), and it is a beautiful shrub or tree offering reddish peeling bark, evergreen leaves, and a confusing habit of blooming and ripening fruit all at the same time. This makes pruning a little tricky.
Since A. unedo blooms and forms beautiful ripe fruits in early autumn, it’s tough to time pruning. First, pruning in late fall, right after blooming and fruiting, can cause the plant to put on a lot of new growth just as we go into the cold season, which can cause it to experience dieback on areas of growth that didn’t have time in the season to harden off for winter. Second, if we prune it in Spring, as we head into the growth surge time, which would encourage new growth and perhaps meet your desire to “widen” the plant, you risk removing the fruit that is forming from last year’s blooms. And, if you wait until late spring/summer, you again risk removing fruit as well as the flowers forming to bloom in fall. So, there’s no ideal time here.
I’m not sure what you’re hoping to achieve in terms of widening the plant. I hope you don’t intend to top it/shear it. That would ruin it’s fantastic natural form and beauty. Instead, it should be pruned like a tree. Start by getting in to clear out the dead, crossing/rubbing branches. Then selectively make cuts to encourage new growth. Since I can’t see the plant and evaluate the circumstances, I hesitate to try to provide anything more than that. When you cut is going to be based your needs. If you want it to put on a lot of new growth, probably late winter/early spring is your best bet, but you do run the risk of having a low fruiting/flowering season in the fall.
If you would like to set up an appointment to review this plant together, please get in touch. And, thanks for writing in!