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When to Prune a Strawberry Tree

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Not sure when to prune your strawberry tree?

We get a lot of questions about when is a good time to prune strawberry tree. That’s because timing pruning on these large shrub/small trees can be tricky.

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Do you prune strawberry trees in bloom?

Arbutus unedo Blooming in November

Why is timing trimming so tricky with these plants?

There are a few main considerations to make before you pick up your pruning tools:

  • Do you want a privacy hedge?
  • Or, do you want a tree?
  • Do you want (edible) fruit?
  • Do you mind missing out on some blooms?
  • Are you renovating the plant from a prior bad pruning job?

Let’s be sure we’re talking about the same “strawberry trees”.

Plant common names can lead to confusion. That’s because many very different plants are each called by the same common name.

When we refer to strawberry trees, we mean Arbutus unedo.

Arbutus unedo is a Mediterranean cousin of Arbutus menziesii. And A. menziesii is the Pacific madrone or madrona tree.

A. unedo grows into a beautiful shrub or tree. And, it graces gardens in many areas with many seasons of interest including:

  • Strawberry trees grow beautifully peel reddish bark.
  • And, it has shiny evergreen leaves.
  • Plus, it blooms from late autumn through winter in the northern hemisphere.
  • And, it’s fruits beginning ripening just as those flowers open.

Now that we’ve clarified which potential strawberry tree we’re focused on, let’s get into when to prune. And, let’s do that by considering what happens each season with this plant.

So should you prune your strawberry tree in fall and winter?

Because strawberry trees bloom and form beautiful ripe fruits in early autumn, that’s not an ideal time to prune. If you do prune this time of year, you’d lose out on its bloom season. Plus, if you cut off those flowers, they can’t get pollinated and form fruit for the following year. And, if you cut off ripening fruit, you could eat the fruit. But, you’ll miss out on all of the beauty that comes as they ripen.

And, if you prune in deep winter after the ripe fruit is already harvested, take care:

  • You’ll likely be cutting off lingering blooms.
  • And  you’ll likely trim out some immature fruits scheduled to mature next year.
  • Plus, if you’re in a freeze, you could easily break limbs.
  • And there is a chance, you’ll stimulate delicate new growth that could succumb to a later freeze.
  • This is especially true if you’re shearing a hedge.
  • Plus, if you hedge a plant in fall or winter, it’s going to look really ugly and chopped up until spring.

Okay, so should I prune in spring instead?

If you decide to prune in spring, you’re still going to be cutting off immature fruits. And, if you wait until late spring, you may cutting off new little flower buds that are revving up to open in autumn. But, if you want to shape up that hedge, early spring is a pretty good time. That’s because the plant will put on soft new growth soon, and your strawberry tree won’t look chopped up for very long.

Okay, what if I wait until summer to prune my strawberry tree?

If you wait until summer to prune this plant, you’ll be cutting off the fruit that’s almost ripe. And, you’ll be removing flowers readying to open in the autumn months ahead.

So, with Arbutus undeo you always forfeit something when you prune.

When you decide to prune your plant is going to be based your needs. But, it’s quite likely that choosing late winter/early spring to prune your strawberry tree may be best. That’s because:

  • It’s less likely you will cause winter injury.
  • Hedge shearing, which we don’t really prefer for this plant, should recover quickly.
  • And, you’ll loose some immature fruits.
  • But, if your timing is right, you aren’t likely to lose a lot of flowers.

59 comments on “When to Prune a Strawberry Tree

  1. Garden Mentors on

    Cc – Thanks for writing in. Without seeing your plants, it’s difficult to know for certain what’s happening.
    Are the shoots coming up from out of the soil/from the roots? If so, these may be suckers. If you allow the suckers to grow, your tree will become very shrubby. And, suckering growth from roots may not make for a very nice shrub.
    Or, are your trees branching from the lower part of the trunk of the tree? If that’s the case, it may be that you’ll be able to train them into part of your tree’s scaffolding. Or, they may help make your trees bushier.

    In either case, it may be worth having the professionals who installed your trees assess and address the situation. A trained horticulturist or arborist should be able to assess your specifics and help you make the right choices for your garden and your plants.

    Good luck!

  2. Katherine Perry on

    We have a strawberry tree where I work and it can be a very windy spot. some of the leaves have turned brown and there is a split that has appeared in the left trunk. can it be saved ?

  3. Garden Mentors on

    Katherine, Thanks for writing in. This situation more likely calls for an on-site assessment by a professional. Leaf browning can be caused by many issues. Trunk splits may not mean the tree is doomed. But, it might need some skilled TLC to support the damaged plant. Good luck!

  4. Anthony on

    I have three arbutus planted at the house existing we moved in 14 years ago. They were planted to make a hedge I guess. However, they have become way to big for the space and encroach on the neighbors . I would say they need heavy pruning, but I am not sure if that is possible or what it would do. The best thing maybe to remove them because they need about 4 feet in height removed. They were not appropriate to plant where they were planted. If I had known they were actually trees I would have removed them and given them away. I have pruned these every year to control the height but now are still just way too big. 4 feet is about 1/3 their height. Looking for options.

  5. Garden Mentors on

    Anthony, Yes, these do get quite large. While we aren’t a fan of shearing these plants as hedges, it can be done. However, whether it is appropriate for your plants at their current age and given their history is impossible to know site unseen. That being said, it is unlikely that they will do well if you simply take off 4′ of height in one pruning. It might take several years to work them back and have them thrive. And, again, knowing whether this is really an option for your situation or not isn’t something we can go deep on site unseen. Another option might be to do a renovation pruning that doesn’t reduce height but opens the interior, allowing them to grow naturally and become a part of the view from both sides. And again, site unseen its difficult to know if this is really a good or viable option for you or for your plants. So, best bet is probably to bring in a certified arborist or horticultural pro to evaluate your specific opportunities.

    Best of luck!

  6. Jim on

    Over the past few weeks, ours have dropped a lot of yellow leaves but the trees look very healthy otherwise. They are regularly watered and have not had any problems in the past. Is this common for this time of year? I’m thinking they are just shedding old growth. They’re about 5 year old. Thank you!

  7. Garden Mentors on

    Jim, Unseen it’s tough to provide a good assessment. And not knowing where you are means we don’t know what your season is right now. That being said, it isn’t uncommon for trees/shrubs to shed interior leaves, which are generally the older growth. So if that’s what’s happening, it sounds like your assumption is right.

  8. Jim on

    We’re in Northern California and summer is here (80-90 everyday) and no rain. I water them about 4x/week for 10 min on a drip system. Thanks for the response!

  9. Rachel Birnbaum on

    Hi there. Am I supposed to trim the sprigs that are growing on the main stalk? I love my arbutus trees so much! they are about 3 years old. Thank you! Rachel

  10. Garden Mentors on

    Rachel, Site unseen it’s tough to know what you’re asking. And without seeing the plant itself, it’s tough to know how to answer this questions. Best bet: hire an arborist or garden consultant to review your specific issue and help you make the best choices. Good luck!

  11. Robert on

    If my tree form is growing with lax branches every which way because it is in a windy spot, can those branches be removed? Will it regrow on old wood? I want to shape the standard but it is so lopsided with branches curving and twisting everywhere and almost no leaves in the center. I’m just worried that some shaping won’t work because I don’t know if it’ll regenerate new, tidier growth on the old wood. I would have shaped it sooner but didn’t realize. Learning lots.

  12. Garden Mentors on

    Robert, sounds like you have a challenging project ahead of you. And site unseen, it’s near impossible to make educated suggestions here. It may be that given the wind, this might not be the right tree for this spot. Sometimes standards get very top heavy, and often that isn’t great in wind. But, again, without seeing the situation it’s impossible to know what will happen. Best bet might be to bring in a certified arborist or garden consultant to evaluate on site or virtually. Let us know if we can help this way. And best of luck!

  13. Ritu Rathi on

    Our strawberry tree was trimmed in early March and about 4 weeks since the trimming, I am noticing that many leaves are falling, and the ones still on are turning brown. Some also seem to have brownish/purplish spots on them.

    We’ve never observed this on our strawberry tree before and it’s always been so beautiful but now the tree almost looks like parts of it are just twigs without the leaves.

    Will the leaves grow back? Or is the plant dying because of some fungus? Is there anything we can do to save it?

  14. Garden Mentors on

    Ritu,

    Thanks for writing in. There are many foliar diseases that can attack Arbutus, of which strawberry trees are one. The pruning you did may or may not have contributed to the issues you are seeing. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make a diagnosis without assessing the tree itself. So, you may want to consider hiring a local arborist or certified gardening person in your area to help you make a determination on your specific situation. Good luck!

  15. Cheryle on

    Love our Arbutus Marina! Planted just over a year ago on the Central California Coast, it’s “center stage” in our backyard. Now, there are many branches popping out at the base. If I prune most of those away, but keep a couple of the prominent base branches, will they form new trunks, to create a multi-trunk Arbutus? That would be fine with me! Also, one side of the tree top is now heavily laden with lush branches & leaves, so it appears lopsided. May I trim some of these away, even though it’s June 22? I want the tree more for shade & greenery, rather than the pretty blossoms/fruit. Look forward to your advice (and thank you!). Cheryle

  16. Garden Mentors on

    Cheryle,

    Thanks for your questions. Site unseen it’s difficult to make specific recommendations. That being said, it sounds like you may have suckers coming up from the root system. Removing those is likely to be a good thing. Leaving some may result in a multi-trunk plant. Or it may result in a plant that has lots of unwanted shoots that don’t really create a desirable multi-trunk form. Pruning in June means you’ll likely remove autumn flowers and fruits, but it isn’t likely to harm the plant (so long as you use proper pruning methods). If you need specific guidance, please get in touch to schedule a virtual gardening consultation so we can help you 1:1! Contact us here.

  17. Kathy McCarthy on

    In spring we sadly made the decision to cut down our arbutus marinas as the trunks were split, I believe they had borers and the leaves and branches were dying. But now, from the stumps or roots surrounding, I have beautiful foliage growing! So I guess I have shrubs instead of the trees. I’m wondering how to care for them come next spring. Do I thin them out? Trim them for a pleasing height? They are already almost 3 feet tall.

  18. Garden Mentors on

    Kathy, congrats on your “radical renovation” as Cass Turnbull would call your cutting down of your Arbutus only to have them sprout anew. If the plant had borers or another insect issue, you may want to inspect to be sure they aren’t back. Once a pest finds a host, they may be loathe to leave. And many pest insects spend part of their lifecycle in the soil around the plant. Since we don’t know what happened to your plant, it’s impossible to know if you could have an issue like this, so inspecting carefully would be a good first step. As for how to prune your plants going forward…it really depends on what you want from the plant. If you want to retrain into a tree form, then prune for that. If you want to keep dense shrubs, prune for that. Just don’t top them.

    Not sure how or where to make pruning cuts? Consider signing up for our Academy for a deeper dive into woody plant pruning and more!

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