Pruning – Sky Pencil holly, Skyrocket juniper

Q: I saw your recent tips about preventing ice damage to ‘Sky Pencil’ holly. I have two young ‘Skyrocket’ junipers beside my front steps. A year after the December 2005 ice storm, the limbs are still drooping down like a peeled banana instead of being straight up and close to the trunk. What can I do to get them to go straight up?

A: You’ll need to wear a long-sleeved jacket to avoid the juniper’s prickly needles but I think you can train it to be upright once more. Get some thin green bamboo stakes from a garden center and use brown jute twine to splint the stems straight. Depending on your situation, you may have to tie some of them to the trunk. Leave the bamboo and twine in place for a couple of years and the limbs will aim for the sky once again.

On the other hand, Norm Mittleider from Art of Pruning says: “One of the downsides with most columnar shaped plants is that often after heavy rains, strong winds, icing conditions or simply because they want too, branches will flop over.

“This is known as “flagging”. Rarely is splinting a permanent fix. The reason is these plants normally do not have a strong central trunk, but rather many weak trunks and when the weight on them is more than they can support, “flagging” occurs.

“I think the best way to solve this problem is to judiciously prune the affected branch to lesson the weight it has to support. This will provide a more permanent solution to “flagging” plant issues, though periodic thinning is in order to keep the plants upright and reaching for the sky.”

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