Sassafras Tree Pruning Tips

Sassafras leaf

The sassafras tree is a deciduous tree that's native to eastern North America. It grows very well in rich, well drained soil. The sassafras is grown for many different purposes, including food and medicine. Many people grow a sassafras tree in their landscaping for the beautiful shape of the leaves and the bright fall foliage.

A sassafras tree usually starts off as a small shrub containing many different sprouts. These sprouts all encircle the mother plant, but eventually will form an irregularly shaped tree that is approximately 60 feet in height. The bark is reddish brown with wide, bright green leaves. The sassafras is also a fruit tree that grows small, dark blue berries. Maintenance and care of a sassafras tree is pretty much hands off, but it does require pruning to keep it healthy and vibrant.

Why Pruning Is Needed

As a sassafras tree is growing, it needs to be pruned in order for it be trained and shaped the way you want. Pruning involves taking off damaged and dead branches that are not growing and are too weak to handle any added growth. Pruning also keeps the tree invigorated. As you take off some of the new limbs, old growth and dead limbs, the tree can release that energy into different parts. This will cause an abundance of berries, revitalized growth in the direction you want, and better resistance to disease.

When Should You Prune?

trimming small branches off a tree

There are several different times when pruning is necessary. The first is at planting. When you first plant a sassafras tree you should cut back a lot of the encircling sprouts to keep the thicket smaller, and create a much stronger trunk. For the first couple of years you should continue to prune the tree back to this main trunk to let it grow taller. As it gets taller, you should then remove any branches that you don't want to be the main skeleton of the tree.

After the first five years, you should have a wonderfully shaped tree with a strong main trunk and skeleton branches that are filling out the tree. Prune it very heavily every three years after that, to thin it out and create new upward growth.

How to Prune

One of the biggest tips for pruning a Sassafras tree is to cut off the limbs when they are very small. This will make the wounds in the tree small and less susceptible to insects. If you're removing larger branches, you should leave the base of the limb so that it will scab over easier.

What Is Pruned?

The main focus of the pruning should always be the shape of the tree. Always remove any branches that are drooping towards the ground or that don't add to the overall structure and shape. Any weak or dead branches that you see should also be removed. Use your discretion on what else to take off. You should look at the canopy and remove any limbs, offshoots or small stems that will not add to the structure.