Pruning a Queensland Bottle Tree

A Queensland bottle tree (which should not be confused with a bottlebrush shrub) does not need trimmed at all if it is in a situation where it has plenty of growing room. Ideally, the bottle tree (Brachychiton Rupestris) should be situated in an area where it gets plenty of sun, the soil is well drained and it receives moderate protection from prevailing winds and winter chill. Bottle trees are hardy in US growing zones 9-11. As the name implies, Brachychiton Rupestris is native to Australia and grows well in most areas.

When to Trim a Bottle Tree

Bottle trees respond well to trimming, even though it is not essential for the plant’s health. It will make the top fuller and bushier. The primary reason to trim a bottle tree is to restrict its growth to an area or to keep it suited to growing in a pot or as a bonsai. The swollen trunk and narrow top make an excellent conversation piece when grown as a houseplant. Even though the tree can grow to as tall as 40 feet with a canopy that might spread thirty feet wide, pruning can keep a potted tree or a tree in a restricted area from overgrowing available space.


No Need to Trim for Pests

While there are some pests that can affect bottle trees, trimming is not usually the solution. Phymatotrichopsis Omnivora, a type of root rot is the primary enemy of bottle trees. There is not, at the time of this writing, a known solution for this difficulty save to select disease resistant varieties of bottle tree and to plant the tree in a location that is well drained with soil suited to bottle tree growth. Spider mites are another pest. As with other sorts of plants, spider mites infect the upper part of the plant. Since these insect are resistant to sprays, the best solution is a predator insect. Seed weevils sometimes infect the seed pods of bottle trees. This does not affect the health of the tree, but can make it difficult to get seed for fresh plantings. The best solution is to remove the affected pods from the tree, rake the ground beneath it, and wait for next year.

Trimming Your Bottle Tree

Before trimming your bottle tree, clean your equipment and make sure that your pruners are sharp. Clean shears, pruning saws and pruning knives help prevent carrying disease from one plant to another. Sharp implements make neat cuts that are easy to seal, keeping out damp that can cause rot. Think of trimming your tree as doing surgery on it, and you will not be far wrong. Clean sharp implements do a better job.


Shaping Your Bottle Tree

The interesting thing about bottle trees is their wine-bottle shaped trunks. When you trim or shape the tree, you want to reveal the bottle shape without destroying the tree’s ability to photosynthesize. The general rule for trimming any tree is to cut away no more than 1/3 of the tree’s overall canopy. That way, the tree will be able to take nourishment from the sun and continue to grow. Yet, at the same time, you can restrict its height and width so as not to over-grow other plants in your garden or neighborhood. When the tips are cut off the branches, the tree tends to put out two or more added shoots at that point, which encourages it to have a fuller appearance.


Bottle Trees as Indoor Potted Trees

One way to restrict the growth of potted bottle trees is to keep them in a relatively small pot. Eventually, however, this will mean that not only will the top of the tree need trimmed, but that excess root growth will also need to be cut away unless you wish to simply move the tree to a larger pot. Giving it a larger pot, however, will encourage it to grow larger.

To trim the roots of a bottle tree that is becoming too big for its pot, and perhaps to be more easily handled inside your house, first gently remove the tree from the pot it is in. Using a sharp knife, trim away about ¼ of the outer roots. You can then return the tree to its original a pot with fresh potting soil. Adhere to your normal watering regimen, and keep a close eye on your tree for a week or two to make sure that it does not go into shock.

Bottle Trees as Bonsai

Seedling bottle trees can be trained into adorable bonsai. Their hardy, adaptable nature and their ability to be readily grown from seed, make them an excellent subject, while their unique trunk shape is attractive in any setting. As with most bonsai projects, the shape of the container, feeding and watering is as important as trimming and wiring.


6 thoughts on “Pruning a Queensland Bottle Tree”

  1. Hi. I have 3 young bottle trees growing in Victoria. One of them has a low branches growing off the bottle trunk. Should I trim these branches. I have not seen any photos of mature trees with branches off the trunk.

  2. Hi I suggest that you remove those low branches pronto. Otherwise you will have “bottles” growing off the side of your tree. This does not look good in the long term and can cause disease to enter the plant when you eventially need to take those branches off or when they break off.
    The other thing that I would recommend is progressively pruning the branches at a young age before they actually develop thereeby forcing the tree to focuss on grwing in height.
    I plan to keep doing this until my trees reache at least 2.5 – 2.7 metres in height and it is only then that I will let the branches sprout.
    This will give you a nice tall bottle that you can walk under and will also make a great shade treee

  3. I have done this to my Brachychiton Rupestris. These branches can be cut back close to the trunk. The small protruding remainder will die off and eventually fall, or can be removed by hand after a few months. This leaves a characteristic scar which I think adds to the appearance. The circular scars flatten to become more elliptical with age.

  4. Hi. I’ve got a 6 meter bottle tree needing transplanted. It’s 17+ years old and is tall and skinny. During these years it’s been hidden behind 3 very large Norfolk pines, I feel it hasn’t had adequate sun for it to gain its characteristic bottle shape. Do I prune it before transplanting? If so, how much? And any further tips for transplanting would be great. Thanks!

  5. Hi I have a QLD bottle tree in a large pot, I’ve noticed with the new branches at the top, the leaves are falling off so I’m guessing it may need repotting it has been in this pot for 2 years, it would be 2 -3 mtrs tall. We acquired this tree when we moved into the house it was a stump in a pot which we used it to hold the side gate open never knowing it was a bottle tree. We decided to repot it just to see if it would grow, so glad we did but the problem now is the yard is not big enough to plant it out so we’re wondering is it too big to keep repotting it.

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