Prune Trees

Lucerne trees love to be pruned!

In this Lucerne Tree Farm YouTube video, Myles describes how he prunes his mature lucerne trees for cattle and sheep feed. Most of these trees are about 6 years old and have been planted along fence lines and in rows in camps.  

Pruning always stimulates the lucerne tree to produce new, vigorous growth, develop thick, sturdy branches and trunk, as well as to maintain the trees shape and height. If farmers wish to have their animals graze directly off the lucerne trees, then they will need to regularly prune their trees to remain 1.5m height.

These pruned branches are placed in a cattle feed “ring” where the cattle or sheep strip off all the leaves, leaving bare branches. (These dried branches make exceptional fire kindling.) One mature lucerne tree yields about 50kg of fresh cuttings on each pruning which will feed about 8 cattle in a day. These pruned trees take between 3 to 5 months to recover their full growth, especially if irrigated or during the rain season, ready to be pruned again. 

1-20140809_165445 18mth old 30 days after pruning
16-month-old trees with thick stems & pruned to1 meter height for sheep grazing – a living, vertical haystack!

Pruned trees bounce back within 50 days!  New growth is lush, abundant and nutritious.

3-20140809_170014 18mth old 30 days after pruning
Multi-stemmed tree heavily pruned at 16-months

Why, where & when to prune ~

5-20140809_170103 18mth old 30 days after pruning
Healthy, dense leaves on thick branches
  • Always use sharp, clean shears, clippers or secateurs.
  • Prune very young saplings even while in their potting bags to encourage side buds along the spindly stem. Nip off the top growth tips with your fingernails.  You will quickly notice new buds along the stem which will form side branches.  Start when saplings are about 10cm – 15cm tall.
  • Prune saplings about 3 weeks after planting them out in the land.  Give them time to adjust after transplanting, then prune them to stimulate new leaf growth.  Read about pruning growth tips here.
  • Cut all any branches above the 1-meter height of young saplings to keep the tree short for optimal grazing for sheep or cattle.
  • Aim to keep trees at 1.5m tall.
  • Prune any branches that animals can not reach after they have finished grazing.  Remove any tall & spindly branches and shape the tree into a small, compact bush.
  • Taller, mature trees that have outgrown 1.5m should only be pruned back by one third.  Do not cut more than a third or the tree may go into shock and die.
  • Prune trees after they have gone into seed.  Cut back branches with pods and harvest your seeds.
  • Prune off any broken, torn or crossing or branches that rub against other branches. Prune any branches that shoot from the base of the tree.
  • Pruning causes the stem and side branches to increase in thickness, which increases the carrying capacity for foliage.
  • Pruning helps form thicker, sturdier branches which are able to withstand damage and prevent branches from tearing when animals graze them.
    Compact tree
    A compact tree pruned to become dense and bushy

    All pruned cuttings are food!

  • Cuttings form a wonderful slash-and-drop mulch.  
  • These cuttings should be fed while still green and fresh.  Cuttings can also be chipped and fed wet and green or dry to all livestock.  This is your best food-producing method — producing tonnes of wet feed. A mature 4-year-old tree can deliver tons of wet chipped food in bi-annual pruning.
  • How much?  As a general estimate:  4-year old trees that have been pruned and not been grazed will yield about 50kg of wet fodder per annum.  A field with 1250 lucerne trees could therefore yield about 62 tonnes of wet feed per annum.
  • Wet chipped material can form silage if bagged or closed to ferment.  This is a wonderful feed for cattle and sheep.
  • Chipped material can be spread out on a tarpaulin to dry and can then be bagged and stored as dry feed.
  • Hand-strip the leaves of cut branches for a quick bucket of green feed for livestock.
  • Cut and drop thick layers of pruned branches around fruit trees to form a nutrient-rich, slow-composting mulch.

Here are our posts on pruning ~

Happy Farming!

Copyright © 2012 by Myles & Nadene Esterhuizen

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher permitted by copyright law.

16 thoughts on “Prune Trees

  1. More
    Ek is gelee in NC naby Richmond raak baie koud. Eerst ryp in April laaste 20 Oct nie kouer as -11C. Beplan om saad te ontkiem Jan uit te plant Nov. Sal plantjies die volgende winter kan oorleef? Saad of plantjies? is die plant regtig so goed soos die media se of bemark hulle net goed?


    • Hallo Jozua dit is goed om die planties te ontkiem en hulle in sakkies te hou totdat hulle 60cm hoog staan. Koop vir jouself 2.5 litre sakkies en sit die sakkies om opgehoopte sag grond sodat as die wortels by die sak uitgroei dan sal jy hulle maklik kan uithaal sonder om hulle te beskadig. Die bome hoef net deur een groei seisoen te gaan en hulle sal die ergste omstandighede deurmaak. Die boom kan tot 1.8m groeie in sy eerste groei seisoen.
      Die boom is uitstekende weiding maar n mens moet hulle dig plant om genoeg weiding te skep. Enige dier vreet baie en om jou rye 6meter uitmekaar of self 5 meter uitmekaar te vestig maak nie veel sin nie. Ek stap vanoggend deur n aanplanting en besef weer dat van my aanplantings te ver uitmekaar is.


      • Maybe tramline planting would be better. You can keep every 2nd interrow at 4 metres for the tractor, but bring the tramline to 2 metres. This would give you 1650 trees per ha, and you could still get in easily and reach each tree from the tractor.


  2. Myles

    Ons plaas is in Mpumalanga in die Carolina distrik. Ek beoog om boomlusern te plant vir beeste en bokke. Die plan is om rye 10m uitmekaar te maak en dan die plante 2m van mekaar te plant. Wat is jou aanbeveling?



  3. ek is besig om van die lusern wonder aan te plant. Julle praat van snoei, is dit nodig om hulle te snoei of kan jy maar net bewei?



    • @Chris, sodra die boompie 40cm hoog staan, sny hom 5cm terug sodat hy kan bos. Dit kan jy al in die sakkies doen. As jy die boompie uitplant kan jy dit op 1m hoogte snoei. Die diere hou dit op korrekte hoogte as hulle dit bewei.


  4. The silage will contain woody material – correct? Will cattle/sheep/goats eat the wood material? What % of woody material will they eat? When drying do you dry the material before chipping?

    I love your work !

    Mark Boland
    Baton Rouge lousiana USA


    • @Mark Boland, You are correct – the chipped material includes the branches, but they are not very woody, but rather green and soft. This provides excellent, nutrient-rich fiber in the fodder. The advantage of chipping your branches is that you quadruple the tonnage from your trees. I’m not sure of the percentages. All animals LOVE this food!

      We chip the branches while green and wet. The chipped material can then be dried and stored, or closed up in air-proof bags to create silage. Dried cuttings are harder to chip and are not as nutritious.


  5. Hello Nadene,
    I am wondering if you use a poison to control weeds around the tree lucerne trunk when the trees are young. I am worried about killing the tree lucerne if I use the incorrect poison.


    • @Grant, thank you for your question. Spraying weed killer is not recommended because lucerne trees have a lot of superficial lateral roots around the tree and they would be very susceptible to the weed killer.

      We generally cut back weed with a weed-eater or pull out the weeds around the trees. A thick, heavy mulch layer around the trees can also hold back weeds from growing.


You are welcome to comment ~

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s