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How to Trim Chinese Flame Trees

By James Young ; Updated September 21, 2017

Drooping clusters of small yellow flowers cover the canopy of mature Chinese flame trees in early summer. The show doesn't end with that, since the flowers mature into pink 2-inch long fruits with the look of delicate paper lanterns. Flowers and fruit rise above the tree's canopy on panicle stems, giving the Chinese flame tree a showy look for most of the growing season. Without proper pruning, flame trees may be short-lived, since branches break and trunks split easily. Even mature flame trees 40 to 60 feet tall need annual attention.

Train young Chinese flame trees to a single central leader. Snip off any competing vertical shoots to avoid the double-trunked form the flame tree naturally favors.

Prune off lower limbs when the tree reaches 15 feet in height. Limbs droop when heavy with with foliage and flowers, making access beneath the tree limited. Keep main branches above head height to allow room for mowers.

Watch for double stems and limbs with V-shaped saddles--the connection between branch and trunk. The weak wood of the flame tree often splits under strain--favor the branches with rounded saddles over those with V-shaped junctions.

Ease the load on weak branches by clipping up to a third of the side branches back to the main stem. Reducing the weight also lifts the branch. Trimming out side branches does less harm to the shape of the tree than end trimming.

Inspect the upper structure of the Chinese flame tree during the winter when the foliage falls. Prune out weak or damaged limbs, dead wood and vertical branches which compete with the main stem.


Things You Will Need

  • Pruning saw
  • Pole saw
  • Limb loppers
  • Pruning shears


  • Remove any limbs which show bark inclusions at the connection between branch and trunk. Bark pockets mark weak junctions and are the first to fail in storms and high winds.
  • Save a few clusters of "paper lantern" fruits for use in dried flower displays.


  • Older and taller Chinese flame trees often suffer severe damage because the upper canopy grows out of reach of trimming tools. Faults developing in the highest level of the tree could eventually split the crown. Consider 30 years of age the upper average lifetime of the Chinese flame tree and make stronger species the mainstay of the home landscape.

About the Author


James Young began writing in 1969 as a military journalist combat correspondent in Vietnam. Young's articles have been published in "Tai Chi Magazine," "Seattle Post-Intelligencer," Sonar 4 ezine, "Stars & Stripes" and "Fine Woodworking." He has worked as a foundryman, woodturner, electronics technician, herb farmer and woodcarver. Young graduated from North Seattle Community College with an associate degree in applied science and electronic technology.