Why Trees Can’t Survive Without Branches (Can They Grow?)

Tree top of an old tree

Have you ever wondered whether a tree could still thrive without all of the branches that make it appear the way it does? Branches are a significant portion of any tree, and they may just be more crucial than you think. Perhaps the real question is, is there a scenario where a tree could even survive without branches?

The importance of tree branches is widely underestimated. Trees can’t survive without branches as they are essential for a tree to grow and thrive. No branches mean no leaves, which limits the movement of nutrients and the amount of structural support that a tree needs to be healthy.

The reason branches are so foundational in the life and growth of a tree is actually pretty simple so we won’t keep you waiting any longer. Let’s get into it!

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Why Can’t Trees Survive Without Branches?

In short, branches hold the key to tree growth. 

The ends of branches have something called a meristem, which we’ll dive into a bit later, and this meristem allows cells to divide and grow to be particularly intense in these regions. 

Without branches, trees could rely on the meristems located toward the lower portion of the tree, near the roots, but this would not provide nearly enough growth for a tree to continue.

Wait a minute, so can trees grow without branches then?

Can Trees Grow Without Branches?

Branchless tree in a forest

When the majority of a tree’s major limbs, their branches, die or are removed there is quite a small chance the tree will successfully continue growing. 

Texas A&M reminds us that the larger a broken limb is, the less likely a tree is to be able to survive. Additionally, the more branches that are broken or lost, the more unstable the situation for a tree to grow.

At this point, the tree is no longer able to thrive and surviving is barely on the table. 

Why is this? Well, branches are a crucial part of the tree. 

But what if the tree itself grows without branches? 

This would be quite an abnormal situation, but the branches of a tree are so central to a positive development that a tree would not likely live for long without branches to support its internal systems.

A tree without branches is probably a tree that didn’t survive the previous winter.

How Trees Actually Grow Branches

Trees, as individual organisms, can grow in height because of their branches, but how does that really work out?

Branches hold the meristems of a tree, which are essentially the very endpoints of said branches. What are meristems, though? How on earth do they work? A meristem, simply put, is the center of intense activity which catalyzes growth.

How does it do that, you ask?

At the end of the branches is where all new cells of the tree are generated and able to expand. This means that trees essentially grow inward as they grow upward.

It’s important to note that most trees do not grow in the way that humans and animals do, where growth can occur in most parts of ourselves. When it comes to trees, the cells are produced in a limited number of locations.

Cue the meristems, and why branches matter so much!

Why Branches Are Important To Trees

Sprout growing from tree branch

If it wasn’t clear when we talked about branches being a vital component of a tree’s growing process, we’ll say it again:

Branches are a driving factor in whether or not a tree can grow taller and, therefore, at all. Branches are not only structural support for a tree. They don’t only hold leaves or act as a filter for wind and other elements. 

When it comes to the life cycle of a tree, it wouldn’t be possible without the way branches hold the meristems which create all-new cells of the tree. 

Branches are the catalyst for life, quite literally, in the case of a tree.

It’s important to note that some trees actually don’t grow branches near the base of the tree – it just isn’t efficient for them. You can learn more about why branches aren’t growing at the bottom of your tree here.

How To Care For Your Trees To Promote Branch Growth

Gardener watering a young tree in spring

Now that you know a little more about the extreme importance of branches, let’s talk about how you (note: not a meristem) can still help your tree to grow and stay healthy!

Maintain General Observance Of Your Trees

Keeping an eye on your tree is a very easy habit to get into, and can make such a huge difference. 

By taking the time to check in with your tree (this goes for any plant) you’ll be able to catch anything that may be wrong early on. This can lead to earlier prevention of disease, decay, infestation, and so many other things that could inhibit the health of your tree.

Keep Your Trees Hydrated

Speaking of the things you can do to keep your tree healthy in a preventative way, ensuring there is adequate water is a huge factor that many people seem to overlook. Water is key!

If your tree is not properly hydrated, it will need to focus more of its energy on maintaining its stability and less energy on flourishing and doing the best it can!

If you are someone who is gone a lot, are forgetful, or are just busy, using an irrigation system like this Blumat Drip System could be a lifesaver (and a timesaver, too!).

Fertilize Your Trees

If you are a regular reader or know some things about trees already you’ll know that fertilizer is a key component that is quite often overlooked.

Since we are talking about alllll the trees today, and not just one specific species, we can’t tell you exactly which kind of fertilizer you should be using. We can arm you with the tools to figure it out, though!

By the end of this article, you won’t only understand why branches are so important but you’ll also be able to navigate the world of fertilizer as a confident customer.

Let’s start by explaining the numbers you’ll be looking for on a fertilizer bag:

You’ll see 3 numbers, 10-10-10 for example, which are referred to as an NPK value. This value stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and indicates how different elements are balanced within the fertilizer. 

So, if you see 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 or 20-20-20, you’ll know that this is a fertilizer that is well-balanced and can work on most, if not all, trees.

For your specific species of tree, we suggest looking up the NPK value that is recommended by experts and going from there. 

A great, balanced fertilizer, if you’re looking for something that is a safe bet, for now, is the Miracle-Gro Tree & Shrub Plant Food Spikes that come in a 12-pack and give you a great bang for your buck!

Prune Your Trees

We’ve been talking about how trees can’t do well once they lose their branches, so why on earth is there a section in this article about cutting off those very same branches?

It’s simple, really. General maintenance-based pruning is a whole different story from the loss of branches that takes place and causes a tree to lose its energy, lifeforce, and appearance. 

Pruning in a consistent, but educated manner can actually promote the regrowth of branches when there are too many crowded in one spot, when branches are beginning to decay and/or die, and when the tree itself just needs a little TLC.

If your tree is in trouble, check out our article on saving a tree with stripped bark here!

That’s A Wrap!

Get it? Soon, you’ll be able to take the next step in caring for your tree- whatever that means for you!

Thanks for sticking around to learn about the reasons branches are so important to the success of a tree, how to keep your tree healthy and maintained, and more!

We wish you the best of luck as you continue along your tree journey. May you (and your trees) be successful and see constant growth along the way. 

References

Bertram, J. E. (1989). Size-dependent differential scaling in branches: the mechanical design of trees revisited. Trees, 3(4), 241-253.

Henriksson, J. (2001). Differential shading of branches or whole trees: survival, growth, and reproduction. Oecologia, 126(4), 482-486.

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