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Hornbeam Trees - lost leaves


I am very new to this site but I would very much welcome some advice on how to make my hornbeam trees retain its leaves over winter. I only recently purchased the house and in its back garden I have 8 or so hornbeam trees that are very tall (say 10m). I spoke to the previous owner who planted them to provide privacy from the tall building behind the house and she explained that they will hold its leaves over winter. Unfortunately in Oct/Nov '18 the trees lost its leaves meaning we had the pleasure of seeing the building behind the house which was not ideal!

I have spoken with a number of gardeners who said last year was an odd year in terms of weather which could have contributed to them losing the leaves. Also that given the trees are now so tall then they are no longer juvenile and the hornbeams can then lose their leaves. I also got told that as they have lost the leaves, there will be even more leaves on the tree this year (which is a good thing).

Is there anything I can do to maintain the trees so the leaves stay during the winter. I do not want to lose the height as that is important but could trim the sides, but not sure by how much and when. The leaves are getting ready to bud now and assume that over the next couple of months the new leaves will grow but just want them to stay!

Many thanks in advance.

Kind regards



  • Hornbeam and beech hedges keep their leaves in winter because they are induced to put on new growth later in the year than they'd otherwise do.  Leaves on that new growth don't "shut down" in autumn like leaves on an untrimmed tree.

    So yes - I think you can probably get your hornbeams to keep their leaves if you trim the sides, as you would do a hedge.  Late June is recommended, I think.  I wouldn't trim them hard, just about the amount you'd cut off if it was a hedge.  The only problem is that you're not cutting back the entire tree, so it may just decide to put on more growth vertically instead of thickening up its side branches... can you try with one tree?
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • Thank you for you replying so quickly. I will see how well the leaves grow in the next few months and how much coverage it has, but if I cut a foot off the top and trim the sides could that be the answer? I just don’t want to cut from the height too much! 

    To confirm, by trimming the tree it therefore thinks it is still a juvenile and then holds its leaves? 

    Many thanks
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 11,965
    I think they lost their leaves primarily from a lack of water during that very hot summer ( I noticed the same thing happen on a hornbeam in a school garden I look after). As your trees are so tall, they would need an awful of water (and this spring has been rather dry already), so it may pay you to get the hosepipe out after you have trimmed them.
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    It sounds like your trees are way too large to maintain leaves. I can't picture that height and the shape. I'm assuming they are not hedge like, but just tall trees planted in a row. In order to maintain leaves for longer periods in winter, the trees need pruning every year and kept far more shorter. The taller you allow it to grow, the harder it will be to prune and kept 'tight' so there are young branches producing more leaves. The key is to give them a prune about July time to avoid older leaves staying onto the winter.
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