Sturdza Pruning

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Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' | Silver Weeping Pear Tree in leaf - Sturdza pruning technique

Have you ever thought of pruning trees and shrubs using the Sturdza pruning technique? One of my trees - a Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' better known as the Weeping Silver Pear tree is a bit of a wild thing. It likes to let its hair down each year and then does a spot of back combing in a very unruly fashion.

Well not for much longer! It's going to become elegant and look as if every branch has been run through a fine toothed comb.


Furthermore it's going to become light and airy and look as if every branch isn't crowded out. I want its soft grey leaves to have room to grow and for the rain to fall effortlessly on to the plants below. And for light dappled shade underneath.

Am I asking too much sophistication from this tree...?

Sturdza Pruning Technique


For 10 years I just did some basic pruning. Which amounted to making sure the weeping branches didn't touch the soil, But it's now in for a french makeover. Or should I say a french manicure. Therefore I want my tree to have that je ne sais quoi that only the french gardeners have mastered. In fact its about to have 'la taille de transparence better known as the Sturdza Pruning Technique applied.



sturdza pruning silver weeping pear tree

the ornamental pears on a weeping pear tree - inedible
the ornamental pears on a weeping pear tree - inedible


sturdza pruning technique on weeping pear tree

Princess Sturdza

The late Princess Greta Sturdza developed this method. She perfected it along with Dominique Cousin in her famous Le Vasterival garden in Upper Normandy. That garden is reputed for its meticulous planting and pruning of full grown forest trees. Smaller trees grow below these. In turn shrubs and ground cover grow under the smaller trees.


Hence it gives year-round interest.

I first read about this pruning technique a few weeks ago in The Telegraph. Mary Keen went to John Massey's private garden at Ashwood Nurseries. There Mary found a beautifully pruned light and airy weeping pear tree that had been pruned using the Sturdza Pruning Technique. John had been a good friend to the Princess and picked up the technique from her garden.
As soon as I saw John's tree I just knew that's what I wanted mine to look like I dropped him an email.
I also learned from the article that John prunes his very close to the main branch as the wounds heal quicker. In fact he uses soil as a wound dressing. Now that is new to me!  Not so sure what arborists would make of that!


What is this Art of 'La Taille De Transparence’ ?

You selectively thin out branches of trees and shrubs from the inside rather than the outside branches.
This pruning technique can:

  • enhance the figure of a tree and its adornment of flowers and leaves.
  • encourages a more natural silhouette.
  • can increase its vigour.
  • highlight the bark as an ornamental feature.
  • eliminates the problems with dense shadows.

  • allows light and rainwater to reach the ground.
  • more under planting can take place which is so beneficial in a small garden.
  • restores a sense of space in the garden.
  • the tree becomes transparent and you can see beyond the branches in the garden behind it.
  • the tree becomes much more resistant to wind and storms as the wind can filter through the branches.




Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' | Silver Weeping Pear Tree Spring Flowers

PhotobucketPyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' | Silver Weeping Pear Tree Spring Blooms

When to Prune?


My tree isn't going to get this makeover any day soon.

The safest time of the year to prune a Weeping Pear Tree is between June and August when the tree produces a special type of gum.  In fact any tree that belongs to the Prunus family should be pruned at the same time as they too produce the special gum.

This gum prevents the spread of the silver leaf fungal threads. (though remember you're going to be cutting away many of the spring flowering branches).

 The  Sturdza Pruning Book

A friend bought me the book which was just released last November 2011: La taille de transparence : Et autres tailles simples des arbres et des arbustes.  (Affiliate link)

But I need to brush up on my high school French as it's all written in French. It documents the pruning of 25 different plants. It includes the silver pear tree, magnolia, maple, bamboo, aucuba, forsythia, camellia, hydrangea, lilac, weigela, deutzia, Kolkwitzia, and more. What makes it more exciting is that the book is loaded with photographs. Despite not being fluent in French you can see the pruning cuts that should be made and the ones to avoid throughout the course of a year.

I'll keep everyone up to date later in the year when hopefully the first pruning cuts are made. You can view some more examples of the pruning technique here...though it mightn't be to everyone's taste.

this is a book called la taille de transparence detailing how to prune using the sturdza technique
illustrating the sturdza pruning technique
Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh. She also writes and shares her nature images on

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10 Responses

  1. tinajo

    I´m really bad at these things so I´m no help really – but it sounds interesting! 🙂

  2. HolleyGarden

    I have never heard of soil as a wound healer, but I'm going to give it a try! And I'm interested in learning more about this pruning technique, too!

  3. Donna@GWGT

    There really is an art to proper tree pruning and a well maintained tree is such a garden delight.

  4. Liz

    Beautiful images!! There's nothing like a beautiful flowering tree (or two) in your yard.

  5. Lucy

    Such beautiful pictures. Shall I put a link to this on the Tree Following List?

  6. debsgarden

    Oh, my! I once saw a weeping silver pear tree for sale, and I almost bought it for my own garden! It was very expensive, so I passed on the purchase, but I have dreamed of it since. It sounds like the French method of pruning would be perfect for your specimen, and soon your 'wild thing' will fulfill your dreams!

  7. Denise

    Very interesting post. Too bad the book is not available in English. In Japanese gardens trees and shrubs are also pruned to let light and air in and to show the branches. Thank you for the information. I think I must buy this book.

  8. Anonymous

    Can i prune a weeping pear in september there is small fruit on the tree i have it 10 years it has never been pruned.

    • Rosie Nixon

      I would wait until Summer 2015 as there's too much of a risk of introducing silver leaf disease into the tree when you prune later or too early in the year.