Trimming A Branching Soft Coral

If the marine environment is of high quality then the occupants should do well. This includes the growth of corals which of course is good. However, this in itself can demand attention from the aquarist.

Some soft branching corals can show very significant growth.This could interfere with seawater flow and light availability – other corals could suffer because of it. A large branch over a smallish coral, throwing it into shade, could mean problems for that coral if the aquarist let things be.

So what can be done? It’s a little worrying when the question of cutting a coral arises and the thought ‘What if?’ comes to mind. The fact is that provided the environment is good corals repond well to trimming. The trimming shouldn’t be too severe of course and thought needs to be given to where and how. The where is easy, it’s the offending branch. The how is also easy, just some care is required.

All that is required in the way of equipment is a pair of quite long and definitely sharp scissors and a bowl to put the cut off coral in. A sharp knife of good length could also be used but scissors tend to permit more accuracy generally.

It’s not time for cutting just yet. First, the cut point should be made where the coral will not be left looking out of balance, that is, it should still look normal when the branch is removed. Usually the cut is made near to the main stem and a very small distance away from it.

Once the cut point has been decided and before the coral shrinks because of interference from the aquarist, the size of the cut off branch should be noted. Is there anywhere in the aquarium that it could be relocated? If there is then it can be securely placed between rocks. If not, then the plastic bowl will hold the piece until it can be transported to the dealers (speak to them first) or passed on to another aquarist. Before being transported in a plastic bag the cut off coral can be placed in seawater in the bowl and the bowl floated in the aquarium to maintain temperature.

The time has come for the cut to be made. Before approaching the coral the aquarist should note the angle the scissors will need to be at. Hands into the aquarium and with the scissors placed as required a single cut right across the base of the the branch should be made – do not open and shut the scissors as would be done when cutting a length of cloth, what is needed is a straight neat cut without any hacking. The branch should come away completely. Sometimes the branch is still fixed to the stem by a shred of coral – cut this also in one movement. The cut branch should never be pulled off by shearing any attachment by force.

The coral will of course react, quite understandably really! It will shrink and go into ‘sulk’ mode. It could also eject some milky substance into the seawater, this is a result of deflation and usually not a concern. The coral will remain closed up for a day or so but will inflate again. The coral should be watched for any sign of rot around the cutting site, this is unlikely if the job has been neatly done. If any rot does occur then it should be removed with about 1/4″ of the cut into healthy coral. For cuts of this type a very sharp knife is generally best.

The photo at the head of this text shows a coral two days after being trimmed. In the photo below the branch on the left of the coral is re-growth from a similar trimming operation which occurred about five months earlier.

Generally speaking corals have a high capacity to re-grow. The re-growth is likely to be different from the original, and where one branch has been removed for example two could re-grow, each of a smaller diameter or just one again. Corals can be trimmed time and again and provided the trimming is not too severe there will usually not be a problem.

Trimming corals has the advantage that additional corals are being produced for use by the aquarist, other aquarists or for the dealer. This is good for the hobby and the reefs. An aquarist who designs a reef carefully could fully populate it over time by using additional corals, although this is not so good an option from the point of view of captive reef variety.

Maintaining an established reef is simple overall – provide a high quality environment, properly populate and take necessary actions following observation, such as the one described here.

Trimming A Branching Soft Coral
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21 Comments
  1. Than k you so much for this article! I have been having a hard time working on fragging things in my tank

  2. Hi Jodi.
    Glad the text appeared at a useful time for you. It is very generous of Mother Nature to permit the trimming of such corals, without it the aquarist’s task would be much more difficult. As said there is the advantage that new corals are produced and these should also grow. Not all corals are so considerate to us unfortunately.

  3. Hi John, this is a great information, very detail and informative.

  4. Really glad you found it useful.

  5. Great article, thanks! What is the name of the coral in the bottom photo? Is the coral in the top photo a Kenya Tree?

  6. Glad you enjoyed the article. Now then, identifying corals! Even qualified professionals hesitate.
    The bottom coral is commonly called a ‘finger coral’ (really helpful that, there are so many by this common name) and was bought as such. It possibly may be a member of the Paralemnalia species.
    No, the top photo is not a ‘Kenyan Tree’. Again it was sold as a ‘finger coral’. It may possibly be a member of the Sinularia species, possibly ‘Sinularia notanda’.
    After purchase I very hopefully identified them from the book ‘Corals’ by Eric H. Borneman having gone through a good ferw of my books. It could be (and probably is) that the identification is wrong.

  7. Hi John,

    thank’s a lot for this very informative and understandable article. Currently I’m reading as much as possible about marine environments, because I’m a newbie in this area. Your article is definately very helpful.

  8. Hello Daniel.
    There are a large number of texts on this site that should be of use to you, both under the ‘Articles’ heading and also the ‘Blogs’. Don’t forget that if you would like a specific answer (as far as is possible) there is the ‘Forum’ which is used for this purpose (or comments if required of course).
    Glad you found the text useful.

  9. continue with the the great work on the site. I kinda like it! 🙂 Could maybe use some more updates more often, but i am quite sure you got more or better stuff to do like we all do. 😉

  10. Hello Resan.
    When the website first started there was a continuous stream of texts going on, one a day. This built up the total texts (obviously!)and now things are somewhat more relaxed. I enjoy writing the texts and do them when ‘in the mood’ but I do try not to leave things too long..Yes, you’re absolutely correct about loads of other things to do – where do the hours go? Better than not having enough to do, at least that’s what I keep telling myself!

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  16. keep up the good work on the blog. Do like it! :p Could maybe use some more updates more often, but i am sure that you got other things things to do , hehe. 😉

  17. The blogs used to come thick and fast a couple of years back. However, there is now so much information on the site I sometimes repeat myself, though that doesn’t matter really. I do try not to let the gap stretch for too long …. in fact one is about due anytime now. You’re correct, as I’ve said before there is so much to do in all sorts of areas I really don’t know where the time goes!

  18. Wonderful post, A fish tank is said to be a complete fish tank only when all the necessary accessories and equipment are installed in it. In case of freshwater tanks the accessories required, are few and simple.

  19. Hello. Yes, aquariums need the proper support equipment.
    It could also be said that a complete aquarium is one properly stocked and maintained, giving pleasure to the aquarist by its success.

  20. I am in the position that I must sell or move.them. a 55g, 90g, 210g, 150g, and a 225g all are less than 2 years years old.
    + tons of accessories, all top of the line. All but the 225g are established Reef tanks with a great collection of fish, over 40.
    Any Suggestions?????

  21. Hello Richard.
    Best to advise your location and hoped for prices, plus whether your willing to sell in seperate parts or require a total sale (that is, sell each aquarium as a system). Buyers will need to know details of the systems and their parts. If the information (with a photo if possible of each system) is put on as many relevant to your location marine websites as possible that will support sales hopefully you’ll be successful.
    What a lot of aquariums! If you decide to move them then there’s an article on moving tanks under Articles.

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