Japanese Maple Pruning Tips
Japanese Maples can display their inherent natural grace without pruning; however, a little guidance and direction from the pruning shears will enhance and highlight this beauty. Dissected leaf or weeping Japanese maples are striking in summer when in full leaf, but with selective pruning they can be equally attractive during the winter and healthier throughout the year. In winter, after the leaves have turned brown and fallen, an unmanaged tree can expose a tangle of dead wood and crossing branches, which appear to be growing totally against the natural flow of the tree. The first step, as in all pruning, is to remove any dead or dying branches. These branches can be identified by their grey/white coloration. They are brittle and will break or snap when bent. Japanese maples are best pruned from the inside out, creating layers and space between the main branch structures. This method improves air circulation and provides sunlight exposure to more foliage. Once dead and crossing branches have been removed the next priority is to thin out branches that are growing too congested. Often these are secondary branches that grow parallel to the primary branch structures. Ideally branching should radiate out and to the side of the primary branch structure. This helps create layers within the canopy. When making a decision between two branches that are horizontally parallel, removing the lower branch is preferred. The next priority would be to remove branches with weak crotch angels. A good branch crotch will have a lot of visible tissue with a 'U' shape as verses a tight 'V' shape. The most desirable branch angles are between 45 degrees and 60 degrees. Bends and curves in the main scaffolding structure of the tree create movement and interest and should be encouraged. With yearly pruning, that mass of leaves and branches will become a work of art!