The Q&A Archives: Trimming A Japanese Maple Tree

Question: I have brought a Japenese Maple back from the dead, but now that it has totally grown back it is out of control. I would like to know how to trim this tree back so I can have it look like an umbrella can you help me?

Answer: If the branches are not out of proportion to the trunk, you might try training them to hang down by loosely tying rocks or other weights to the ends of the branches. If the trunk is small and the branches are growing every which-way, then some serious pruning is in order. Wait until late fall or early winter, after the leaves fall and the tree goes into dormancy. If you prune now, you'll encourage new growth that will be frost-tender. You can remove ill-placed branches by pruning them off completely, all the way back to the trunk. This will probably induce sprouts along the trunk next spring. Watch for them and rub them off when they appear. You can cut back the long branches by a third or even half of their length. As you decide where to prune, remember that the tree will probably produce two new branches wherever you make a cut. If you're unsure about pruning, make only a few cuts and wait to see how the tree will react with growth next season. You can always prune out branches in the spring and early summer if you don't like the effects of your pruning. Maples are very forgiving if your pruning cuts are poorly placed. The trick is not to remove any more than about one-third of the healthy wood in any one growing season. If your tree is terribly overgrown, plan to take 2-3 years to renovate it.

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