Answer: Fern Leaf maples have an average lifespan of 20 years so your tree should not be declining because of old age. However, maples are susceptible to verticillium wilt and root rots so these might be areas of concern for your tree. The normal growth habit is irregular and multi-stemmed so the overall shrubby shape you describe is probably normal. Start by pruning out the dead wood and keep pruning until you come to live wood. Once you've done that, inspect the tissue - it should be whitish with a greenish tinge. If you find a dark streak within the wood, it indicates verticilium and you may lose the tree. It would not be a good candidate for taking cuttings as this disease is systemic.
After pruning out the dead wood, if everything looks normal, you can take semi-ripe cuttings from healthy branches. Take 4-6" long tip cuttings that are begining to brown but are still pliable when bent. Dip the cut ends in rooting hormone and place them in moistened potting soil. Or, if there are branches you can bend to the ground you can try air layering. Simply make a notch in the branch, hold it open with a toothpick, lay the branch on the ground, cover it with soil, anchor it down with pegs or a rock, and keep it watered. By the end of summer the branch will have developed roots where it made contact with the soil. Cut the rooted branch away from the parent plant and pot it up.
Best wishes with your maple!
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