The Q&A Archives: Japanese Maples

Question: We had a terrible freeze in April and now a drought. Our Japense maples were beautiful prior to the freeze. One of our maples has only put out leaves close to the trunk. Its branches are bare. We planted this tree six years ago. Our two weeping Japanese maples are still putting out leaves, but we have bare branches on those too. I have been feeding them Miracle Gro liquid food once a week, and watering as much as possible. What do you think of their chances of full recovery? Some of the branches are splitting too? Should I prune now or wait until when? Thank you!

Answer: Sadly, it sounds like your trees were badly stressed and suffered some extensive winter damage, then are slow to recover due to the drought. The best you can do is keep them mulched with about three inches of organic mulch and water so the soil stays evenly moist like a wrung out sponge. (Do not overwater, just keep the soil a little damp. Make sure your watering is soaking down to the roots. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig to see how far it actually soaked in; sometimes this can be surprising.)

If you are going to fertilize, a slow release granular such as Hollytone would probably be better, do not overfertilize as this will add more stress. You could also use a top dressing of good quality compost.

You should trim off any split branches and any dead wood. Begin at the branch tips and check for live wood. Live wood will have green inside the bark and be somewhat flexible. Dead wood will be off color gray or brown, dry and brittle and snap in your hand. Remove the dead tips until you reach live wood, then prune a little more if necessary to give a somewhat overall balance. Try to cut just above a branch or bud headed in the direction you would like the new growth to go.

I'm sorry about your trees.

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