The Q&A Archives: Tree Pruning

Question: A couple of years ago I pruned my dwarf Japanese red maple. Since then it has grown 6 ft. long limbs and has turned into a large, spindly tree. Do you have any sugestions as to how to prune this back? Is it too late to stop,or reverse this trend?

Answer: Your dwarf Japanese maple is probably grafted onto a vigorous rootstock and should have a tendency to grow into a weeping, rather than an upright form. 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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