Trees and Shrubs forum→How can I prune my small tree?

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May 25, 2020 9:12 AM CST
Hi all, I am quite new to gardening and have noticed that my tree is getting a bit out of control. We are in a new home and it is our first year with this tree. How/where can I cut some branches so I can make it a bit smaller, but not hurt or kill the tree?
The tree is about 4 feet high and the branches are quite thin.

Thumb of 2020-05-25/wingo22/3ad681

Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
Quitter's never Win
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May 28, 2020 1:24 AM CST
Please don't prune your Acer now because it's not a good time to do it, and it will cause problems and will look like heck. It is absolutely beautiful now and anything you do will hurt the looks and growth. Let it be for the best results.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
central ohio (Zone 5b)
May 29, 2020 1:19 PM CST
Most modern pruning advice suggests you can do small-scale maintenance pruning at any time.

As for what to prune, what do you mean by 'out of control'? Personally, it looks pretty good to me, if a little dense.

Your tree is a dissectium japanese maple. They are supposed to mature to a graceful, slightly weeping habit, with the forms of the branches slightly visible through the leaves.

Here is an example of a similar mature tree (this one is red, but should have a similar habit)
Thumb of 2020-05-29/PlantingOaks/39a2f8
(from here:

Unfortunately, yours appears to have been grafted to a straight trunk a few feet off the ground, which is a short cut growers take to make them look taller quickly. It's always going to be a little awkward, but it can still be attractive.

You do not want to shear a tree like this. Don't cut branches or shoots in the middle, always remove them where they attach to the parent branch. You goal should be to thin out the dense and crossing branches in the middle and let the longer main branches dominate. Any branch that is growing back towards the middle of the tree, or rubbing against another branch should be removed.

Go slowly and take time to step back and look over your progress. Absolutely don't remove more than 1/3 of the leaves in one year. Probably much less than that should be a good start. You can always cut more later, but you can't put a branch back on.

Or, if you prefer something more geometric and manicured looking, rip it out and buy a boxwood or a standard rose or something that suits your taste. -- I know that sounds flippant, but I'm serious. Life is too short to hold on to plants that are never going to be what you want. You're only going to feel more guilty as it gets bigger, and waste time growing the plant you do like in the meantime.
[Last edited by PlantingOaks - May 29, 2020 1:35 PM (+)]
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Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
Quitter's never Win
Hummingbirder Birds Organic Gardener Dog Lover Cat Lover
May 30, 2020 1:12 AM CST
Plantingoaks your example doesn't look very good to me and you need to research a little more about pruning while dormant.. The wingo22 acer above has no need to any pruning at this time.

Here is a note from a Master Gardener who specializes in Acers. AAcers will respond very well to pruning. It is best to prune whilst the tree is dormant, so December to February would be an ideal time of year. Make sure to prune back to a bud – this means cutting just above the bud. If you leave any excess wood above the bud, the dieback could become diseased.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
central ohio (Zone 5b)
May 30, 2020 8:53 AM CST
Hmmm, do you prefer this?

Thumb of 2020-05-30/PlantingOaks/3b22cb

Seriously, pruning aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, and I'm sure we all would benefit from seeing your preferences as well.

My understanding is that it's easiest to see the structure when the tree is dormant, not that it is significantly better for the plant. I don't necessarily find this to be true when the goal of the pruning is to break up the structure of the drooping leaves to begin with. If wingo22 finds his tree unattractive currently, there is no reason he cannot do some work on it right now.


To your second point, iIf you are cutting where branches join, there should not be any dieback to worry about.

This is what I mean by cutting where the branches join. You should cut on the red line:
Thumb of 2020-05-30/PlantingOaks/fcf54c

What exactly do you think would die back in that cut?

You cut at a bud in situations where you are shortening a branch, because a branch stub past a bud won't grow, but you shouldn't really be shortening any branches on a JM to begin with, just thinning out the ones in the wrong place.

(OK, I did cut a six-foot tall whip on a young plant in half once to promote branching and because it just looked ridiculous, but that's not really an issue with OP's tree, and I didn't want to confuse the matter)

Name: Lee-Roy
Bilzen, Belgium (Zone 8a)
Irises Lilies Hostas Ferns Composter Region: Belgium
Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Region: Europe
Jun 12, 2020 8:42 PM CST
Acers are not know to be (too) vigorous, so "out of control" sounds a bit much to me. Also, I don't see what could be the issue really Shrug!
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member Dog Lover Cat Lover Keeper of Poultry Keeps Horses I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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Jun 12, 2020 8:47 PM CST
It is a very attractive little tree as is.

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