...we feel that costly plants shouldn't be cut?
Seems like the more a gardener pays for something the more
likely that plant is going to be allowed to run rampant or grow
Prime examples: Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) and
other small Asian maple species such as fullmoon maple (Acer
japonicum) and paperbark maple (Acer griseum). You
might pay two or three times more for these than for similar sized
"ordinary" ornamentals such as a crabapples and magnolias. Yet all
of the trees may grow equally quickly. The Japanese maple may even
have the greater growth rate.
If you value your Japanese maple -- upright
"full size" variety or lacy weeper
-- prune it regularly so its shape is most pleasing and its size
doesn't get away from you. Many varieties will top 20 feet unless
they're pruned regularly.
Keep an upright
Japanese maple tree small
Here's a Japanese maple (right) we prune every two
years to keep it from getting any larger than what you see here. It
was purchased on sale in a 2 gallon pot at four feet tall about 11
years before this photo was taken. It's a variety similar to the
one pictured above. It will reach 20 feet if allowed to grow to its
We pruned it for shape at planting and again after a year. Since
then we've pruned it four additional times to restrict its size.
We're about to do that again.
(We're also getting it ready to move to another place --thus the
digging at its feet to root prune it, but that's a story for
Right: First we
shorten all the branches we've designated as main limbs. We cut
each one back to a side branch that is growing in the right
direction to become a graceful new leader. You can probably see
three of the cuts as white stubs in this photo.
Then we shorten and thin the side branches so that each new
leader is at the head of the pack. We'll show you how this is done,
using a limb removed from the left side.
Below, left: Here's the limb. It's just yard waste now but
it is the same size and has the same density as those left on the
plant we're pruning. We use it to demonstrate since it's far easier
to see what we're doing with it in isolation.
Below, right: Here is what we remove from such a
Right: When we're done, the tree looks
like this and can grow for two more years before it's time to prune
Japanese maple from
Weeping Japanese maples tend to become little more than bushes
-- weeping to the ground and so dense that their branching and
trunk can't be seen.
The first step in pruning to restrict the size of the green
laceleaf Japanese maple shown below, yet keep it tree like, is to
remove some excess branches. This selection and thinning
process -- what we call pruning for shape -- would have been
accomplished more simply when the tree was younger and its branches
less tangled and thick. However, it wasn't done so we're sorting
out those branches now.
You can learn more about deciding which branches are essential
and excess, in Keep a tree small,
unabridged, Prune dwarf maples, and
Pruning Japanese maples in the spring ensemble issue
What's Coming Up 142.
For now, it's enough to say that on such a tree as this the
process involves significant hmming and hawing, and crawling under
and then back out from under the tree to contemplate from all
angles, "What if that limb and all its foliage was gone?
Below, left: Given observers on the outside, you can save
yourself some crawling by wiggling the branch you're considering
for removal, or (below, right) gathering all its foliage in your
hands then asking those on the outside, "So all this foliage would
be gone. Will we miss it terribly? Will there be an unendurable
Eventually we crawl in and take at least one limb out.
Then we shorten and thin the remaining limbs, starting at the
tips and working back through the side branches just as you saw for
the upright tree.
In the photos here, Carolyn Riedel, Nancy, Jim and Katie Ranieri,
Gay Norton, Chris Orndorff and Judy Fritzsche assist. Behind the
camera, Virginia Bergin did us a great favor by recording the work
when Steven was called away.
Below: Et voila. Left, before our cuts. Right, after a
If it doesn't look pruned, if it just looks better, you've done
well. - Janet -