How to prune Japanese maples – “avoid unnecessary damage”

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Knowing how and when to prune Japanese maples is an important aspect of caring for these garden stunners. Pete Smith, arborist and urban forestry program manager at the Arbor Day Foundation, said, “It’s important not to over-prune Japanese maples, so take time throughout the year to observe your tree and to get to know him. Don’t prune your Japanese maple like other shade trees in your landscape. Instead, think of your specimen as a living sculpture that you create in your garden. It should be pleasing to the eye all year round, and that starts with proper pruning, judiciously applied each year.

For pruning Japanese maples, Bloomscape gardening expert Lindsay Pangborn advises, “When pruning, step back frequently to get an overview and make sure you’re happy with the overall shape you’re creating. .

“When pruning main branches, always use the three-cut rule to avoid unnecessary damage.

“First, cut the branch close to where the final cut will be. Second, working on the outside of your undercut, cut through the branch to remove most of the weight.

“You will end up with a heel, which should be removed in the third stage. Be careful not to cut the branch collar.

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However, if gardeners have missed this window, it is not too late as they can be pruned at other times of the year as well.

Stuart Mackenzie, horticulturist, arborist and expert at Trees.com said, “Japanese maples can be pruned just about any time.

“I like to prune my Japanese maples from late summer to early fall.

“I can crown any unwanted growth; weak attachments are easier to spot. The awning can also be opened for better air circulation.

“By this time of year, the tree will have recovered from any winter damage and the disease will be easily identifiable.

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“There will also be less bleeding (sap running) now compared to spring.”

While in theory gardeners can prune Japanese maples any time of the year, they should ideally avoid late spring and high summer.

Pruning too late in the spring will remove a lot of new buds, which could limit the tree’s growth potential for the year.

Lindsey Hyland, Founder of Urban Organic Yield, said: “Ideally wait until new growth has started, but before the leaves have fully unfurled.

“This ensures that the tree won’t lose too much of its energy reserves when it starts to grow again.”

However, if the tree is out of shape and really needs pruning, gardeners should go ahead and sacrifice new growth.

Severe pruning in the high summer heat can be problematic as it will minimize the tree’s shade benefits and also open the tree up to scorching heat.

Lindsay explained, “Summers are typically stressful for Japanese maples due to high temperatures and long dry spells.

“Removing branches in the summer also exposes leaves and bark that were previously shielded from direct sunlight and can cause scorching and leaf drop.”

If gardeners must prune in the summer, the expert urged them to remove “no more than a quarter” of the foliage and wait for a period of cooler temperatures and regular rain.

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