This post should probably be called “thinning Japanese maples” because for the most part, I don’t do any serious shaping of the trees. These trees have been where they are for 20 years already and their shapes, for better or worse, have been determined by their placement.
The first that you’ll see is in a bed that backs to a house. It’s been given enough room so its shape is fairly regular and uniform and no one has to walk too near it so it’s been allowed to develop pretty naturally–no large branches were removed unless they died.
The next also stands alone in a bed, but unfortunately, a walk runs behind it. Therefore, it grows into the walk and The Spoiler, who, perish the thought, hates the idea that foliage should brush against anyone, has been known to take the electric hedge trimmer to the back and sides of it. So it’s fairly grotesquely shaped, needless to say, on the sides where it borders the walk. The Spoiler can’t be reasoned with on this score.
Here’s what that damage looks like. When thinking about siting your own maples, remember this.
From the front, this tree is lovely and natural, but does need to be thinned. Here’s the before photo.
Notice all the light colored wood here. As it turned out, I wound up taking out over half of the tree’s branches in dead wood! The project took almost two hours. I should never have let it go as long as I did.
Thinning these trees is actually pretty simple and I enjoy it. Almost all of it can be done with a simple hand pruner because the branches are so light and delicate (no hedge trimmer, ever please! About the heaviest tool I’d ever need is my long-handled lopper)
Because this hadn’t been done in 3 or 4 years, some of the branches were so dry that they actually broke off in my hand as I was reaching for other branches to prune. It made the work very quick and easy.
Here’s a “before pruning” photo of the first tree I discussed:
Here’s the same tree, after a section has been pruned.
For something a little more dramatic, here are the “after” photo of the Japanese maple it took me 2 hours to prune.
The branch structure–and the electric hedge trimmer mangling–is even more visible in this rear view now. And best of all, the leaves are out of the canopy and shouldn’t catch there quite so badly now.
So that’s all there is to it–people think there’s some “mystique” about Japanese maples. By keeping the dead wood thinned out, the tree should remain healthy and strong. And as you see by the snow, while the tree is dormant is the correct time to do it!