‘Main trick’ for pruning Japanese maples for ‘healthy’ growth

Alan Titchmarsh explains how to prune an Acer tree

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Japanese Maples have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but while they have needs that need to be attended to for best growth and colour, they are a tough and adaptable plant. However, to make the most of these glorious trees in your garden, you must prune them effectively if you want them to put on their best show, according to Japanese maple experts at MrMaple.com.

They said: “Trimming your Japanese maple can actually make your tree grow faster. If you trim the smaller branches back leaving larger and thicker branching with buds, your tree will often grow very quickly. 

“This is because you get a cleaner flow or nutrients from Japanese maples that have been trimmed. It is like exercising your Japanese maples. It is best to do this in the spring. 

“The main trick for trimming is to never trim more than 45 percent of your tree off. Yes, that means you can trim a Japanese maple heavily. 

“Remember to clean your pruning tools with rubbing alcohol. This helps keep your pruning tools sanitised which helps your Japanese maple stay healthy.”

Steps for pruning

1. Prune out branches you don’t like

According to the experts, gardeners should begin by pruning out branches they don’t like on their Japanese maple. 

They explained: “If the branch is larger than three quarters of an inch in diameter we recommend using a saw. 

“Large branches you don’t like only get bigger so it is best to prune them out early in the tree’s life.”

2. Prune out the twiggier smaller branches

The maple experts said: “Smaller branches only make smaller branches. This means these will make the tree grow slower. 

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“By pruning your Japanese maple and leaving the large branches you will get a larger tree quicker.”

3. Trim out conflicting branching on your Japanese maple

This means if two limbs are touching and are too close, one of them should be trimmed out.

The pros noted that a lot of pruning is judgement calls. They said: “Picking which one stays and which one goes will be a judgement call that only the owner or the pruner can make.”

4.  Keep one branch as a central leader

If gardeners are trimming an upright selection, they need to make sure to keep one branch as a “central leader”. This is typically the tallest part of the tree on most upright Japanese maples.

The experts added: “If you are trimming a dwarf or a lace leaf Japanese maple, you can trim the Japanese maple to accentuate the natural shape of the tree. 

“This can be done with lace leaf types by trimming your Japanese maple to create different levels of branching.”

5. Trim out the fishtails

When there are three small branches coming out of the terminal buds on the end of a branch, it is often good to trim out the middle branch, advised the experts.

They said: “This gives room for the other two branches and allows them to have more energy.”

Watering Japanese maples

Another way to care for Japanese maples is to water them. The experts said that this task will be “easy” if gardeners remember one “key” detail.

They explained: “The key is that Japanese maples like good drainage, but also like regular amounts of water. The key when planting is to not to overwater your tree. 

“It is best to water your Japanese maple, then allow that to dry out. Once you give the soil around your Japanese maple the finger test and realise that it has dried out, then it is time to water again. 

“Watering times in different soils in different environmental conditions may vary, It is best to figure out what works best for your tree.”

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