Pruning Maples

It’s November! Every year I say “How’d the year go by so fast?” But seriously, this year! Wow! It flew by.
The fall in Oregon is such a special time. September is still hot so we try to squeeze as much of summer out of it as possible. Then October creeps in and the temperature starts dropping. The leaves on the deciduous trees start turning a little golden but we still get several beautiful sunny days. Once Halloween passes and we slide right into November the leaves are in their full fall glory. I have three maple trees along the street in front of the house, two lace leaf Japanese maples right up against the house, two tall, lace leaf maples near the house in the backyard and one broad leaf maple in a pot on the patio. They are absolutely beautiful when they change color. They put on a show for everyone in the neighborhood and seem to belting out their highest notes of energy before going dormant for the winter. They’re truly a show stopper.

pruning maple trees
One of my lace leafs has been competing in the “City’s ugliest maple tree” contest for the last several years. Someone did a cruel whack and hack trim job to this poor little tree before we bought the house and I’ve been nursing it back ever since. Her brother has a beautiful shape; nice crown at the top, elegant flared branches sloping down evenly all the way around. Meanwhile, this little girl looks like someone dropped a book on her head and squashed out her limbs in a haphazard shape that she just can’t recover from on her own. Looking closely you can see thin branches growing in every direction, crisscrossing over other branches and even growing together with nearby branches in some places.

 

maple trees

In the fall her leaves die and stay on her branches in a tangled mess where they accumulate bacteria and disease that can make the tree unhealthy. The leaves should fall gracefully to the ground where they would rot in place and put carbon and other nutrients back into the soil. I decided it was time for a heavy thinning of this tree this year so that’s what I tackled today. The ideal time to trim maple trees is in the spring right after the first buds appear because the sap is no longer under pressure. Less sap weeps from the cuts once the leaves appear. I decided to trim this little tree now because the branches are so compacted and overgrown I can’t see what needs to be cut unless the branches are bare.  The first step was manually pulling the dead leaves off the tree in order to actually see what I was going to cut.


Next I carefully inspected the natural shape of the tree, looking carefully at the thicker, curving main branches that first come off the trunk. I identified the branches that were already dead and needed to be cut back. I looked for any curving branches that bent into another branch or curved too much that it was sending the limb back toward the house. I started by cutting these larger branches to thin out and redirect the main limbs.

After the primary limbs were selectively removed I moved out to the tangled web of thin branches and twigs that caused the tree to look too thick and heavy. I had to keep in mind the shape I was trying to achieve. I would like both lace leafs to look the same with a nice round top and an even cascade of branches that would give it a bit of a mushroom shape. One of the issues with this tree is the flatness on the top and again in the center. Over the last few years I’ve been working to regrow the crown into a rounded shape so I was careful not to remove any of these vital little branches. In the center or belly of the tree I needed to encourage a more rounded, fluffy look so I tried to only trim the growth on the underside of each branch. That way the new growth on the top of the branch could continue to grow up and fill out the flattened center.


Finally, I stepped back one last time to look at the new shape and tried to imagine how the new growth would look in the spring. There were a few additional areas that needed a light trimming so it wouldn’t look lopsided or too thick. I think she looks a lot better! Even bald she’s definitely feeling better about herself!

maple tree
Be sure to check back in the spring when the new growth starts to come in for weekly photo updates so you can see how the new, bright green leaves look on her, now elegant, frame!

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