Make That Cut-Pruning The Laceleaf Maples

april-24-2009-008-2There is sometimes fear about pruning.april-24-2009-004-2Even more fear when it comes to expensive Japanese laceleaf maples.april-30-2009-037-2Many people do not prune them at all, for it is not really necessary.april-21-2009-201-2The trees are healthy and attractive without any pruning other than the removal of dead wood after winter’s end.april-30-2009-033-2But the branching of these trees deserves to be highlighted, we believe.april-17-2009-002-2To avoid the red blob look.april-30-2009-034-2A landscaper told me many years ago to not be afraid to prune these types of trees, that they will respond very well with graceful new branches fron the main stems. We had just purchased our first home in Tennessee, moving there from southern California with our family of six. The house sat on one acre of wooded land and came complete with a beautiful waterfall pond near the patio, a fern garden with stone pathways wandering through it and two mature weeping laceleaf Japanese maples, Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’. One was next to the back door and the other was along the steps up to the swimming pool. Both were visible from the road and were the showpieces of this professionally installed and maintained garden. The garden was one of the main reasons for us buying the house. I liked to garden, but really knew very little, if anything about design. The landscaper was retained for a while to help me learn how to take care of the property. I made a drawing and he built a raised herb garden with landscape timbers including a knot garden in the center on a hillside by the driveway. We quickly discovered this expense was too great and I felt I could manage the garden myself. Eventually I did learn to do so, after several years of trial and error. Near the end of our living in this idyllic place, offspring Semi, a senior in high school, had a secret New Year’s Eve party while The Financier and I and the younger kids went to a friend’s house for the same festivities. I became ill early that night, right after midnight and we came home to find the driveway and street at our house filled with cars, all the lights on, music blaring and teenagers everywhere. Without going into the gory details, a boy fell on the maple tree by the back door and broke the tree in half. I was heartsick and angry about this whole state of affairs but there is a happy ending. Besides Semi going away to college, Chickenpoet was already gone and the parties and general mayhem of teenagers had ceased. Gardoctor and Brokenbeat didn’t feel the need to be the hosts with the most at our house and we moved to Texas not long afterwards. But the damaged tree grew back with some cleaning up of the broken branches to be more beautiful than ever. In fact, people thought it had been pruned purposely in the Japanese style. Sometimes we told the story of the pruning, sometimes not.april-19-2009-009-2Residents of the pond, Casy and Fido are happy to get a little more light. Click here to read about the reincarnations of the pond.april-30-2009-039-2april-30-2009-035-2april-30-2009-036-2april-30-2009-038-2These are the good, the bad and the ugly of the cuts, along with the weapons of destruction. Upper left shows the felcos for small hands used for the smaller diameter branches and a pump action larger pruner for the big cuts. I use that only when the felcos and my own hand strength are just not able to cut the hard wood. The larger loppers lack the control needed and can sometimes even crack the wood. Upper right shows a good cut. What makes it good is the amount of wood left near the collar, just enough to form a nice scab for the wound. There is no peeling down of the bark, a bad thing, or cracking. This cut will heal nicely, nothing needs to be applied to help that process. The lower left is a branch that has been pruned too many times with the stubs longer than they should be. I will go back and take those down and smooth the edges to reduce die back that can result in insects entering and wreaking havoc inside the stem. The lower right shows an old cut that was not cleaned up with dead wood that broke off unevenly. This will have to be rounded with a pruning saw to prevent further dieback and aid healing of the wound. april-21-2009-204-2No matter whether they are pruned or not, this type of tree is one I cannot live without.
The first two photos are of A. ‘Crimson Queen’ on the daylily hill, before and after pruning. The next two shots are of A. ‘Crimson Queen’ on the left side of the pond, before and after pruning. This tree was purchased in Texas and brought to this house. The next two photos are of A. ‘Garnet’ on the right side on the pond before and after. The final shot is Garnet before pruning. This tree was purchased at a nursery in the town of the Tennessee home spoken of in the above story as a fairly large specimen. We bought it to plant at the Texas house. It barely fit into the minivan, and was severely pruned to get into the back in the back. We discovered that those types of trees are not happy in Houston. It was dug back up, repotted, pruned even more and transported back to this house while the girls were living here. It remained in the pot at the side of the house for three years before we moved here and it was planted on the hill, at an angle to drape over the pond. It has grown so much that it was blocking the pond and shading the fish too much. It may need more pruning.

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27 Responses to Make That Cut-Pruning The Laceleaf Maples

  1. Hi Frances, I was going to ask how anyone could possibly fall on the maple, but then I remembered my nephew and his friends as teens and, well, um, never mind! I love Japanese maples and I’m not afraid to prune anything. In fact, it might be fair to say I have few rational fears, only irrational ones, HA! Everything is always so nice in your garden.

    HA Monica, thanks. Another trait we seem to share, but I have never thought of it in quite that way! The said tree was very close to the back door, which had one narrow step up into the screened back porch. Easy to fall, actually, even without help. I am a pruning maniac around here, very impulsive too, not always a good mix. πŸ™‚

    • Vern says:

      I would like to talk with you, however, I have been unable to locate an email or phone number for you. Mine is 206.849.5852 in Seattle, WA Please call me

  2. gail says:

    Frances, I’ve begun to ask our son M about the activities and exploits he got away with as a teen!…You don’t want to know and neither did we! The pruning lessons are great, but I will leave all the risky cutting for our motorcycle riding, airplane jumping, rock climbing arborist. He can handle the stress! Or for you, when I see you before Spring Fling! Semi and I garden similarly, but the similarity ends there, I was a shy girl and didn’t party! Your first garden in Tennessee does indeed sound idyllic…but the one you’ve created and share with us, here…is wonderfully fantastic! I am ready for the rain to move on…how about you? gail

    HA Gail, you are so right. I have asked the offspring to please not go into detail about their teenage and college years. Ignorance is bliss! We already know enough to cause nightmares forever, no need to embellish that. Yet they love to talk about the good old days when they get together. Sigh. The rain is still with us too, but even though there are many chores that need doing, and I am tired of being inside, we still need every drop of rain the skies will give us. I may just get the rain gear on and go out anyway. Are you saying I should bring my felcos to your place? πŸ™‚

  3. Racquel says:

    I love the graceful appearance of the Japanese Maples after being trimmed. Your pruning really gave them a nice shape. They are true exclamation points in your garden.

    Hi Racquel, thanks so much. I really didn’t know anything about these trees until we moved into that other house. Sometimes they can be found marked down at the end of the season, around Thanksgiving, which is a good time to plant them in our zones anyway. I like to look at the shape of the main branches for gracful curves. They do appreciate some shade too. We lost several in that late freeze of 2007, so sad.

  4. marmee says:

    these maples are beautiful. that is a funny story with semi, sort of. wow what our teens can put us through. i have three that have made it out of there teens, whew. but three more to go…i hope i survive it all.
    i love the garden you have created.

    Hi Marmee, thanks. Whew is what I would say to imagining six kids, and not all of them grown yet too. Bless your heart. πŸ™‚

  5. Rose says:

    Frances, I don’t have any Japanese maples, sad to say, but I know I would be afraid to prune them for fear I’d do something wrong. Yours are beautiful, and your instructions excellent for anyone who is lucky enough to have one of these beautiful trees.

    My children were all angels as teenagers:) It is only now, years later, that the REAL stories are coming out:)

    Hi Rose, thanks. HA to your angels. Mine were/are angels as well. We like to dwell on the positives. It was that landscaper who gave me the courage to make that cut, and he was so right. Believe me when I say that the first few cuts were tiny. These types of trees can be real stars with pruning to reveal the branching structure through the leaves. During winter they are equally as beautiful with the graceful limbs hanging downwards. You really cannot make a mistake. πŸ™‚

  6. Pam/Digging says:

    Frances, I enjoy your family stories as much as your excellent gardening tips and beautiful photos. This post has a delightful combination of all three. I’m still chuckling over the secret party and the boy who fell on your maple. But as our eldest has just reached his teenage years, I’m sure the chuckling will cease for a time as these things happen to us!

    Oh Pam, the stories that could be told. The moves and the closeness of age of the offspring led to never a dull moment around here. And yes, there was no laughter that night, on anyone’s part. Including Semi and her friends who had to clean up the mess. Somehow it is one of our best stories though. Time brings a softening to those types of memories. Maybe that will help you get through those teenage years. Look to the future when they are all grown up, a joyous time. πŸ™‚

  7. ourfriendben says:

    Mercy, Frances, what a classic story! And of course your maples look gorgeous. I too love japanese maples and have three here—an amazing ‘Aconitifolium’, and ‘Aureum’ Fullmoon maple, and a Plantus unknownus from one of my former colleagues that has grown into a real stunner. Mercifully, they’re all green-leaved in season (two do turn incredible flame colors in fall), but if I had the red- or purple-leaved types I’d prune to lighten them up, too. Incidentally, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to move to my native Tennessee from California! talk about culture shock!

    Hi OFB, the culture shock was the move from rural PA to southern CA! It was another world, literally. We were so happy to return to the more rural and less populated part of TN. More back to normal, southern style. All of your maples sound wonderful, and the upright forms really need no pruning other than to limb them up if you wish to grow things underneath. The Aureum must be a standout, I have seen it in articles and on blogs.

  8. Joanne says:

    We have a mature Acer that was in our garden when we moved here nearly 30 years ago so over recent years it has been nssary to take the height out of the tree. Whilst it could perhaps have been pruned a little more artisticaly it never the less still looks lovely and it’s reduced height helps to let light into other parts of the garden. So thank you Frances sor your interesting post.

    Hi Joanne, thanks to you for stopping by. A mature tree is always wonderful. We lost our only large tree, ferngully, a red maple several years ago. Tall loblolly pines at the property edge are the oldest of our trees now. Everything else in the garden is still young and small. The little weeping maples will never be very large, maybe 10 to 12 feet if left unpruned. I won’t be around to see them reach maturity, but hopefully the trees will live long and prosper, with or without pruning. πŸ™‚

  9. Janet says:

    Good morning Frances, oh those kids! Think you have better humor than I. Think I might be minus one teen at that point. >:-O
    Your Japanese Maples are really pretty. I have done little shaping to mine. Will have to re-think it, though mine are only about 5 or 6 years old.

    Hi Janet, thanks. I was not in good humor that night, believe me! Many years later, even one year later, the humor began to emerge. The pruning is not necessary, I just like the look of seeing the branching structure, not to mention being able to see through to the plantings behind.

  10. Michelle says:

    wonderful maples. they look very happy. the garden is perfect as always!

    Hi Michelle, thanks. We recent rains have made everything happier here. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Learning to blind my eyes to the weeds and insect damage certainly helps with that. πŸ™‚

  11. Catherine says:

    It can get dangerous if I’m left alone with pruning shears. I’ve tried to prune one of our Japanese maples, but I don’t think I did a very good job. I agree that a little pruning on a Japanese maple does help to highlight their branches and leaves. They are beautiful trees for sure!

    Hi Catherine, thanks. Think of pruning like cutting hair, it will grow back, no matter the butcher job! Practice helps too. I have learned how to make the cuts that will heal nicely and hope for the best with the rest of it. πŸ™‚

  12. “You really can’t make a mistake!”- sounds like something I really need more of in my yard πŸ˜‰

    Hi Tessa, HA, then you would have to change your blog name! πŸ™‚

  13. tina says:

    They are so pretty Frances. I love the story of Semi and her party. Might her antics have something to do with being a redhead like her mother?? If so, you really can’t blame her. I am still remembering her school of gardening and it is a wonder anything survived there! Love the story of your special tree too. They are surely precious.

    Hi Tina, thanks. Oh that Semi, she was a handful, but such a sweetie too. She and I are both redheads from the bottle, so to speak! HA We have much to learn from her school of gardening, I am working hard to not do things that in the past I have done in the way of weedings and deadheading. The healthy plants in her garden are proof that her method works though. Her roses are having the best year ever, and the iris. She has way more than I do, having gone on a bit of a binge a couple of years ago. I am in charge of her maple and cherry trees, since I bought and planted them. The maple is almost of a size to prune, but not quite.

  14. gittan says:

    I can immagine you comming home that night… I’ve never pruned any of our Japanese Maples, maby I should! A small boy fell on our ‘Garnet’ when it was resently planted. I wasn’t happy I can say. I even thought it would die since I’ve been told that the shouldn’t be pruned. I really love those trees, all of them!

    Hi Gittan, thanks. You would not have wanted to be there when we got home earlier than expected that night. It was out of control and The Financier was quite angry. The maples are best pruned once they are more mature, and only the dissectums. Garnet is my favorite here, I love everything about it. Hope yours lived on. πŸ™‚

  15. Lythrum says:

    I have an irrational fear of pruning things. I guess I’m woried that I’ll kill them. You have pretty trees πŸ™‚

    Hi Lythrum, thanks. It was the landscaper who persuaded me to prune the weeping laceleaf maples. I am so glad he did too, for it is so fun and they really do not resent it at all. There are some things that should not be pruned, however these types of trees seem to grow even prettier with pruning.

  16. Brenda Kula says:

    I salivated over these fine-leaved specimens at Home Depot yesterday. Once the patios are built, I may just have to have one.

    Hi Brenda, they are the perfect small tree for patios and decks. Readily available, the smaller sizes are affordable too. Look for a nice branching. πŸ™‚

  17. Jenny B says:

    Ah, teenagers! You gotta love ’em, otherwise you would have to get rid of them! he,he! I always had trouble keeping mine in, and planted holly and pampas grass to discourage nocturnal outings via bedroom windows.

    Ah Jenny, you know the problems well, it seems! We had that same trouble, even with second story bedrooms. So glad those days are behind us!

  18. DP says:

    Hi Frances!

    The garden looks beautiful! I think I may need to learn more about landscaping from you. Your tree story is so tragic. But I’m glad there was a happy ending. I think I’d be fuming if I came home to a “secret” party!

    Hi DP, thanks, so nice to see you again. I know very little about landscaping, but there are lots of good books on the subject for a beginner. Trees and hardscape first! πŸ™‚ Fuming is a good way to describe how we felt at the time.

  19. Robin says:

    I have to prune my laceleaf maples so they won’t get too large for their space. I love those trees!

    Hi Robin, me too. Good thing they respond so well to pruning. πŸ™‚

  20. You are brave Frances. They look so sweet and delicate after their pruning.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. Brave, maybe? Foolish, probably. πŸ™‚ But these trees really like the pruning and put on even more luscious new growth afterwards.

  21. ryan says:

    I end up doing some pretty severe prunes on these kinds of maples because people shear them and create lots of unhealthy structure. They respond really well to pruning. I wish more people were afraid to use their shearers on their plants, and less people were afraid to use their pruners and loppers.

    Hi Ryan, glad to hear a pro speak about this type of pruning. Shearing is the worst thing that can be done, talk about the red blob look! The cuts need to be made against a larger branch, allowing just enough beyond the collar for a good scab to avoid the dead stub. It really isn’t difficult at all, any homeowner can do it.

  22. John says:

    I live in MA and have two Laceleaf Maples about 5 years old. One was turning into the Red Blob that you talk about it. I walked by it in the Winter and realize how beautiful the branches were. It took time to get up the courage but now after reading about your success I know I have done the right thing. I also have another that seems to be going more upright..I did remove several limbs to accomdate under plantings. I love that they are always noticed by company year round. Thanks for blog. I love all the comments. Jack

    Hi Jack, thanks for reading. Good for you making that cut! The maples really seem to do better with yearly pruning once you have gotten the trunk shape the way you want it.

  23. Heather Tucker says:

    I have a crimson queen that I bought from a local greenhouse. I got lucky and paid 50 bucks for this beauty,she was a few years old when I got her and I’ve had her for two years. I have always been afraid to prune as I was told it was a very delicate plant and easy to kill. But lately I’ve read that they are actually very tough little guys and pruning is encouraged. Can you give me more detail on how to do so? I’ve tried to find a step by step article with pictures and diagram of the plants anatomy but not much success…Thanks a bunch and love your pictures πŸ™‚

    Hi Heather, thanks for visiting. It sounds like you got a good buy with Crimson Queen. You read right, these trees love to be pruned. It is strictly trial and error as each tree has its own inner shape and it can take several years for the main trunk to develop. Start by pruning lightly, crossing branches, winter kill, etc. Always prune smoothly to the trunk, don’t leave a stub that can rot out. I like to cut the underneath branches so groundcovers can be grown there, but many people don’t prune at all and it is still fine. You don’t mention where you live, that can affect when the pruning is best done. Good luck and grab those pruners!

  24. Charlotte Bullins says:

    My laceleaf maple has different looking leafs growing on it. Is it safe to cut these limbs off or does anybody know what to do about this problem? Its also about ninety degrees here in Kentucky.

    Hi Charlotte, I think you are safe to cut off the different leaves. It may be that whatever type of maple you have is reverting. I have Butterfly, with variegated foliage that will throw out solid green leaves sometimes. I cut them off. It is in the 90s here in Tennessee, too. Too hot!

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