Pruning a Young Japanese Maple ?

Discussion in 'Maples' started by Bobgerard, Aug 21, 2013.

  1. Bobgerard

    Bobgerard New Member

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    Hello dear friends!
    OK, I am the biggest answer seeker in here I think, and hope I am not becoming a nuisance, as I am so glad to be getting such wonderful answers and shared wisdom from members here.
    My new question is regarding a Bloodgood Japanese Maple I planted in May. It is doing really well, enjoying partial sun/shade in it's happy little corner in our back yard in New Jersey. It is about four feet high now.
    Over the last several weeks I have noticed a peculiar thing, as two or three branches have sprung out and are growing really long, as opposed to the rest of the tree. (I am attaching a few photos to show, though they may be a bit dark as I took them last week one day in the early morning) . I was tempted to trim them to about the top reaches of the rest of the tree, but thought it best to ask here, as I don't want to risk injuring the new tree, or disrupting its natural growth.
    So, please advise me as to next steps, if any. Prune or not? If to prune, how and where on the branch, and if not, what should I expect to see develop?
    As always, Many many thanks!!
    p.s. the branches have actually grown even longer than what you see in the photos, by about 4 or 5 inches!
     

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  2. maplesandpaws

    maplesandpaws Active Member

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    I am by no means an expert, and hopefully others will chime in, but my opinion is let it be and grow for now. It's a young tree and newly planted, and with the growth it is displaying, obviously it's happy with everything (light, water, soil, etc). From what I can see in the pictures, the internodes don't look horribly far apart, which I know can happen when you have a branch that grows really fast compared to others, so count yourself lucky on that front. Anyway, that's what we want from our trees, right, to grow? :)
     
  3. jacquot

    jacquot Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    I basically agree with this, although there are people here with much more experience. I look at my 8 year olds with much more critical pruning thoughts. Young ones, a little here or there, but it really doesn't get to mean a lot until later, but maybe my experience is trumped by others. I'm looking at 10-12 year old trees and getting to the structure that they developed, but most of mine were planted young and left to grow. As I grow with them and read things, I'm understanding more what to do. Unless a young tree has real problems--and even then--I'd basically leave it alone. I've corrected bad pruning for the most part while young.
     
  4. AlainK

    AlainK Generous Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society 10 Years

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    I would be tempted to prune the branches that are a bit too long compered to the rest of the tree. I'd do that shortly before budbreak and spray it with copper sulfate (Bordeaux mix) to avoid fungus entering through the cuts.

    This being said, this is just a personal opinion, and my passion for deciduous bonsai might influence my judgement ;-)
     

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  5. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    I looked at this yesterday and did not get a chance to respond, but your decisions on where to prune are exactly right on point with mine.
     
  6. Bobgerard

    Bobgerard New Member

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    Thanks for your advice. Honestly, I was surprised at the amount of pruning you suggest. I had read these make good Bonsai trees, but actually was hoping for a full-size Japanese Maple for the yard there (the Bloodgoods are supposed to grow to about 5' tall I think). Will such pruning encourage the tree to grow more evenly?
    Also, I have two questions:
    1. When is "budbreak"? and,
    2. Why would the tree grow longer branches like this?


    Thanks again
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2013
  7. maplesandpaws

    maplesandpaws Active Member

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    A bloodgood, in 10 years, will get taller than 5', probably more like 10-15', depending on conditions and overall health of the tree.

    Budbreak is used to describe the time in spring when the buds are swelling, just before they actually open and start to leaf out.

    Can't really answer your second question except that all the energy the tree is producing has to go somewhere, and sometimes it's just a select few branches that get the extra juice, lol. Other than that, maybe those with more knowledge of horticulture could chime in. :)
     
  8. AlainK

    AlainK Generous Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society 10 Years

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    Sorry, you must keep in mind that English is not my first language. I may use terms that are not the right ones, at least in this community ;)

    To me, "budbreak" is the moment when leaves are beginning to come out. "Before budbreak" is to me the moment just before that: when buds are swollen (they usually have more colour) but the leaves are not out yet.

    And yes, the branches will grow more evenly, I think.
     
  9. cfieldgrower

    cfieldgrower Member

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    I am glad that you posted this question as I have been wondering the same thing. One of my Japanese Maples is growing like crazy. The long growth branches were going outwards to the side because they could not support themselves so I have staked them to be more upright. I am not sure if this was the correct thing to do or not. I purchased this tree from a nice elderly gentleman from craigslist and I am guessing he pruned it to be bushy and would not have let it go like I have. I will probably plant it in the ground this fall and from what I am reading here I will most likely shorten those long branches some. Here is a pic:
     

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  10. maf

    maf Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    These sorts of strong growing but soft new shoots are quite common when transferring a Japanese maple to a new home with greater water and/or nutrient availability. They can be quite useful if you wish to add height to a maple but they can also fail to harden off properly and die back during the winter. If extra height is desirable I would pinch out the growing tip of the best stem now, stake it up and hope that is timely enough to stop it growing and allow the wood to harden up before winter. All other stems can be cut back hard as per the other suggestions in this thread.
     
  11. ROEBUK

    ROEBUK Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    The picture of my Bloodgood is taken after around 3 years of light selective pruning as i am trying to acheive a certain type of shape for this shrub, this year i have seen a tremendous amount of growth which i was hoping for and the desired shape is starting to form.It will be left for this year and depending on the spring weather next year it will again be pruned for the desired effect which i am looking for. I will be looking at thinning out the top growth then in 2015 this will be planted out. Everyone tends to have there own method of cultivation/pruning etc and all i can say is the one i use seems to give me the results/shapes i am after and again a lot comes down to trial and error!!
     

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  12. AlainK

    AlainK Generous Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society 10 Years

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    I think it's beautiful, and so are the other ones in the background.

    To me, rather than pruning/trimming, it needs more repotting in a slightly larger container. Tuquoise blue if you can find one?

    As I said before in other threads, I'm into bonsai: so if you repot it in the spring, trim the roots and trim the top, and put it in a free-draining mix, it will continue to thrive and you can control its shape (and size) while leaving it "natural".

    a beautiful tree, thanks for posting.
     
  13. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    A few things to consider on the subject of long shoots. To prune or not, considerations, and what may cause them.

    When a large push of growth starts, I like to take a closer look first before I decide how to proceed.

    First, look at the distance between leaf pairs to make sure it is true to form. Generally speaking 2" or less is acceptable. Use the more mature stems on the tree as a guide if you are unsure. Unless you have a super dwarf, then 2" maybe too large because it's not true to form for the variety. On the longer side, for some varieties closer to 3" is acceptable. If the distance between leaf pairs is too large and not true to form, then I remove the shoot all together.

    Second, are the leaves true to form. Is the leaf shape, size and color typical for the variety. If not, then remove the new shoot. One word of caution in regards to color, sometimes the color of late season new growth may not be the fresh bright colors of spring and for many varieties this is normal. Of course, if you are looking to discover and graft new varieties of Japanese maples, then watch this irregular growth and see what it does, otherwise for the rest of us you are best off removing it.

    One caveat to the above, if it's an exotic variety, then sometimes the new growth leaves may look like it's not true to form, but then next season all the leaves will emerge in the spring with the proper leaf shape, color, and size. So do your research if you venture into growing such a variety and do your homework before pruning. One example of this in my collection is Acer palmatum 'Shin higasa'. The second push of growth in summer has small, but slightly larger irregular shaped leaves. Next spring all the leaves are back to what is normal for the variety. So knowing your trees will help guide your judgment in pruning.

    After taking a closer look, now it's time to consider the time of year. As for late season growth; no set date will cover all areas, since we all live in different climates and some experience earlier and harsher winters than others. My advice is if this push of growth is late in the season, then remove it. It is not worth taking the risk of it not hardening off in time for winter. Also, there are a whole host of problems / diseases that can occur over winter on growth that is fueled by nitrogen or excessive moisture during the growing season. This long push of growth is a huge liability to the health of the tree and a beacon for disaster if not removed. It is not worth the risk, play it safe, and remove any late season large pushes of growth.

    Assuming the time of year is during the normal time of season for growth and the growth passes the closer look tests above, now it's time to take action.

    If you catch this push of growth early enough, it's best to pinch out the leaf embryo in the center of growth. The leaf embryo will be between the last pair of leaves at the end of the new growth. It will look like tiny little fingers or hands held in the praying position. Gently grasp it between the tips of two fingers and gently pull it off. Sometimes I feel it's best to use two hands. One to support the stem and developed leaf pairs and the other to pinch out the leaf embryo. Why not just prune? Well my theory is pruning promotes growth and pinching the leaf embryo stops growth. If this growth in question has potential to be abnormally abundant, then we do not want to prune, because then in a week or two we will now have two new shoots coming out of where we pruned that are abnormally abundant in growth. If we pinch out the leaf embryo, this abundance of growth is stopped in its tracks. The abundance of energy fueling the growth can be dispersed more evenly amongst the rest of the tree.

    If you notice it too late and several leaf pairs have already formed. The shoot is already too long for the pinch out the leaf embryo technique, then we must prune.

    A good rule of thumb for pruning this shoot is to start from where the new growth formed and count outward along the stem two to three leaf pairs and prune there. Before you cut, take a look at the location of this shoot and how it interacts with surrounding branches. We need to consider future growth direction before deciding what leaf pair to make our pruning cut. The orientation of the leaves on the stem at the pair you prune will show you what direction future growth will go. It is so surprising to me that so many people don't pay attention to the orientation of leaf pairs when pruning. They just look at length and cut, ignoring the orientation of the corresponding leaf pairs. This just leads to future conflicts of branches or destroys the form of the tree when this very important detail is ignored. We must remember that where we prune, two new shoots will form at that place and the direction of growth will follow the side of the stem that the leaf is positioned on (generally speaking the leaf pairs alternate their position along the stem, one pair is orientated horizontally and the next pair down the stem is orientated vertically or 90 degrees from the position of the subsequent pair.)

    Food for thought. Slow and steady wins the race in my opinion; it's better for the health of the tree and the overall ascetics. We need to remember that we are not growing tomatoes or giant pumpkins. Sometimes I think people get caught up in the mentality of bigger is better, so they push too much growth out of their Japanese maples, while dreaming of how large they want their Japanese maple to be someday and to them that day can't come soon enough!!! Remember the tree will always grow larger, but we must lower our expectations on how fast that happens.

    We must remember that some of the most beautiful Japanese maples in the world today are old and started growing in a time that was not obsessed with instant gratification fueled by nitrogen and the mentality that bigger is better. The beautiful form and character of it's gracefully curved and simple yet complex network of branches did not occur after years of nitrogen fueled long lengths of growth in one direction over a season. Instead, it happened by slow and steady growth over many seasons. Growing Japanese maples correctly is an exercise in patience that is rewarded by great beauty. Some of the most precious things in this world occurred slowly overtime. Many took years, decades, and with some natural and few living things, even centuries to reach their sought after and admired state. Simply put, a great Japanese maple is like an expertly crafted fine wine, they get better with time; and nitrogen or excessive seasonal growth is a very poor substitute for what can happen so well naturally over time.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2013
  14. amazingmaples

    amazingmaples Well-Known Member

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    For me, I prune everything. I have had to stop buying from some growers since they do not prune there trees well and just look terrible when I try and prune them to my liking. Now trees from select grows are completely different. From these grows I may only have trim them or thin them out just a bit to give me the look I want in a full tree.
    Now pruning is an individual deal. There is a guy on youtube who prunes his maples even uprights with hedge pruners. He and lots of other people love them. It also is a very easy way to prune and leaves out any creative errors one could make.
    For me I look at bonsai books and get many of my ideas of pruning from them but still try and get height in the tree.
     
  15. AlainK

    AlainK Generous Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society 10 Years

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    Incidently, I've just watched this video that was pointed by a member of Wee Trees Bonsai Forums: Graham Potter about pruning deciduous bonsai trees. The example is a Chinese elm, but it's exactly the same for A. palmatum and other species.

    Once again, working on a bonsai and a full grown tree are two different things, the goals are not exactly the same, but what he says about why he does this kind of thing can give one ideas to have beautifully shaped trees in the garden. ;-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvNo-igPgO0

    PS: but I don't defoliate my non-bonsai trees, potted or not.
     
  16. amazingmaples

    amazingmaples Well-Known Member

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    the key word was "ideas". For me i have like japanese gardens but i would not want a traditional japanese garden and the same goes for pruning. Bonsai pruning is interesting and thoughts of it can be used for pruning maples but it is also for keeping a tree under a meter tall which does not give you much of a tree in a garden.

    I do not believe there is any "one way" to prune japanese maples. Each of the billizion cultivars grows differently and each person has their own likes as to what they want in their garden.

    The key is have fun with your plants.
     
  17. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    I agree with Charlie that bonsai pruning techniques work well for maintaining landscape grown maples. I feel a lot can be learned about balance and how trees grow from bonsai. Many of the techniques of maintenance and branch development apply. It also helps you think or plan ahead when making pruning decisions, with an ultimate goal or vision in mind. Many of the techniques help guide me in my pruning decisions and have been a great help in maintaining my collection. I learn a great deal from bonsai photo books because they are rich on ideas to fuel my creativity.

    Just because someone does not choose to do something ridiculous like defoliate their landscape grown maple in an attempt to improve fall color and reduce the leaf size, or spend several days wiring every little twig on a 15' tree; does not mean that other techniques in bonsai don't apply to landscape grown trees. I may not wire a whole tree, but sometimes it makes sense to wire a branch and re-direct it instead of removing it or a conflicting branch near by. Or I may not defoliate a tree, but I may remove one out of two leaf pairs to let more light in to promote back-budding or to develop a smaller branch that was being shaded. At the end of the day, they all grow the same, it's just with bonsai it generally happens at a slower rate and there is a smaller margin for error. But regardless, bonsai promotes a better understanding on how a tree grows and a better understanding of how to maintain them in my opinion.

    For me bonsai is a hobby and an art. Those who focus too much on the rules lack imagination in my opinion. The rules are a good guide, but some of the best bonsai break the rules. I am not traditional in any way. I take trees that were grown for the nursery trade and turn them into bonsai. I have a good eye to see that potential in a tree and use pruning and wiring to bring it out. When I have people come from local arboretums, botanical gardens, and even some that are members of a local bonsai club, they are amazed when I tell them how I do bonsai when they see the end results. Maybe this is why using bonsai techniques on landscape grown trees makes so much sense to me, because I am not at all the bonsai norm. I studied at the JT school of bonsai art, under Master Me!
     
  18. AlainK

    AlainK Generous Contributor Forums Moderator Maple Society 10 Years

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    Tout à fait d'accord / I can't agree more 8)
     
  19. amazingmaples

    amazingmaples Well-Known Member

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    So to speak, only government sets rules. Now it is important to follow the principals of good intent or you may be out there pruning all your different japanese maples with hedge pruners.

    (then again hedge pruning "hime" is my method of choice.)
     
  20. ROEBUK

    ROEBUK Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    "The key is have fun with your plants" Could not agree more with this statement and not classing myself as a expert on the JM all my knowledge comes from trial and error as i have already stated in my last post on the pruning disscussion, and like everyone else i do read and take notice of what people say regarding the cultivation and care of the JM.If you look at the pictures posted you will see a Autropurpureum which to"me" was getting a little out of hand and was suffering from leaf scorch constantly due to the area where the tree is planted excessive wind 24/7, this is the only JM i have in the front garden the other 100+ are all in the back garden, front very heavy clay, back very heavy shale which my JM love.Decided to take off quite a few of the lower limbs and generally thin out on the top to acheive a more rounded affect. 1st pic taken on Sept 14/2012, 2nd pic 27 Aug 2013 now to me i like the apperance more and next year should see better leaf growth this year was good and so i will be trimming this when required.
    We cannot all be alike what a dull world that would be, but if what you do in life pleases you and makes you happy you can't go far wrong!!
     

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  21. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    Great job brining out the inner beauty of your tree.

    You mention shale and this is interesting to me. I started using expanded shale or haydite in my potting mix for container grown trees and bonsai. So far I am very satisfied with the results and all the maples seem to love it. We are so pleased that we started using it in our landscape planting blend too. Although I am using it as a component in my soil blend, I am happy to hear that your trees love shale in your part of the world. Not even sure if your shale is similar in properties as the shale here, but either way it helps re-affirm the great results I am seeing this season using expanded shale.

    So true for sure!
     
  22. Bobgerard

    Bobgerard New Member

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    I am so excited to be reading and seeing photos of the many suggestions and examples of creative pruning techniques. What a great art-form ! I am so impressed with the level of commitment to sharing and entertaining new ideas here. Surely much to learn about...
    I did take a suggestion to gently pluck off the new leaf buds from our tree's ever-expanding branches, hopefully they will turn woody before the winter. One branch is absolutely amazing at it has begun to circle around, forming a small crown over the tree (I promise to add a photo soon).
    It is certainly a labor of love! Thanks and I will continue to review and learn from this excellent conversation.
     
  23. ROEBUK

    ROEBUK Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    One more set of pics for the pruning debate, not so much the pruning but removing of limbs/branches which are holding back the growth of the main body of the tree.
    This Vitifolium was planted in 2007 out of a 5litre pot and was left with the growth of braches around the base as i thought it looked "neat" big mistake!!! After five years with this growing i decided to remove after the fall in 2012 and you can see from the before and after pics this just exploded with new growth both vertically and horizontally again a little bit of light trimming and i have now required the "globe" affect which i was looking for,this will now be left alone as i am happy with the shape can't wait for the fall.

    Regarding the comments from JT1 about growing my JM in predominantly shale based ground i will post pictures of the ground and a new planting hole (you will not believe what they are growing in) even suprises me!!!
     

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  24. maplesandpaws

    maplesandpaws Active Member

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    Since we're all talking pruning, I'd like to throw in my current problem children for consideration. :)

    First is a new 5g Tsukushigata I got a few weeks ago (Conifer Kingdom; last I checked, these were still on sale for 50% off - an absolute STEAL). Since there is so much foliage, I do want to wait for winter so I can properly examine the true structure and branching of the tree before I do any significant pruning, but my biggest dilemma at this time (again, won't do anything until next year) is whether or not to keep the large low branch. There are several small branches slightly above it, but of course none have the caliper or length of this one, though they may in time.

    Second is my new 2g Kawaii (again, Conifer Kingdom). The one super-long side branch I staked up in the hopes that I will eventually have some nice branching coming off of it, so that issue is resolved. My new issue is the other long, low side branch; should I prune it back some, leave it be???

    Last is my 3g Squitty (Eastfork). I love this little guy, and due to it's rarity and slightly more touchy nature, he will likely remain potted for the foreseeable future. But, the growth is so congested, I'm unsure of where to begin to thin it out and develop a nice shape. Truthfully, due to the size of leaves and short internode length (not to mention very nice trunk caliper for the size), it would make an ideal bonsai, an idea I am toying with...

    I am open to any and all suggestions and thoughts.


    **Edit: I just realized after posting this, the shot of the Tsukushigata is not very good for illustrating the problem with the low branch; will take more pictures tomorrow and post them.

    ***Edit: new pictures added
     

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    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
  25. Atapi

    Atapi Well-Known Member

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    Hi Charlie,

    I found it very interesting about 'some growers do not prue their trees well'. I do appreciate to see your collections on 'Amazingmaples' youtube.
    Can you please share with us what are the basics things i.e. shape, branch, leaves etc. that you look for when you select a JM tree from a nursery/seller?.

    Thanks, Steven.
     

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