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Not Pruning the Maples                       Karin Guzy

There are some garden chores which are more fun than others. The ones I look forward to, like pruning the herbs and returning to the house smelling like salad dressing, are saved as rewards for completing more arduous tasks.

Among my favorites is not pruning the maple trees.  I am blessed with a varied collection of maples, many of them small and chosen to allow room in the garden for even more. Over the years, I have come to appreciate that they are self pruning.

During winter dormancy, the structure reveals gray-brown branches that the tree has chosen to discard.  It is fairly simple to distinguish these dead branches from the faintly green, more supple live branches. This habit seems to be more prevalent in the smaller Acer palmatum dissectum, but also occurs in other small statured maples.

Carefully reaching to the interior, you can snap off these discarded branches at the trunk, where they usually break away cleanly.  I carry my pruner, but rarely need it,  to clean up a split on a larger branch. It is necessary to be careful, however, since the live branches can be brittle and will be easily broken. 

As I remove these gray twigs, the tree reveals its own plan.  When branches grow in conflict, one is chosen and the other removed.  The horizontal levels are broken to allow light to pass to lower levels.  As top growth fills out, lower branches are thinned.  The bark and contorted trunks are revealed through openings in the outer veil.

I am not pruning.  I am only removing those twigs and branches that the tree has finished using.  No decisions are necessary on my part.  The tree has done all the work.  All I have to do is pay attention and learn.  Not all my trees think for themselves.

acer palmatum dissectum

Coral Bark maple

acer 'Sango Kaku'