Not Pruning the Maples
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.