Grooming Weeping Japanese Maple in Winter

cutleaf japanese maples fall color

 Weeping Japanese Maple in winter

Weeping Japanese maple in winter

Step1 Remove all dead branches. I like to break them off.

Step 1
Remove all dead branches. I like to break them off.

Step 2 Once all of the dead branches and twigs are removed. Check any you removed that are large enough and make a clean cut where they broke

Step 2
Once all of the dead branches and twigs are removed, check any you removed that are large enough, and make a clean cut where they broke.

Step 3 When pruning alway remove the dominant stem and keep the smaller one

Step 3
When pruning, always remove the dominant stem and keep the smaller one.

My across the street neighbor has a beautifully placed weeping Japanese maple in their front yard. It is the showpiece of their landscape, but I knew it needed a bit of grooming, so I volunteered. First, the tree is about 10 years old and has never had much done to it. One of the good things about this tree is that it does not have limbs that touch the ground (if it did, they would begin to spread along the ground). If this were the case, I would remove the ones on the ground back to another branch that was not touching the ground.
The first thing I did with this tree, as I always do, was to go all over the tree and remove any dead wood, even small twigs. I literally break any limbs off that would not require a lopper or a saw to remove (this tree did not have any limbs that large). Once all the dead wood is removed, I always examine any that were broken off, and make a clean cut where they broke.
Once the dead is removed, I start looking for crossed branches or branches that are rubbing, and remove them. Now this is what is different about pruning these trees. Instead of keeping the vigorous stems, remove them, and keep the weaker stems. This helps the tree to maintain a better shape.
Now that you have removed dead wood and crossed branches, stop, stand back, and look at the tree. Now comes the hard part. Does it look the way you like it? If it is poorly shaped or lopsided, then you need to evaluate several thing before you make another cut (remember this is a slow growing tree). Look at the sun and see if the plant is poorly shaped because one part of the plant is getting more sun than another part. If that is the case, prune the sun side to encourage the shadier side. If sun is not the issue, have someone shake each limb you think you want to remove, and imagine the plant without that limb. If it looks ok, and does not destroy the shape you want, then remove it. If you want to remove several large limbs, do it over a period of several years. If all is good, then the only other pruning I might do is to remove some small branches to encourage light getting into the tree promoting more growth in thin areas of the tree. In the case of these maples, I practice under pruning versus over pruning.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

6 thoughts on “Grooming Weeping Japanese Maple in Winter

  1. I need someone to prune my lace leaf maple. My neighbors tree fell on it last year and broke the top half off and it’s hard to keep it from looking like a large mushroom

    • First, remove all broken and dead branches. Once the tree has leafed out then prune to the desired shape even though it is not a good time. Remember, these maple respond quite well to pruning so when shaping, plan on what you eventually want and prune for that effect.

  2. Okay Dr. John you know how I hate this process when it comes to Japanese maples but you did an excellent job of explaining the proper method of pruning and you consistently urged restraint; not the wholesale slaughter that occurs once the word pruning is invoked. Gardeners need to know about removal of deadwood first; clean cuts; and SELECTIVE removal after one has taken the time to LOOK before you CUT! So thanks for a good lesson.(I envision your mouth opening in shock that I said a kind word on this subject.)

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