Help with large Japanese Maple, Is it dying? and Pruning help

craigl77November 18, 2007


I have recently purchased a japanese maple from a nursery near by and had it installed in my backyard. It is probly over 15 years old, about 15ft tall and 8ft around with about a 5" trunk. The tree always had leaves at the nursery and seemed healthy. Since its been installed it seems like it dropped a bunch of leaves in the center of the tree and alot of the branches are gray and snap off very easily (but this only happens on smaller twigs) the large 1" diameter branches seem fine and strong. Is this normal?

As far as pruning goes, I am going to attach pictures to show you what the tree looks like. I was thinking about cutting off the real low branches to make it look more like a tree and less like a huge bush. Do you think that is a good idea? The lower branches are so low to the ground and seem like major arteries to me, so Im not sure if cutting them is a good idea. I have never pruned a tree before, however.

My final question is on the center and higher up branches. As you can see in the picture they are mostly dead and have no leaves. Should I prune off some/most of these branches?

Also, if anyone has any suggestions on how I should shape the tree that would be great.

Here are the pics:

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If that maple was mine I would certainly be giving it major surgery by taking all those lower brances of the trunk, BUT what is worring me is all that dead area in the middle of the tree is it just a dead branch with smaller branches coming off it that is dead ? to test it give it the thumb nail test by digging your thumb nail into the bark of the branches that look dead and pulling your finger nail down if it is brown underneath the bark it is a dead branch BUT if it is green it is still alive.
let me know which it is.

Here is a link that might be useful: George's Japanese Garden

    Bookmark   November 19, 2007 at 8:33AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am not an expert, but it looks like there are several things that need adjusting.

1. Please go back to the nursery and obtain information on planting instructions for such a large tree. Soil composition may be different in the root ball from your yard soil.

2. The root ball should be planted in the ground rather than elevated above ground. The hole needs to be twice the diameter of the root ball and the root ball should only be 2 inches above grade. Because of the current elevation of the root ball, the water may be draining away from the soil too quickly so the tree roots cannot absorb the water fast enough.

3. Pruning back the branches can be helpful. The tree may be in replanting shock and the root system cannot support all of the existing branches.

4. Sunset books provided detailed information on gardening, however, the books primarily focus on the climate and conditions in the U.S. There are many good books available which will guide you through the replanting process.


    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 5:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yes: that dieback is not good, not good at all. Neither is the tree being perched on top of the ground. Is it a named variety? Doesn't pertain to getting it established, I was just wondering.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2007 at 4:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The problem with this tree is that it spent several years sitting on top of the ground in a southern nursery with a small amount of mulch piled around it before it was purchased and planted this fall. The current planted situation has far less to do with its overall condition than how it has been kept over the last couple of years.

The last thing this tree needs right now is to have the lower branches trimmed off as they are the ones that are desicated the least and are the most capable of sustaining it through its recovery.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2007 at 10:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

So, craig177, if you are still around, what kind of soil do you have there? Is it heavy clay? That may dictate planting high but probably not that high. You may also want to pull back the mulch and some of the dirt on top by the trunk to try and see exactly where the root flare is. My mature vision also seems to detect a distinct ring around the base of the trunk at ground level, as if from twine left there too long? Maybe not. Finally, I would make two or three concentric rings in the soil over the root ball to catch water.

Oh, and prune nothing but dead stuff for a year or two, maybe longer if it's recovery is slow.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 2:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hey Craig,
Just saw this, I know you posted a while ago, but I'd be pretty cheesed if somebody planted that tree like that in my yard. If they planted it that high or piled that much dirt on top of it, either one is going to kill your investment and you need to get on the phone and raise some hell. My other concern is the amount of sunlight and heat in that area of the yard. Here in Texas we can only plant Japanese maples in shady areas because they will not tolerate direct sunlight or southern blistering summers. Find somebody that knows what they are doing and save what could be a great looking tree. Also, other guys were right, leave those branches alone for a couple of years, but cut out the dead.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2007 at 2:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

A bit far along in development to limb up now, even if the dying back stops and new growth eventually fills the gap. Training to have a tree shape should have occurred years ago, before it grew into the bush form specimen it is now. I wouldn't saw off the lower limbs at this point unless it eventually made a new, big top mostly above the one it has left now and had begun to suppress the bottom branches on its own - if this happens it won't be for quite some years.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2007 at 7:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hey there,
I still stick with what I'm saying. Find out how long the nursery guarantees the tree for, why they planted it so high, and if it is in too much direct heat and sunlight for your area. Either one can kill it. Japanese maples also take moderate water so check the soil. It should be moist but not soggy ever. Don't worry about cutting those lower limbs until you find out if it's going to live or not. It'll need those leaves and limbs to recover and gain energy for new growth.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2007 at 8:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Grancru(z5 MI)

Your tree should have it's main late rial root just below the ground surface. It should not be mounded up as they have done. Only a couple inches of mulch is needed. Your soil should not be amended. As the roots grow out they will do best conforming to you natural soil providing it is not all clay. Fertilize only lightly in the spring. You might use a little "Superthirve" to reduce any shock. Trim out your top branches but leave the lower for now. This will allow the upper and inside bare spots to get more sun and fill in over time. May not look the best for a little while but your best plan of action. If you decide to remove any lower branches, any major trimming should be done when the tree is dormant, early spring or fall. Do not trim in the heat of the summer! There is still time to form your tree. Just look at it as a big Bonsai and look long, hard and from all directions about what branches you wish to remove before cutting. Seal all cuts over 1/2 inch to reduce bleeding and protect from disease.
Good luck,

    Bookmark   February 3, 2008 at 11:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I thought sealing cuts was a no-no. Disease? I rub dirt into cuts to reduce the visual impact and have never had a problem. Have I been lucky all these years?

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 3:56AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You don't have the benefit of th whole story.

This was posted on a different messageboard prior to being posted here. The OP saw this at a nursery where it was for over a year. He posted a picture of it at the nursery before he bought it. It was sitting high and dry with just a bit of mulch all the way around it. It was very stressed already.

He bought it and planted it himself less than a complete season before taking this picture. He believed it to be a bargain for its size at $1k, if I recalll correctly.

It does not appear to be of a variety worthy of that price even at that size if it were in perfect condition in my opinion. That area of the country was in a very severe drought last year as well which did not help matters.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 7:35PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Mini Zen Garden inspired display
Saludos desde Puerto Rico! I plan to make a 3 level,...
Some pagoda lanterns in my Japanese Garden.
Can gravel be kept clean with a leaf blower?
Can graveled areas be kept clean with a leaf blower?...
Your Japanese garden questions
There seems to be little new questions on this forum....
e-1 size
Can you keep a j m emperor 1 at 8 to 10 feet when they...
Sponsored Products
Hang Pendant by Moooi
$535.00 | Lumens
British Colonial Pineapple Outdoor Side Table Cover
$39.50 | FRONTGATE
SlumberShade 3/8" Double Cell Shade. Free Samples and Shipping!
Chelsea Collection 4 1/2" Wide Ceiling Light Fixture
Lamps Plus
Farmhouse Kitchen Caddy
$29.99 | Dot & Bo
Lotus Zinc Garden Torch with Chalice Floor Stand - Weathered Zinc
Signature Hardware
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™