Red Sunset maple lacks central leader?

soitgoesJune 29, 2011

We planted a Red Sunset maple about 3 years ago, balled and burlapped so it was already a decent size.

Last year I noticed it seems to lack a central leader. It's more vase-shaped with about 3 or 4 branches splitting off from the main trunk. This seems to be the natural growth habit of this particular tree. The one that looks the strongest of the lot is actually not in the center but off a bit to one side and growing at a slight angle.

I can get pics but didn't have time tonight.

So the question is, is this a normal growth habit for this particular maple? Was it poor pruning by the nursery? Or just to be expected? And should I be concerned at this point? The tree is getting quite tall. I just pruned off some lower branches tonight, but any corrections to the main branches at this point would probably need to be done by someone else.


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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yes, red maple trees usually have multiple erect main branches near one another.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 12:46PM
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I have one planted in my yard for 5 years and had the same concerns as you. I pruned it to form a central leader, but it split off again higher up. I also noticed a few growing in the wild. None of them had central leaders and they all looked perfectly fine. My conclusion: This is the natural growth habit of this tree and just let it be. My tree has already been through a couple hurricanes, blizzards, a tornado and an earthquake. It's still standing tall and looks great.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 2:31PM
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Not all trees should have a central leader - how that notion came to be so common/popular is beyond me. The majority of shade trees - like red maples - are considered to be of decurrent growth habit, that is, they do NOT form a distinct, single leader. They naturally develop a more even, rounded canopy with several major scaffolding (secondary, trunk-like) branches forming the primary framework. The development and spacing of these major scaffold branches IS of concern and should be monitored when the tree is young.

It is counterproductive to attempt to create a single leader situation when it is not present nor called for.

Here is a link that might be useful: Structural training of young shade trees

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 3:10PM
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Thanks, that is helpful. I am getting ready to have some maintenance pruning done. I'll post some pictures so I have something to discuss with the tree guy. I now know multiple leaders are ok, but it does seem to have too many competing branches coming from the same area of trunk; I understand this is common with this sort of tree and some structural pruning is needed.

Is it best to prune it now (I'm in zone 5b or 6), mid-winter, or wait til next summer? I know that spring isn't the best time for pruning maples.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 10:44PM
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