Pruning small tree

Asked March 26, 2018, 4:18 PM EDT

Last fall I purchased a poorly shaped Coral Bark (Sango Kaku) Maple. No doubt it was crowded, broken, whacked and abused, or just victim of a dumb rookie, prior to reaching the store. Last fall there were so many leaves that was hard to diagnose (pic1). Now without the leaves, the right actions still have not come to me, so need help. Actually it was easier to see with leaves than now how the pruning had caused precocious whorls of growth at tips. Pic3 shows the whorl with many small stems that is at the top of what would be the leader. Pic2 shows a problematic mature crotch on left side down 30% from top with many mature branches shooting straight up from same place which apparently are bradford pear wannabees. Think the big issues are what to do with the leader, and whether to save an outside stem from the crowns (removing the remainder), or start over at the next lower joint (which seems better to me). Presumably there are too many branches, all with narrow angles. Obviously will remove whatever is growing to center. Nothing dead (at least into dormancy, and all bark looks vibrant). Any suggestions would be appreciated, but it may be a lost cause.

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

Your tree should be fine with some judicious pruning. All the crotches are fairly narrow, which suggests that is its natural growth habit. Not too much you can do about that. If you pruned out all the narrow crotches, you might not have much tree.

The 3rd photo is blurry where the knot of stems emerge from the leader. Simply choose the sturdiest and most vertical one you can. Remove the rest.

With the cluster of stems in the 2nd photo, you may be able to leave 2 stems, angled in opposite directions--remove the rest. You can choose the widest crotches if that looks good to you.

It's important with a young plant to also prune to maximize leaf coverage (it needs a lot of photosynthesis to build up a tree.) So let the tree get established for a year or two before you do any uncritical pruning. If branches are small, they can always be removed in later years.