tree trimming

Asked April 28, 2018, 12:18 PM EDT

Hi there -- I'm wondering if you can provide some advice about how to trim the tree in the included photo. I'm especially interested in the four circled areas, but any suggestions would be most welcome. We planted this tree several years ago and it's always been a bit strange looking, but we'd like it to last as long as possible! Thanks so much in advance.

Ramsey County Minnesota

1 Response

Thank you for the question. Unfortunately, trees with such narrow angles between large branches as shown in circled area "A" are inherently weak in those spots. The joint will never be as strong as on a tree with just a single leader and may break off in severe weather and allow greater access to disease or insects. On the other hand, the joint may last a long time. It's impossible to predict, which makes the decision to remove one side difficult. Often these conditions can be avoided by proper pruning when the tree is very young and forming major branching structures. By choosing one of the branches at the V as the leader and removing the other, you would be removing 1/2 of the tree which would be quite stressful to the tree. Since the 2 big branches have been allowed to grow for so long, you should check with a reliable certified arborist to see if the tree can survive this type of drastic prune. Here's a link to help you find a good one:
Circled area "B" doesn't look too bad in the photo but I can't tell if the joint is in good shape or not. It does look like there is a wide angle as it juts out from the branch and this typically means the joint is strong. It doesn't look diseased, isn't crossing other branches, and generally seems OK. If you decide to remove the smaller leader on the right of circled area "A", you will most likely need to keep this large branch for visual and structural balance.
Circled area "C" looks like a small branch that should be removed because it is growing back in toward the center of the tree and may be rubbing on other branches. Read our pruning publication about how to prune a tree and what type of branches that should be removed:
Circled area "D" looks like a branch that splits into a forked system. You could keep the fork that angles out and away toward the right and remove the other two. Again, you want to avoid tight angles and prune the tree to grow out as it goes up for health and appearance.

The best time to prune is late winter or early spring to avoid disease and insect issues but if you decide to go ahead with it now, expect to see lots of "bleeding" down the trunk. This is normal for maple trees and doesn't hurt the tree but may attract insects for awhile. Do not apply any type of sealant to the cuts.

Thank you for contacting Extension.