Japanese Maple - Dead Branches

Asked May 19, 2020, 3:11 PM EDT

About 5 yrs ago, I was gifted a baby Japanese maple tree. It was approx 12” tall at that time. I planted the tree on the NorthEast corner of my front yard. It has definitely had some growth over the years, as it is now 3’ in height, however, last year and again this spring I have dead branches, which I pruned, as the photos show. My soil pH reads 6.1-6.3. I still consider myself an amateur who’s learning how to nurture my plants and trees so I would appreciate any advice you could pass my way! Thanks so much

Kalamazoo County Michigan

3 Responses

Thank you for your question. First of all, the pH for this maple is good. In the first picture, the larger limb that has been cut should probably be cut back to the main trunk using the three cut method (see second link). The other stub should also be cut back. Remove dead, diseased, disfigured and crossing branches. You can probably cut up to a third of the foliage out. Cut smaller branches back to wye or back to a larger branch. No stubs! Another observation is that it appears that the main trunk may have peeling bark. This is not a good sign but you probably can't do much with it. This could be because of the mulch that is right up against it. This holds moisture against the tree causing the bark to rot. This could also be a sign that the tree may be planted too deep (see third link). Keep a few inches between the mulch and trunk. Lastly, there appears to be some plastic under the mulch. If so, that should be removed. It can keep the roots from getting air and moisture.
Check out the following links.
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/tips_on_tree_and_shrub_pruning
https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/HO/HO-4-W.pdf
https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/fnr/fnr-433-w.pdf
I hope this is helpful,

Thank you so much for your reply & the informative links.

So, I cut back the dead parts, as advised, moved the mulch and trimmed back the landscape plastic to allow about 1.5’ radius around the tree.
I do have a couple follow-up questions....
1. Could you please specify from where/what part I should cut said 1/3 foliage from? and what are wyes?
2. What could I do IF the tree was planted to deep?
Thanks again!

When removing any branches you should not remove more than 1/3 of the foliage at any one time. That does not mean that you have to remove that much. A "wye" or "Y" is just where a branch divides into two branches. As for planting too deep, the tree may be too well established to replant. Check to see if the root flare is buried. If close to the surface, you may be able to remove some soil from around the trunk. Also, since the roots for the tree extend beyond the drip line, the plastic may still impede moisture and air from getting too the roots. Check out the following link: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/planted-too-deeply