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Out of shape Acer

We have an old Acer tree by our terrace which every year grows too high and we have to cut the feathery branches shorter.  We have now ended up with a tree with clumps of growth at the top of each branch.  The new growth sprouts from these clumps which ends up looking very odd!  We love the tree and need it for shade so wouldn't want to replace it but can we be ruthless and cut the old branches back below the clumps?

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  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 SomersetPosts: 10,482
    That's a tricky one. I've never seen an acer grow like that before- very strange. They are said not to like hard pruning so I would be inclined just to cut one branch out and see what happens. Hopefully one of our more experienced tree people will advise further. 
  • Not normal for an acer and I'm guessing it might have been pollarded before, which has caused the strange shape. If you do cut it back and you are lucky and it regrows, then I think you would need to reduce the number of new branches to a maximum of perhaps 5 on each stump and then leave it alone. If you cut it low enough the new branches will then have chance to produce a more natural growth pattern that will look more attractive in time.
  • Thank you for your help.  It sounds like it might be a job for a professional!   If we go for the 'hard prune' when do you suggest doing it?  I keep reading different things.

  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 SomersetPosts: 10,482
    AT suggests late autumn-midwinter but does caution that maples "bleed" easily. I haven't found that on my much smaller acers but with a large branch I suspect you might and I don't think you can then do anything about it. If affordable I would indeed consult a qualified tree surgeon for his advice.
  • Thank you - wish me luck!
  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 5,817
    The only time not to prune an Acer is early spring when the sap is rising. The Japanese prune Acers at all other times of the year. As with other trees/ shrubs if you prune very hard in winter you will just stimulate lots of whippy vegetative growth. Ideally you would want to prune the long unruly growth by about half in the summer, it would regrow but more importantly would produce shorter buds AND back buds (further down the branches). You can then take out more of the length when you have these back buds to take over.  Then shape it in the winter when all the leaves are off & you can see the structure. You could take out every 3rd branch of the congested clumps to start with until you get the shape/ structure you want.  It could take several seasons / years of careful work to get it back in control and balance.
    AB Still learning

  • Thank you allotment boy.  It sounds much more complicated than I thought!
    I imagined I might be able to cut the main branches below the congested clumps and reduce the height of the whole tree and hopefully get back to a nice feathery shape.  Wishful thinking obviously!  It looks like it will have to stay as my 'oddity feature' of the garden for a while longer. 
  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 5,817
    You could try @Lizzie27 suggestion and cut just one branch hard back & see what happens, if it regrows ok you can then try some more in the subsequent seasons. I don't know the variety (or should I say cultivar) but one other issue you may have is, if the tree naturally wants to be 30ft tall & you want it 15ft you will be fighting it for a long time to keep it contained. 
    AB Still learning

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