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Pruning an Acer - getting it back in shape.

Can anybody help me please. We have recently moved onto our house and have a really lovely and healthy Acer in the garden. The thing is that now, without it's leaves, we can see that it almost looks like the branches have been pollarded with multiple, long and whippy, shoots coming out of the ends.
Where do I need to trim it to get it back in shape - is it a case of selecting one "leader" from each branch and pruning the rest off?
Photo attached.


  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 30,010
    Japanese maples should normally only be pruned to remove dead, diseased or damaged wood and any branches that will cross and cause rubbing and damage.   They have a naturally elegant form and I suspect it will be really hard to get this one to look natural.

    In any case, it's too late this year as pruning it now may cause it to bleed and thus weaken as the sap will already be rising.

    Have a look a this info from the RHS, especially the bits on pruning:- 

    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Thank you for the reply and the link Obelixx much appreciated. That's probably what I expected and feared, too much hard pruning just to keep it "tidy" without thinking about the future and natural shaping.
  • There's a general tendency to train professional gardeners to do this to everything without discriminating, unfortunately. It's so common that I call it 'tumping'. Mind you my friend had an Acer palmatum and her gardener thought its branches 'ought' to hang downwards, so he cut off all those that were growing vertically. I would really like to have a word with those horticultural educators, wherever they are...
  • AuntyRachAuntyRach Posts: 5,259
    Maybe wait a full year’s seasons as with the leaves, the tree may look amazing. Perhaps it was trimmed before, thus the ‘water shoots’ appearance? 
    My garden and I live in South Wales. 
  • Hi AauntyRach
    Yes when we first moved in did look amazing and it wasn't until the leaves had all dropped that we saw the "water shoots" (didn't know they were called that). So are you saying leave it a year for some of the branches to thicken before trimming off the side shoots?
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 30,010
    You need to leave it to avoid it bleeding to death - see post above - and that means you can see the shape when it's in leaf.  Take plenty of photos during the growing season to help inform decisions about where and what to prune when it goes dormant after leaf fall next autumn.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • AuntyRachAuntyRach Posts: 5,259
    I just thought that the water-shoots/sprouts might be there because of over-zealous pruning in the past. I would leave it for now, enjoy the rest of the year with it and see what happens on the tall sprouts ie. do they have foiliage or are they useless. 
    Send a picture when it is in leaf - would love to see it as they are my favourite. A lovely big specimen like that might be worth splashing out on a tree-surgeon to advise. 
    My garden and I live in South Wales. 
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,819
    I think that might be a case of being pruned [pollarded]  in the past to keep it from casting too much shade, or simply because it may have been seen as 'too big' for the spot. 
    Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do other than carry on pollarding it, other than just let it carry on growing and see what happens.

    Many acers get very large over time, even though they can take ten or twenty years to get to that maximum size.
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Thanks Fairygirl yes you may be right as it is only a small garden. As I said earlier it does seem healthy and prolific with leaves so maybe just let it go at least for this year.
    AuntyRach hmm the surgeon idea you're right probably expensive - I"ll see how it goes this year!
  • Obelixx sorry, missed your later reply yes good idea to photo track as the seasons roll by will definitely do that.
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