Losing trees, Japanese Maple

Almost, anyway. The aggressive wiring, followed by exceptional freezing conditions in January 2020 resulted in a disastrous year for this Japanese Maple. Here it is in December, 2020, as most of the leaves have fallen:

After removing leaves

Some issues included dieback of secondary branches, followed by coarse new growth, which was wired in the summer:

First left branch, showing lots of new growth. Most on the topside which is unusable, and most too young to wire this year:

Strong budding from the trunk at the apex, leaving lots of coarse new growth to work with.

So here is the work to do

1. Replace heavy branches with finer branches where possible.

This branch:



Another coarse branch, midway up on the right side:

Removing the 2 upward-facing buds in favor of side buds:

Then wire:

Another example on the right side:

The two branches:

One more example:

A good example of a branch pruned back evenly and wired:

2. Reduce multiple buds to pairs:

This way:

Midway through the work:

The apex is next.

Starting by removing heavy shoots:

And the one above it:

And after the work, the apex is pretty rough, but should be possible to remake in a couple years.

Dark shot for contrast:

Clean up the moss to ensure good drainage:

Repotted in March:

Bud-pinched through the early growing season:

And the tree is off to a good spring:

I’ll keep a close eye on the wires to avoid scarring, and in a few weeks, partially defoliate the tree; removing one of each pair of leaves in the strong areas to allow light to reach the interior of the tree to help facilitate back-budding.

Bud pinching Japanese Maples

In the spring, with healthy Japanese maples, bud-pinching is a common technique to keep internodes short on refined trees. It is a simple procedure, and needs to be performed about daily as Japanese maples are waking up in the spring.

The earlier you can identify the 2nd node and remove it, the shorter the internode will remain. In this example, I’ve waited about a day too long, but it helps illustrate the process.

Here is the extending new shoot:

Here is a markup showing the leaves in the 1st in blue, where to pinch out the second node in a yellow X, and the resulting length of the halted internode:

This tree is growing stronger on the top and left, and slower on the lower right, so careful attention will be required to keep up with the lower right side, as shown in the background below.

A couple weeks later, the maple is still growing, and I had a chance to pinch back more of the shoots.

The result is a lot of tips removed, and the profile is improved, but the density is still the same.


I will continue feeding, and in June, I’ll partly defoliate the tree to encourage back-budding. Meanwhile, I’ll keep a close eye out for wires starting to dig in.

Repotting a Japanese Maple

I didn’t get around to repotting this one last year, and it was the first time I skipped a year repotting it in probably 15 years, so I wasn’t looking forward to wrestling it free, and working the roots all the way back. However, it was pretty weak last year, and so the roots weren’t too crazy. Here are some shots of the process, which took about 90 minutes.


Pot cleaned and new drainage mesh applied. 3rd generation Yamaaki. I love this pot with this tree, but the clay is developing small chips around the tie down holes, and one foot. The tree may also be ready for the next size up soon. This one is 19″ wide, and a 20″ would work. But the color is fantastic with the fiery red spring foliage.

First round of combing out the roots, and finding the tie down wire:

Once the wire is removed, it becomes a bit easier to comb out the root ball. I used a hose to remove most of the soil:

With most of the soil gone, the first round of trimming is around the circumference.

Comb everything outward from above.

Then repeat it on the bottom. Before:


Notice how the roots are all radiating outward from the center now? Order from chaos!

Then I returned to working on the topside, combing everything outward, removing roots that were too thick, or growing up or growing down

Continuing around the nebari:


Finally, settled back into the pot. I chose to raise the planting height just a bit more this year to expose more of the base. It is widening nicely, but still has a few areas that need to fill in; most notably the one right in front. Those areas will not fill in when exposed to air, so it’s best to raise the tree a little at a time, and not before it’s ready.

Wired in:

Soil worked in:

Watered, and finally top-dressed with some fine sphagnum moss to keep the shallow roots from drying out: