Red Sunset Maple pruning help

soitgoesMarch 24, 2013

I have a Red Sunset maple that's been in the ground a few years. I want to do the first major prune and it really needs some help. I'll be hiring someone, but I was hoping for some feedback so I don't sound like an idiot when I talk to him.

My first question is, is it ok to prune now? Or should I wait til June or so when the sap is done? It's buds are swelling but not yet open; it's been unseasonably cold.

The second question is, as you can see by the pictures it lacks a central leader. I understand that is normal for maples but it has WAY too many branches crowded together around the central portion of the trunk. Which would be best to thin out? Thanks.

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Here's a picture of the whole tree. I can't get a background that's not busy. Sorry!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:19PM
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A closeup from another angle.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:20PM
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It is kind of hard to see what exactly is going on here, but YES you have WAY too many branches going on there.

I attached an image with my suggestions for what I think I see. Basically remove that middle little branch as soon as the spring sap flow slows. I think that other smaller one should go, but it might be alright.

There are at least two there that look pretty big and you should probably reduce them drastically and keep them from getting any thicker while the rest of the tree grows. You can then remove them next year or maybe the following.

Again, I can't see everything there, but that gives you at least an idea of what somebody might do. A good arborist actually there to see it will probably make better decisions.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 9:35PM
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Thank you ja-gardener. That is pretty similar to where my very uneducated eye was going too; I know that the one branch is too low and has to come off, but I figured the stuff in the middle was more critical as it could effect the integrity of the tree. I'll let the lower branch on for another year or two.

I am thinking that if it is carefully pruned as it matures it will end up with two to three main branches coming off the trunk.

It was not perfect when we bought it, but not nearly so crowded! Other than taking off too very thin low limbs I've mostly let it go. It went in the ground nearly four years ago, but the first year ended up being terribly dry. We watered it diligently but it was stressed so I wanted to give it several years to make food for roots before taking anything off the top. This will help me start the conversation with the arborist and I'll see what he says.

I might have him out to look at it before it leafs so he can get a good idea of the structure, then have him prune it this summer.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 10:19PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

ja mentions reducing certain branches.. google :


to get yourself a bit more up to speed on that ...

and shall we presume you are aware.. that every guy with a chainsaw is not an arborist .... or shall we discuss that???? .. in fact.. this isnt really a chainsaw job ....

and to be very honest.. i hope you dont mind.. i see some very problematic included bark problems.. as well as crotch issues ... i really dont know if this tree is worth paying some guy a hundred or 200 dollars to prune for you .... we could also discuss this.. if you are interested ...

it might be cheaper to get a new tree ... [probably not what you wanted to hear.. i am sure] ....


ps: in fact.. what might be the best idea.. is for you to buy a saw.. and do this yourself .. to learn.. and if the tree collapses .. then go spend the money on a new one ....

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 9:33AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Another vote for one of these two options.

it might be cheaper to get a new tree ... [probably not what you wanted to hear.. i am sure] ....

ps: in fact.. what might be the best idea.. is for you to buy a saw.. and do this yourself .. to learn.. and if the tree collapses .. then go spend the money on a new one ....

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 2:10PM
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Ken, yes I know that everyone with a saw is not an arborist. :-)

The bark ridges are raised, not sunken... I will let the arborist decide. Maples are notorious for developing multiple leaders so if I start over I will quite possibly end up with the same problem again. It is in full sun with no competition which of course tends to cause this problem to happen. I should have had it pruned last summer, which is totally my fault but last year was crazy.

I'm no expert but I don't fancy starting over unless it's the only option. The diameter of most of the branches is still very small. Thanks for your input.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 3:15PM
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So on my way home from work I looked at the dozen or so 15-year-old maples planted by our parking lot, and then I went through the park and looked at bunches more, and I must say that fully half of them have very similar branching patterns to mine. I'm not saying it should not be addressed, just saying that cutting down the tree and starting over seems fairly radical.

Moreover, I looked at the 75 year old mature maples lining the roads, and almost all of them developed multiple leaders further up as they matured and could no longer be so easily pruned.

Seems like the normal growth habit, which speaks to the importance of pruning but again makes it seem like hacking the tree down would be radical.

Some of the wild ones by me split as low down as a foot from the ground. I would not want that, of course, but the also have 18-inch diameter trunks. One is growing entirely at a 45 degree angle with three leaders, one of which split again into two. We've had 60 mph gales and it's never dropped a limb...

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 6:10PM
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I agree I would hate to spend $200 trying to rehabilitate a tree that could be replaced for $250.

I included a link to booklet that is from the author of a great book on pruning (Gillman) that is very expensive. That pamphlet might give you some further guidance on pruning your tree.

And YES pruning those middle branches (especially on a maple with thin bark) will be a surgical procedure requiring a nice small saw.

Here is a link that might be useful: Developing a preventive pruning program: Young trees

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 10:41PM
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I just wanted to bump this thread to say that I saw the arborist today and he will remove the funny little branch right in the middle and then do reduction pruning on some of the co-leaders, with the idea of coming back over the next few years to gradually get it in the right shape.

The cost? $75. He seemed to think there would not be any problems. ja-gardener, you were pretty much right on the money with your advice, so THANK YOU! :-) He wants to wait til early September (because we have very hot summers and it's in full sun) to avoid scald; that should still give it time to heal before it goes dormant.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 4:01PM
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