Correcting poorly pruned coral bark maple

Q: The former owner of our new home created a lovely garden but unfortunately had the coral bark Japanese maples pruned into round shapes. We have let the trees grow naturally for two and a half years and noticed that each cut branch has lots of small shoots coming from it. There are literally hundreds of small branches on the upper third of the tree. 

A: You have a couple of choices:

1. At the site of the previous owner’s pruning cuts, select one or maybe two of the strongest limbs and protect them from removal. Cut out everything except the two you selected. They will grow outward and then curve downward a bit as they naturally should.

2. Go to the site of the previous owner’s pruning cuts, measure back a few inches and cut off all the bushy limbs beyond that point. When new growth comes out in spring, select one or two vigorously growing sprouts and let them grow outward.

I favor number one because it takes advantage of growth you already have.

Examine these pictures of unpruned maples and let that guide your pruning choices.

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