Repairing Damaged Japanese Maple

Q: My Japanese maple was hit by a truck. It damaged one side and split the trunk. It’s alive but it looks bad. The black stuff at the bottom is tree wrap we purchased to protect the trunk. How can I shape it up?

A: I have two personalities in my garden: the experimenter and the gambler. Your tree offers both of these opportunities to you. The damage to me looks so serious that it’s a real gamble to invest much more time in its maintenance. But I know of a crapemyrtle that’s daily hammered by car bumpers, having only an inch wide thread of bark going from the soil to the top, and somehow it still manages to bloom.

I can’t guarantee your tree will survive but I can’t guarantee that it won’t. You get to decide whether you’ll be the gambler or the experimenter.

If you decide to take the gamble, the first step is to remove the black tree wrap. It is deteriorating and allows water and bugs to remain close to the trunk at all times… a bad thing.

Consider installing a three point guying system using stakes and wire. The wires should not wrap around the trunk. Instead encircle the trunk loosely with a two-inch wide nylon strap. Attach the wires to it. Each wire connecting the nylon strap to the stake should sag a bit. In this way the tree or limbs can move somewhat but won’t be able to fall completely.

As far as pruning goes, I would leave the tree alone until spring when new leaves come out. Then you’ll be able to know which of the limbs died from cold weather and which have survived. Plan your cuts to have the tree balanced above the lower trunk. Remove those limbs that stick far out and create weight on one side or another.

Please report back next fall!

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