November 2nd, 2011

Pruning Storm-Damaged Trees

A freak snowstorm last weekend broke a branch off my new Japanese maple, leaving a huge hole on one side of the tree. I just planted it this spring and now I’m heartbroken. Is it fixable?

blog-dougThe beauty of some trees is enhanced by their symmetry, with branches spaced evenly along ramrod-straight trunks. Fortunately for you, Japanese maples don’t need a perfect framework in order to look good. In fact, these small trees are often admired for their free-form, sculptural architecture. Sinuous, craggy branches add to a Japanese maple’s venerable character.

Another factor in your favor is the tree’s youth. Mature shade trees that lose a major limb in a storm will probably never regain their symmetry. Young trees, on the other hand, will likely outgrow their lopsided appearance, even if it takes several years.

That said, you need to prune the damaged spot to promote quick healing and prevent decay organisms from entering the wound. If the branch left a stub when it broke, use a sharp pruning saw or loppers to cut it back to the point where it connects to another branch or the trunk. Instead of a “flush” cut that would remove the branch collar and leave a large wound, prune just beyond the collar where the branch is of a smaller diameter. If any bark has been torn, cut it off carefully to leave no loose, hanging bits. There’s no need to use tree paint to seal the wound; nature does a better job of healing on its own.  —Doug Hall

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