secateurs pruning japanese maple

Help! My Japanese maple is turning into a regular maple

Today’s post isn’t something that everyone is going to be able to use right away, but it’s handy information to know and file away in your brain, in case you need it in future.

A month or so ago I noticed a branch on my Japanese maple that looked different from all of the other branches in three ways.

reverting branch on japanese maple

 

First of all, it was heading up, while all of the other branches cascade down. Second, the leaves were solid green, while the rest of the leaves are reddish. And thirdly, the leaves on that branch weren’t the same shape as the leaves on the rest of the tree—they looked like a traditional maple leaf, instead of deeply lobed and serrated.

 

japanese maple leaves

 

I knew that if I left this branch in place I’d have a problem. This video will tell you why and what I did about it:

 

It seems that the problem with my Japanese maple was that it was reverting to the rootstock that it had been grafted onto. Grafting is a very common practice with woody plants—especially roses and small trees. It’s a bit of Frankenstein magic where the top part of a plant is joined onto the roots of another plant. This is done for a few reasons, usually because the root stock is hardier (i.e. more able to handle our winters) than the part of the plant on top, or because the root stock has a desirable characteristic (faster or slower growing). I had no idea my maple was grafted when I bought it—it was only when the rogue shoot emerged that I noticed.

I had to get rid of the rogue shoot because if I didn’t it would have taken over the entire tree. In a season or two the downward arching branches would have still been there, but they would have been outnumbered by many more vigorous upright branches with green foliage. Likely a nice tree, but probably much larger and not the look I wanted in that location.

Now that I know this tree has a graft and it’s tried to sprout once I will need to keep an eye on it in case more emerge. I tried to trim the rogue shoot as close to the tree trunk as possible, but because of the angle it was growing it wasn’t as clean of a cut as I would have liked. In future posts I’ll talk in more detail about pruning unwanted branches, but for now know that if you have a rogue branch you want to cut it as close to the trunk as possible.

pruning japanese maple with felco secateurs

The situation described above doesn’t just happen with Japanese maples. If you have other plants that are grafted and notice a branch that isn’t like the others, you may have the same problem. Keep an eye out and your secateurs handy!

3 Comments

  1. Harlow Marie on June 17, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    My rouge branch is a lot thicker than yours because 8 didn’t realize what was going on until way later. Is it still OK to chop it off? I’m worried I’ll kill the rest of my Japanese maple by doing so. I’ve had some people tell me to wait until fall or winter to cut it off.. But it’s June 17, 2020 so I don’t know if I should wait several months to chop it off

  2. Harlow Marie on June 17, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    My rouge branch is a lot thicker than yours because I didn’t realize what was going on until way later. Is it still OK to chop it off? I’m worried I’ll kill the rest of my Japanese maple by doing so. I’ve had some people tell me to wait until fall or winter to cut it off.. But it’s June 17, 2020 so I don’t know if I should wait several months to chop it off

    • Jennifer on June 19, 2020 at 8:48 am

      Hi Marie. If you don’t remove the branch it will overtake the Japanese maple completely over time. If you like the new branch and want a full tree of it, then you can leave it (note that it will likely be larger than the Japanese maple you were planning on growing in that spot). If it was my tree, and I didn’t want it to revert, I would cut it off right now. Summer solstice is a traditional time for pruning–“prune in spring if you want to promote growth, prune in summer if you want to contain growth” is sort of the saying.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website is using Google Analytics. Please click here if you want to opt-out. Click here to opt-out.
error: Content is protected and cannot be copied
%d bloggers like this: