A friend transplanted an acer (about six feet tall, I guess a Palmatum) a year or two ago. Most of the branches now seem dead, but there is one, growing out sideways, with vigorous leaf growth. I have suggested pruning out all the dead wood but its owners are concerned that this would result in a tree growing in the shape of an inverted L.

What would be recommended to (a) salvage the tree/promote healthy growth and (b) encourage a conventional shape (eventually)?

By popular demand, images:




The poor thing has been moved twice in about three years. The first time into what was quite sandy soil (nearer the woods shown in the background) where it did not thrive, more recently about a year and a half ago.

Since the above photographs were taken (and after asking here) it has been pruned back further but seemingly only dead wood (including most of the leaves - that died). It is presently about 4' high with only a very few leaves. However there is new growth next to those leaves and on the trunk, so will probably be cut down to around 2' in the autumn.

  • pnuts, send us a picture! Or two or three. All sides with maybe a close up of the connection of that good branch to the trunk. Is there a way to get a picture of a sliced diagonally branch that is maybe half alive? What do you think went wrong with his tree? What time of year did he transplant?
    – stormy
    May 14, 2017 at 17:03
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    Hey no problem. I like the pruning questions, I love pruning. I am trying to use power point to draw little lines to show cuts I am able to see from the pictures. That was tough but need to practice a few times otherwise it is 'cut that branch three branches from the lowest on the left, my left, see that bud there? right above that bud....' ugh. We'll look for it (going on vacation?)...
    – stormy
    May 14, 2017 at 17:20
  • That was my next question, pnuts. Could you go out and using your thumbnail or something hard with an edge to scratch the bark? Work your way around the trunk then up each branch from the crotch of branch and trunk. Keep track where bright green is below your scratch and where it is not. This is quite sad. The one obviously live branch? If you could prune the dead upright branch off and cut it at a very sharp angle where you disconnected it from the live branch. If you can take a picture of the pruning cut on the live part and the angled slice of the dead branch that would be good.
    – stormy
    May 19, 2017 at 3:44
  • @pnuts - now I've seen pictures, the phrase 'flogging a dead horse' comes to mind - were it mine, or in one of my client's gardens, I'd have it out and replace with another, or something else
    – Bamboo
    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:34

1 Answer 1


If the Acer has a lot of dead branches, they're dead, so it's pointless leaving them in place, because they're still going to be dead. They should be cut back to live wood - the strong growing sideshoot should have been pruned back before the sap was up, but will need to be cut back later, once the risk of bleeding is reduced, and when that reduces is down to the zone you're in (in the UK, zone 8/9, that would be July onwards). Pruning back the live shoot should hopefully encourage the tree to produce more growth from the mainstem, so long as major die back does not continue.

  • There comes a point when one needs to say, 'shoot' and get another tree. Not the same species or even genus to move on. It would be good to see that stem sliced to find out if this phytophthora, verticillium wilt so they don't perpetuate any disease. But transplanting mature trees can only be done in the winter or full dormancy and even then it is 50/50. Mycorrhizae is great to help this kind of transplanting.
    – stormy
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:08
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    And clean those pruners! If this tree has a disease (weakened to allow infection, these diseases will be passed on to the next shrub/tree you prune). Alcohol.
    – stormy
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:11

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