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I planted a beautiful little Japanese Maple 'Deshojo' in Spring 2021. It has vibrant red leaves in spring (unusual!). They go green in summer and back to a more muted red in autumn. It has done really well. It is now 1m tall and has looked very healthy until now, but now the new leaves at the end of each branch have gone all crispy and dried. This is not surprising as we have had the hottest, dry summer ever here in northern France with temperatures up to 40゚C; but should I trim them off?

Secondly, and unrelated as it was happening before, the most central branch has died and if I cut it out that means it will have a hole in the centre. Could I do that and perhaps strap the other branches together to fill the gap? (Like a belt around it.)

For both questions, would I do them now or out of growing season in winter as someone told me?

Thanks so much!!

P.S. I've tried to post a photo and it won't accept it, even though I've reduced the size.

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  • Thank you so much! That clear and helpful
    – May
    Aug 23, 2022 at 17:05

3 Answers 3

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From my point of view there is no reason but the visual appearance to remove dry leaves. Next spring new leaves will appear anyway, and most likely your tree will survive. Better use your effort on watering.

Are you sure the center branch are all dead? No fresh/green colour under the bark? If you are not sure then wait to next summer.

Most trees are amazing good at filling the gap after lost branches without any help. If you think it is important for the overall impression of the tree, you can form a new center branch from another one or from a shoot. To help this process you may want to prune the other branches to ensure sufficient light in the center. You can tie shoots and softer branches to a pole for a year to force them to the preferred position.

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  • Many thanks, that's great!
    – May
    Aug 23, 2022 at 17:06
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I suggest you leave it alone for the time being - all the leaves will fall as autumn arrives anyway, although if the soil is dry, you should water it. As the central leader has died back, all the lateral shoots will grow on more and some of the side shoots they produce will grow up as well as out. If, though, you are 100% sure the central leader has died back completely, you can cut it out now. Acers should not be pruned between February and July/August because the sap is flowing strongly, particularly earlier in the year, and bleeding will occur, but by now, the sap flow will be much reduced, plus a dead stem has no sap flow anyway.

Once all the leaves have fallen and you can see the 'skeleton' of the tree, if you really don't like the shape and don't want to wait and see how it grows next summer, trim back the side shoots to just above a bud. Bear in mind that a Japanese Acer is still a thing of beauty even if it's more of a shrub than a tree for a while, so if there's room for more width, you could just leave it as it is and see what it does next year.

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    I have the exact same story of the OP, but I am about 7 years ahead. I got some die off each year as it established. I did not trim anything extra besides the dead branches, and I waited until spring to make sure the tree had indeed done so. You can scrape the think bark off and see if it is still green underneath to determine this. After a few years, I trimmed lower branches for shape, but only about one third per year, before the spring growth. I too lost my main leader, but the tree is fine and another will take its place.
    – Evil Elf
    Aug 23, 2022 at 11:00
  • Much appreciated everyone
    – May
    Aug 23, 2022 at 17:07
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So, next time you have a drought, please give it a good soak once or twice a week. Young transplants are especially susceptible to drying out.

If you put a two or three-inch deep mulch down, the soil will dry out much more slowly. Do you know about the "drip line"? Ideally the mulch should extend out to that. In other words, the disc of mulch should extend out as wide as the tips of the branches.

There are lots of materials you can use as mulch. If you use wood chips, you'll want to put some organic matter down first because wood chips can use up the nitrogen in the soil as they are decomposing.

If there is grass or weeds under the tree, then you'll want to gently weed them out (I suggest you use a dandelion weeder, which really helps get the roots out) and then put some pieces of cardboard down under the mulch, to prevent the weeds from coming up through the mulch.

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