A well-pruned laceleaf Japanese maple can liven up your yard year-round

If you have one of these stunning specimens, now’s the time to cut back dead branches. If not, add one to your landscape.

Trevor Cameron, The Golfing Gardener

Trevor Cameron, The Golfing Gardener

By Trevor Cameron / The Golfing Gardener

One plant that simply must be present in every yard is a laceleaf Japanese maple.

You know the ones: the beautiful, manageable-sized trees that have interesting leaves in stunning colors all throughout the year.

When cared for properly, laceleafs can become living art pieces, developing slowly into specimens that add character, texture and color to any landscape. Even over the dormant winter months, a properly grown laceleaf can be a stunning focal point in the garden.

Some of you are asking, “Why the heck are you writing about Laceleafs in the winter?” which is most certainly a valid question. My answer is simple: This is the time of year to get outside and get yours pruned before it leafs out. It is nearly impossible to properly prune one in the growing season when it is full of foliage, so getting them done now is both timely and ideal to achieve a tidy maple come spring.

Try following these simple steps to help rejuvenate your specimen and give it a new lease on life. If you are overwhelmed with an old one and not sure where to start, snap a few cell phone pics and stop into a nursery to ask a local professional horticulturist for some advice.

The first thing to do is to remove all the dead wood. If you look closely, you will see most of the branching underneath has died out and turned a gray to beige color, not from disease but from age and a lack of sun. A laceleaf grows each season by adding another layer weeping on top of the ones beneath. Before you know it, you may have a thick twiggy congested mess. Carefully cutting out this undergrowth will vastly improve the look and health of the tree and also help keep all fallen foliage from gathering amongst these twigs in autumn.

Not sure if a branch is dead? Nick the bark with a fingernail and see if you find green cambium (healthy tissue) underneath. No green means the branch goes, simple as that.

Once this is done, stand back to admire your work and then decide what else needs to be done. Simply cleaning out the dead wood makes a huge difference to most, but now your personal taste comes into play. Do you want a more open layered specimen? Or one that is a bit thicker? I prefer a more open look, so I will immediately do some additional thinning out of the branches, starting at one spot and working around the plant in a circle, carefully pruning as I go. This involves looking at the structure and deciding which limbs are crossing over the next. With most any plant, these crossing limbs are a no-no, but with laceleafs they are not the end of the world.

Again, it is your plant and your taste — open it up with some thinning or leave it alone. It’s totally up to you.

Finally, you can view the perimeter of your laceleaf and decide if some branches need to be headed back or shortened. Are branches weeping down onto the ground? Are they smothering other neighboring plants? All these limbs that are hanging too far down or out can be pruned on main branches to a point where side branches exist, and if done right you may not even notice. This allows both the new growth to be directed straight back down, creating a full specimen, and it buys you more time before it weeps back down to the soil level.

I am hoping this will help motivate you to get out there and spend a little time working on your laceleaf this month. If you are looking to add one to your landscape, like with most plants these days, there is sometimes an overwhelming amount of choice.

As we head toward spring, it’s a great time of year to plant, and an optimal selection of varieties and sizes will soon arrive at local nurseries. Many varieties look somewhat similar, but some offer unique coloration when sited in the right place in your landscape . If you want a few suggestions of some varieties that go beyond the typical red or green foliage, consider flavors like Otto’s Dissectum, Orangeola, Ice Dragon and Baldsmith. All laceleafs will sport stunning fall color, but many, like these, also have surprisingly bright spring foliage, which morphs into different colors in summer, as well. When properly pruned, they will give you a unique specimen to admire in the landscape for decades to come.

Free classes

Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville will host “Fresh Backyard Berries” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, and “For The Love Of Roses” at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25. For more information or to sign up, go to www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Introducing (officially) The Golfing Gardener

After over 30 years, columnist Steve Smith, also known as The Whistling Gardener, is retiring. While we congratulate him on his official retirement, we know he will likely still pop up every once in a while as a guest columnist and will still probably be heard whistling around Sunnyside Nursery. Taking over Smith’s space is Trevor Cameron, a longtime gardener and plant enthusiast, a certified professional horticulturist, and Sunnyside Nursery’s general manager. Look for Trevor’s columns each week here in the Home & Garden section of The Daily Herald.

Trevor Cameron is a certified professional horticulturist (CPH) and serves as general manager for Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. He can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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