March 1, 2011


It is the first of the month and time to show you a gardening oops, or GOOPs.  Joene sponsors this each month, and you can check out hers and others' mistakes on her blog:

This time it is not my own silly mistake or gardening blunder.  This time it is the heartbreak of seeing nature's damage to an expensive and beautiful Japanese maple.  The trunk has split right down the middle:

My mistake was not getting out there this winter to relieve the weight of so much heavy snow on the branches.  What a terrible oops.

This lovely little purple-leaved weeper, Acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen', is right in front of the house, by the door.  It's visible from the den window, and it is low and completely accessible.  All I had to do was notice, and get out there to remove the weight of the snow.  But that was easier said than done.  After several storms it was buried; the picture below was before the snowblower went by and piled tons more on its crown.  After a full season of snowblowing the front walk, even the topmost branches were gone from sight, and remained that way almost all winter:

It is such a beautiful tree, looking spectacular last October:

What do you think?  Can I bind the two halves of this trunk together with strong tape or rope, and get the wounded tissue to graft together?  Would that work?

Can I save this tree?  And if I can, will it forgive me for this terrible mistake?


  1. Laurrie, I'm so sorry to hear about this tree. I had someone give me advice recently about only planting perennials around the house because of the amount of snow that will build up. I was thinking of disregarding that advice as I love the structure of shrubs and small trees around a house but this is heartbreaking. One of the problems is that even if you had tried to shake the snow off the tree you might have broken the branches yourself in the process as they get very brittle in winter.

  2. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I suspect many CT gardeners will find heartbreaking winter damage as the snow melts away. Sounds like you need to consult with a tree expert. Good luck and keep us posted.

  3. Oh I am so sorry about this maple, Laurrie! I have no idea whether your ideas to save it will work, but they are definitely worth investigating. This is such a lovely little tree; I would be heartbroken, too.

  4. I would send my tree man if I could, but contact one ASAP. Once the sun warms it and the sap flows, the tree will be lost. I have seen him bind trees severely damaged so anything is worth a try.

  5. Oh Laurrie, how heartwrenching! I did have a small branch break like that on a Japanese Maple at Kilbourne Grove. I propped it up so that the edges were pushed together, and it did fuse back over the year. I do not know how strong it will be in the future. The trunk is quite different, hopefully a tree man will be able to help.

  6. It is heart breaking...a neighbor's small live oak (15 ft) was split near the base a few years back and he had it taped up tight and it lived...I think there is hope. You only have a tree to gain by trying. Hugs to you...I'm sorry for your distress.

  7. Marguerite, The advice about perennials around a house makes sense in our climate, but this is smack in front, and I'd hate to have the dead zone that a perennial garden can be when it is gone by, but before any snow. But I may have to go that route....

    Joene, I did call my tree guy to see if my plan to bind it back together would work, but haven;t heard from him yet.

    Rose, your sympathy is comforting... I really am distressed about this.

    Donna, my tree guy hasn't responded to my call yet. Send yours!

    Deborah, it's encouraging to hear that your branch was able to re-graft itself and repair the broken damage. We'll see about the trunk.

    Cat, thanks, I'm really encouraged that if I bind it up it will recover. It seems to have worked for others, as you point out too. Here's hoping.

  8. It is a sad story. I don't know if you can save it or if you would just be making it have a long slow death. We had a Forest Pansy Redbud split during a wind storm. We cut off the worst half and left the tree until later. It has been a couple of years and it is still standing. Not near as pretty as it used to be but it is there. I should take it out, plant another and keep it thinned out. One lives and learns.

  9. Laurrie, Oh no. You must be heartsick. I'm with Joene, I'd enlist the advice of an arborist but that wound looks pretty severe. Fingers crossed Mother Nature will help undo her damage.

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  11. Remove the right branch. Start pruning to achieve a more interesting asymmetrical shape. It's not a crisis. It's an opportunity.

  12. It is a beautiful tree. I don't see how you feel you made a mistake; the tree was practically BURIED. Yowza. I'm no tree husbandry expert but in your shoes I would try to bind it up and see how it does. Trees can recover from a remarkable amount of damage.

  13. Ron, welcome, and thanks for visiting.

    Craig, you have me thinking now. It would be severely lopsided without that right branch, but maybe I could do a leaning, twisting form with pruning as you suggest... and make it less mushroom-shaped over time. Hmm, could I really do that? Hmmm.

    Sweetbay, Trees do make remarkable recoveries, but they can survive and look awfully misshapen. I don't want that! But as Craig is suggesting, maybe this is an opportunity to create another shape.

  14. Oh Laurrie, it is a heart-breaking sight. I so hope something can be done to keep this beauty in your garden. Hopefully the tree man will have an answer for you ... fingers crossed.

  15. Laurrie, I have fixed many trees with this sort of damage. Don't cut the branch off (yet)! if the cambium is still attached from the bottom portion of the branch then sap will flow to both halves of the tree. from your pictures it looks like the cambium is still intact.
    So you need to bind the tree back together and the new growth will, within a season or two, fuse back together.
    Typically, arborists use hardware to do this, but it takes a little training to know how to do it with minimal harm to the tree. You could use tape or something, but I would recommend also tying the two halves together from a higher point as well.
    I will try to find some good info to read on this to send you.
    Again, I have seen many trees recover from this sort of damage.

  16. Bernie, thanks for the encouragement!

    Forest Keeper, thanks for weighing in with some professional advice. I'm undecided now whether to try Craig's approach and take off the right side and prune it to be more twisted and artistic, or bind it back together and keep its full shape.

  17. I'd just wrap it with some duct tape for a couple of years and see if that works...but then I'm from Alaska and duct tape is something of a cure-all here. The branches look heavy and might need to be thinned and/or propped for my great idea to work.

    I've had this happen to my maple as well. I'd give up on the genus if it weren't so beautiful!

    Christine in Alaska, lots of duct tape and heavy snow

  18. Oh, I'd be SICK! You have nothing to lose by trying to bind it, but I'd definitely call a tree man too. It's going to be hard to squeeze the two parts together.

    Good luck!

  19. Christine, I'll take advice from anyone who has wintered in Alaska. If duct tape works up there, it has to be good down here!

    Phyllis, the two trunk halves move pretty easily back into alignment. I just need something strong to hold them that way.


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