Another Reason to Prune / by William Cook

Any arborist can tell you the several practical reasons we prune trees – the removal of dead or diseased wood, the control of water shoots, the elimination of crossing branches, to manage tree size, and to open up the canopy for air circulation and sunlight. However, few arborists are concerned with the aesthetics of tree pruning.

A full canopy of spring growth

For all of the above reasons, and for some added aesthetic ones that deal with tree form, the traditional Japanese approach also includes keeping trees in scale with the garden and garden guests. This approach allows visitors to feel less overwhelmed – welcomed and belonging in the garden.

After getting a "butterfly" pruning

One pruning technique I use is to manipulate tree scale which produces a sense of depth and distance that doesn’t really exist in the garden and adds perspective which seems to enhance distance. If done successfully, this makes the viewer feel that the garden is much larger than it really is.

Laceleaf maples along the falls before thinning

Recently I was reminded of that when I “butterfly” pruned (generously opened up some maples for light penetration and structural airiness) a group of Japanese laceleaf maples that dot the shizen or natural garden creek and lake. There are five red laceleaf, an Acer Japonicum, and a Butterfly maple in this group of trees that march uphill accompanying each of the waterfalls.

Laceleaf maples after getting "butterfly" pruning

The maples had their usual spring abundance of foliage and needed to be pruned to look more mature. When I completed these trees (by removing at least half of the foliage) not only were they more mature looking but they also looked bigger even though they were really a bit smaller than when I started. This in turn made the whole water feature seem much larger both in width and depth.

What a nice surprise to be reminded of, one that truly made a big difference in the look and feel of this almost 40-year-old garden!