Hi, I purchased a very young Empior l (or Bloodgood) Japanese maple last year. It’s only about 3 feet tall now. My question is: should it have a central leader as it grows higher? As this one doesn’t have. The central leader stopped at about 2.5 feet high, then there are 2 main branches going in opposite direction almost horizontally, as well as other smaller branches. Should I train one of those thicker branches to become a central leader, or it is ok to leave it like this?
Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners. This is a very interesting question and one that I enjoyed researching. A friend of mine has recently purchased a Japanese maple, and the central leader broke off in the transporting, so I was most interested to learn more.
Having read some more, I think that leaving the tree to develop a horizontal structure is totally acceptable, and seems to be how many people are intentionally pruning their Japanese Maples.
My first source was the Toronto Master Gardeners Guide on Growing Japanese Maples:
This artticle contains detailed information on good pruning practices for different types of Japanese maples, and how to sustain and enhance structure as the tree grows.
Here is another one: https://www.treeremoval.com/trimming-and-pruning/how-and-when-to-prune-a-japanese-maple-tree/
Other sources that I found on pruning trees that were relevant were:
Enjoy your beautiful tree.