One Finger Pruning

Pruning Japanese Maples and other Ornamental Trees with One Finger

Make sure you watch the video to the 3 minute, 5 second point!  You’ll see why this is so important and how it applies to you in your yard.

Seriously, this could save many of the beautiful plants in your landscape.

Just one finger is all it takes to dramatically improve the appearance of a Japanese maple tree or any other ornamental tree like Weeping Cherry, Flowering Crab Apple, Lavender Twist Redbud or any other grafted or budded plant.  Or any tree for that matter.

Get Paid for Making Baby Plants!

Beautiful ornamental trees don’t grow that way by accident, nor do they always grow the way you want to them naturally.  They need your help.  In short, there are places on an ornamental tree where you want branches, and there are places where you do not want any new branches.  And this is where things go horribly wrong when people get a really nice ornamental plant home and install it in their landscape.  It’s beautiful!  They paid a lot of money for it, and they are afraid to touch it!  You have to touch it!  You can’t abandon it once you have it home.  It needs your attention!

It needs you to take your index finger and do some very easy, but necessary pruning.

Japanese Maple Bud

The Most Important Pruning Tool You Own. Your Finger!

In the above photo you are looking at a new bud on a Japanese maple tree.  That bud is going to open up with leaves, then in a matter of weeks it will grow into a small branch, then over time into a very large branch.  But I don’t want a branch there.  Not there!  It’s too low on the tree.  A branch there will be laying on the ground and it will ruin the appearance of the tree.  So with just the flick of my finger I can quickly and easily brush that bud right off the tree.  That one little tiny effort will make all the difference in the world to the appearance of this tree over time.

Japanese Maple Bud

Japanese Maple Bud

This little bud had every intention of becoming a full grown branch.  You can see in this photo how soft and pliable this tissue is.  If you just bump one of these buds they come right off the tree.  These new buds tend to show up on the stem of ornamental trees throughout the growing season, but you’ll see more of them in the early spring.

With the flick of my finger I can make a lifetime improvement to any ornamental tree and I do this thousands of times a year in my nursery.  I just walk through the nursery and brush off any buds where I know I don’t want a branch.  This saves me from having to use hand tools to remove these branches later.  And if I do it now, when they are still just buds, there is no scare on the stem of the tree.

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75 thoughts on “One Finger Pruning

  1. Rita Thornton on said:

    I Think I would like growing these trees

    • Margaret Henry on said:

      What is growing in the tunnels across the road?

      • Mike on said:

        Margaret, nursery stock for sure. We have over 100 wholesale growers in this area.

  2. valerie on said:


  3. Joyce Christie-Taylor on said:

    I’d be happy to give this a try, Mike! I live in zone 6/Connecticut, and am intent in growing a “privacy fence” out of small trees and ornamental bushes, because there’s a house next door, where pre-teens live and play basketball in their driveway. This activity I’d very much like to block out visually and audibly, to the greatest extent possibly!

    • rich evans on said:

      Wow you dislike klds. Nice.

      • Jo Brown on said:

        Rich Evans: Re: “Dislike kids” ? Where in the world did that come from???
        On to the positive… Love the advice. Love the (nice) comments. Great blog. Love this sight. Love my “Easy Plant Propagation” book. 🙂

      • bonnie on said:

        Maybe she doesn’t mind kids,but the yelling and screaming that goes with riotous play. Listen sometime to their colorful language.
        Then put on another persons shoes before judging.

    • Linda on said:

      You probably don’t want a privacy fence made of Japanese Maples or ornamental shrubs or plants! Japanese Maples are beautiful and very slow growing trees. You certainly wouldn’t want these delicate trees damaged from a basketball! You need something hardy, that can’t be killed easily, like Wisteria or Crepe Myrtles. It’s great that these kids are playing ball at home, especially with our world today….but I can relate with you on the privacy and noise reduction! There are lots of ways to go about solving this problem using plants; wisteria, grape vines on a trellis, roses, crepe myrtles, trees or snow ball shrub are just to name a few. All of these plants can be strategically placed in the yard to block the view of other houses from your patio and reduce noise. I placed a very short, small privacy type one wall fence at our patio that blocks our neighbors view when either of us sit at our patios! This fence is decorative using approximately 4ft long slats arranged at different levels (like piano keys) on two 2X4s attached to two cemented post. Then after placing a hydrangea and some knock out roses, I had the lower area of the short fence covered have noise and visual reduction enclosure. We’ve placed garden plaques and lights on the shorty patio fence which looks great and does the job too! Hope I’ve given you some decent ideas!

      • C. Flynn on said:

        Good Luck, but from my experience the (Rose of Sharon) bush or let grow into a tree.
        I started with one and let it grow and got to tall and bushy for me, but you can not harm these, My first one was a Blue one and I made three or more from that one plant.Turned out white , lavender or mixed colors, depending on how you do these?
        They will not come back the same color as the main one.
        Hardy and I keep mine pruned down to about five to six feet and it regrows the next year. in the winter you can prune every year. they will make a nice privacy row of bushes or tree.
        They produce nice flowers all summer long all over the bush.
        Great overall bush’s in a row for your needs and they will grow fast. Just some thing to look into for your situation! Thanks for reading this.

        • C. Flynn on said:

          I forgot to leave my Zone
          Southeastern PA, Zone 6
          in Philly Eagles area
          Hope that message about Rose of Sharon help you out for your situation

        • Mike on said:

          Most Rose of Sharon will be true to the parent plant, but sometimes the blue ones don’t always flower blue. Growers do them by cuttings then select the ones that flower blue from the batch.

  4. Joyce Christie-Taylor on said:

    I’d be happy to give this a try, Mike! I live in zone 6/Connecticut, and am intent in growing a “privacy fence” out of small trees and ornamental bushes, because there’s a house next door, where pre-teens live and play basketball in their driveway. This activity I’d very much like to block out visually and audibly, to the greatest extent possibly!

  5. Jean Johnson on said:

    What a really gread video. I guess that is where the quote “nip it in the bud” comes from. Thanks for all your informative videos.

  6. WALER KUNTZ on said:

    Great pruning tip, but start when the tree is small.

  7. Julia Griffith on said:

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I have always done this, but never knew why! Now I know thanks to YOU! Have a Blessed Easter

  8. dave on said:

    Very simple but important to tree growers starting out. Thank you

  9. Darrell Kilgore on said:

    I have done the same!

  10. Patsy on said:

    Thank you so much Mike. I really enjoy your advise,
    it has help me a lot getting ready for this spring.

    Keep it coming.

  11. Melba Osborn on said:

    I think I will try to use the “one finger” method to take the buds (or limbs) off my Old snowball bush( looks
    like a tree now.) It is located so near to my porch that I can reach it O K. Since I’m 80 yrs. old, i can’t do any yard work. My children put plants on the porch so I can piddle with them.
    I wish I could do many of your suggestions-because you’re so smart!
    Happy Easter.

  12. gg on said:

    I have a young maple tree and it has a aprouting lim about I/2 ” lower than I want it , Is it too late to trim it off. Thanks

    • Mike on said:

      GG, no it’s not to late to prune. I prune 12 months out of the year. If it needs trimmed it gets trimmed.

  13. Charlene Wilson on said:

    I started a tree from some cuttings I bought at the Philadelphia flower show eight years ago. The seller said they were Japanese Wand Willows, the curled, flatten stems in places with the pussy buds that florists often use in floral arrangements. The tree is now as wide as it is high, about 20 feet each way.. This spring when it was in bloom, it was absolutely gorgeous. The internet doesn’t recognize, “Japanese Wand Willow.” Do you have any idea of what I have? Orhow big it will get? I also started a few curly willows the same way, but they’re not golden. I know of one of those that’s about 50 feet tall.

    • Mike on said:

      Charlene, I don’t really know what you might have. There are a number of different varieties.

  14. Nellie Hawkinson on said:

    Thank you so much…I appreciate hearing from you. I have a question. Last year (I did not know the city came in and cut down my lilac tree/bush of many years because a large tree branch fell on it. I went to see how my lilac tree/bush was doing and saw they had cut it down. Only thing left is just very low to the ground. Can I do anything to have it come back? I’m so sad.

    • Donna Musselman on said:

      More than likely the bush will regrow..They are very hardy..Try to keep it low so they don’t cut it again…I prune after flowering.

      • Mike on said:

        Vigorous is the proper word. Hardy only refers to its winter survive-ability temperature.

  15. Rhonda on said:

    While I doubt finger pruning would work on this; it’s also important to check the ground area around the base of ornamental (flowering) trees. Cherries, crapapples,pears, and others have a tendency to ‘sucker’ profusely and it’s best caught before the stems thicken and become ‘woody’.

  16. F thomas on said:

    Would this same technique be good to use on dwarf apple trees?

    • Mike on said:

      This should be done to any tree including apples.

  17. Chuck Hall on said:

    Love your newsletters, tons of valuable knowledge. Thanks for sharing your years of experience. I use your one finger pruning all the time so I don’t have to use pruners later.

    I have read that I should leave side buds/shoots/branches attached to the trunk until the side branches reach about 2″ diameter. The thinking is that trees use the energy/food produced by the leaves to feed and grow tissue very close to where it is produced. Leaving the side branches feeds the trunk and helps the trunk grow strong rather than spindly. Side branches should then be removed at about 2″ diameter to allow healthy rapid sealing.

    I have recently started my simple Jap Maple herd here in Iowa zone 5 and was wondering if the trees will develop sturdy trunks if I keep the young 1-2″ diameter trunks free of side branches.

    With all due respect

    • Mike on said:

      Chuck, I’ve never heard that. Most growers never let a branch get bigger than a dime before it is removed because of the scare left behind. You should make sure the tree has enough foliage to feed the plant, but it does so systemically so it doesn’t matter that the foliage is up top.

  18. Shirley Greenawalt on said:

    HI Mike, Always enjoy your short movies on how to do a variety of things in the garden. You had a video on how to propagate roses recently. Somehow I lost it and wanted to view it again to try that type of propagation. Is there a way I can get that video again? Thank you.

  19. Paul Sawa on said:

    Its always refreshing hearing from you, Mike. Keep it coming!

  20. Pat Stuart on said:

    Any chance of a video on trimming a hydranga? I am sure I spelled it wrong but I don’t know how to begin pruning it for the season. If not a video then just the directions would be most helpful. Thanks

  21. Melvin H. on said:

    Mike, I have a marvelous large plum tree. However, it does not produce a lot of plums. I did not prune it this year because it seems that spring came early. It had blooms on it the 1st of Feb. Is it too late to prune it since it’s normally time to start producing plums?

  22. Melvin Hendricks on said:

    I enjoyed the video on one finger pruning. Wish I had know about this technique sooner.

  23. Gail Huffstutler on said:

    I love reading all the hints your give, but, sadly, I don’t have the benefit of watching videos. Anyway, what I do get is always helpful. Thanks

  24. Linda Pearsall on said:

    Hi, Mike,
    When I watched the video and saw the info on the weeping Japanese Maple, it prompted me to ask a question. I have one and it is growing very well. This spring I have I have several 6 to 10″ new suckers at the base. Is it possible to remove and grow them? I know it wouldn’t be the weeping form, but I can use maples in other areas of my yard. Thanks for all you do.

    • Mike on said:

      Linda, getting those Japanese maple suckers or any cutting for that matter to root would be very difficult. But you can grow Japanese maples from seed, instructions are on this site. But now you’d wait until fall to collect the seeds.

      • JC Adams on said:

        How do you get the seeds from the tree?

        • Mike on said:


          I assume you are asking about Japanese maple seeds. All you have to do is harvest the seeds in the fall as they start turning brown.

  25. Fred Thompson on said:

    Here in las Vegas I can’t get any maple cuttings but boy if I could
    We have a lot of people that want them and can’t
    Get them. I know how to grow from my experience in Texas where they know everything.

    • Michelle Doll on said:

      Dear Fred,
      Growing things out of place, such as golf courses in the desert, is causing many nasty effects. Desert plants, that the entire ecosystem relies on, are dying from the increase in humidity. People who were advised to go to the desert for allergy relief, are now unable to breathe because suburbanites, not content with native vegetation, plant male flowering trees and grass all over suburbia. Maple trees do not belong in Las Vegas. Think about the long-term consequences before planting things out of their native habitat. Nevada has some absolutely wonderful native plants! Look into getting some. 🙂
      Besides all this, plants grown out of place tend to be sickly, needing lots of interventions from you just to stay alive. Trust me. I live in Florida, and I used to try growing temperate thing here. It was the biggest pain in my butt.

  26. Terrie Kemble on said:

    Thank you so much Mike for all the info you so freely share with us. I’ve saved many articles from your newsletter and will show this one to my husband today. God bless you a hundred-fold!

  27. Wilson Stump Grinding on said:

    Thank you for every other informative blog. The place else may just I get that type of info written in such a perfect manner? I have a undertaking that I’m just now working on, and I have been at the glance out for such info.

  28. boobs on said:

    obviously like your website but you need to check the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the truth however I will surely come again again.

    • Mike on said:

      Sometimes I remember to run spell check, sometimes I don’t. But I’m just me and typos don’t really bother me that much. I know they bother some people, but answer questions for Backyard Growers daily and I would never have time to spell check all those posts. I’d like to think that what I share is valueable as it is and I know it’s not perfect, just accurate.

      • Jo Brown on said:

        I so agree Mike. Your, free, by the way, advice is so very valuable to me and I look forward to each and every one of your updates.
        P.S. to “Boobs” You forgot to use spellcheck…. 🙂

      • Candace on said:

        Love you Mike – typos and all;)
        Nobody is perfect and what a boring world this would be if we all were.
        Keep up your great work, I love your site.
        HUGS, and have a great day

    • Sharon on said:

      You have a few typos yourself, in the post you just made. Considering your own lack of perfection in writing, I would think you could be a little more tolerant of the mistakes of others. — a former newspaper editor.

      • Sharon on said:

        That comment I just made was intended for “boobs”, not for Mike.

  29. ElShegal ( you can call me El ) on said:

    I just watched the one finger pruning video. Is there any way you can save those little buds you stripped with one finger and try to grow them into another tree? I am VERY new at this and am trying to learn and talk my husband into buying this system since we both are retired and could use extra money but we are both ignorant of just about everything when it comes to growing small plants or bushes or trees. We do have a garden, but my husband thinks that is enough. But I’m more into the landscaping plants and such. My favorite is the miniature Japanese Maple. I don’t see anything on the miniatures. Am I blind or is there a section on those and how to grow more from one plant.
    Thanks! El (ElShegal)

    • Mike on said:

      El, you can bud Japanese maples, but when you do, you have to cut into the wood to remove the bud. So when budding a small branch is removed from the tree to harvest the buds. When you say miniature you are probably refering to the dwarf weeping varieties. They are all in the dissectum family of Japanese maples.

  30. ElShegal ( you can call me El ) on said:

    Btw, Mike, I just read the reply from boobs. WHAT A BOOB!!! This is not English 101 in college! You are teaching us stuff that has nothing to do with spelling! We get the drift! Sheesh! I mean really, how do you deal with some people? Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that. Have a wonderful day!! El

  31. ElShegal ( you can call me El ) on said:

    One more thing while I got ya…I just bought a Beni Otaki Jap Maple at Lowes and I couldn’t find it on your list of different kinds of Jap Maples. I really wanted a miniature one and dummy me, didnt look at the info on the card saying it will grow to be 10-15 feet high which messes up where I was going to plant it. I am going to return it for a miniature. Any advice on the best kind of miniatures? Thank you for letting me bother you for a bit. I really do want to do this program so badly. Can you tell?
    Again, Have a good One!

    • Mike on said:

      El, you should consider keeping the maple. You can easily keep it trimmed so it doesn’t get that high. You’ll end up with a nice full little tree.

  32. ED on said:


  33. Pingback: Spring Pruning Tips. Should I Prune Now? – Mike's Backyard Nursery

  34. Ruth Pappamihiel on said:

    Thanks Mike, very good tip!!

  35. Olga on said:

    I appreciate all the great information you supply.
    At the end of the video you mention the large branch coming from the root stock. I have a weeping cherry that has a variety of these each year. I just prune…like you say …until I like how the plant looks. My question: Is there any way to prevent this from happening?


    • Mike on said:

      Olga, The best way to prevent this from happening is one finger pruning as soon as the buds form. Very, very easy to do. If you wait, not so easy to do. When you remove the suckers remove them completely, don’t leave a stub.

  36. Lynne on said:

    Hi, Mike. I have a 30 year old Japanese maple that I didn’t prune for years and it put out suckers below the graft that I didn’t notice. Then the top died and now I have a tree too large for the space! What should I do? I can’t transplant it now – I couldn’t dig it out and I doubt it would survive. How can/should I prune it so it will be happy and not block my windows?!

    • Mike on said:


      If the tree is dormant it could be moved, but . . . older Japanese Maples are very hard to dig out because the wood that make up the roots is very hard. Pruning? Prune it all you want, it won’t mind.

  37. Pingback: How to Ruin a Japanese Maple Tree. – Mike's Backyard Nursery

  38. elaine jackson on said:

    Mike – can you take the little buds that are flicked off and add them to some rose water medium or growth medium and get them to grow and eventually be planted?

    I am really bad about pruning and cutting anything off and tossing it away. So you can tell who is the boss on our property when it comes to taming the plants. They have me totally under their control. The demand for water one year was so bad I refused to go away on vacation. I never let anyone water my plants. My plants are spoiled!
    In Massachusetts (of course – HA )

    • Mike on said:


      I’m pretty sure that would not work unless you had a tissue culture lab.

  39. rosita on said:

    i have a japanese maple for about three years and its growing green leaves on top it looks horrible what can i do?

    • Mike on said:


      Sounds to me like suckers, you have to remove them back to the point where they originate on the tree.

  40. keith on said:

    I have fifty maple seedlings on the go at the moment they are about 6 inches high now (sept) at what age or size would you reccomend to start the pruning by the way im in the UK and love your blogs etc keep the info coming

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