How to Prune Japanese Maples?

Because of their form and the diverse vocabulary of their branching structure, Japanese maples are among the most satisfying trees to trim. This is because their branching structure ranges from the most robust limb to the most fragile twig.

The elegant flow of the tree, the leaf’s delicacy as they rustle in the breeze, the leaf’s translucence in the light, and the gorgeous hues. 

Since the very first time, I laid eyes on one, many years before I became a garden designer or an aesthetic pruner, Japanese maples have had a very important place in my heart, just as they do for a great number of other people. 

Japanese Maples small tree

What some people might not be aware of is the fact that pruning that is both aesthetically and scientifically informed can make a world of difference in the degree to which their purified essence is revealed to us.

Reasons To Prune A Japanese Maple Tree

To prune a Japanese maple for reasons related to its health is actually not a reasonable expectation under any circumstances. These trees are strong and grow in a peculiar manner, which is only one of the endearing qualities that they possess. 

For instance, the expansive canopy of the tree can keep the sun-loving flowers in your garden in the shade for an excessive amount of time, which would stunt their growth. 

A Japanese maple, on the other hand, does not actually require any other kind of pruning in order to ensure happy and healthy development.

When Is The Best Time To Prune A Japanese Maple?

As you start to think about pruning the plants in your garden, it is essential for their health that you do some research and find out what time of year is ideal for each individual plant so that you may prune them at the optimal period. 

If you only intend to prune a few of the branches off of your Japanese maple, you may do it at any time of the year without having any negative effects on the tree’s overall health. 

You should wait until winter to prune the tree, though, if you wish to modify the size or shape of the tree by cutting off a significant number of its branches. 

Garden of Japanese Maples tree

Apart from that, the classic gardening adage “Prune when the shears are sharp” applies to this situation just as well as it does to gardening in general. 

You may perform some minor pruning on your tree at any time of the year, provided that the equipment you use is clean and of good quality.

Steps for Trimming a Japanese Maple

You should be able to efficiently trim your maple tree according to the following rules, regardless of the circumstances. 

As you are trimming your tree, you should always keep the following suggestions in mind. We will go into more precise pruning procedures a little bit further down, so stay tuned for that.

Get Rid of the Dead and Diseased Wood

It is important to remove any debris from your Japanese Maple before you begin trimming it, regardless of the reason for the pruning. 

Frost damage during the winter months causes dieback in Japanese Acer trees rather frequently. Nevertheless, illness and a lack of sunshine can destroy limbs at any time of the year. 

Yet, in other cases, when a tree is thirsty or under a lot of stress, it will simply cease providing food to one of its branches, so sacrificing it in favor of new development elsewhere. 

As you remove the dead branches and leaves from the tree, it will be much simpler to determine what needs to be done with the surviving sections of the tree.

Deadwood is easily identifiable throughout the spring months since it does not produce any buds. Throughout the summer, you should seek branches that have lost all of their leaves. The wood that has died and decomposed might either be dry and brittle or rotting and squishy. 

In any case, you need to cut it off using your clippers, loppers, or saw to get rid of it. Repeat this process with any other branches that appear to be dying.

Make Your Cutting As Clear As You Can

Rough and uneven wounds not only take longer to heal, but they also make it simpler for viruses to establish a foothold in your tree. 

Make it a goal to cut through a branch with a single fluid motion whenever possible. If you are ever unsure whether the branch you are working with is too thick for your clippers, you should consider upgrading to a more effective tool. In addition to that, make sure that you regularly sharpen your blades. 

It is a good idea to sharpen them after each time you use them for pruning so that they are ready to use when the next time comes along.

In between each cut, dip a cloth into the disinfecting solution and use it to clean out the blades of the scissors. Even if you cut through a piece of diseased wood, you won’t be able to spread the infection to a healthy region using this method.

Cut the Branches of the Japanese Maple at an Angle

You don’t want to leave your tree with any flat stubs, especially if the branch you’re cutting off was one that was growing upward. 

It is much simpler for flat incisions to collect water, which can then foster the growth of a fungal infection. 

Instead, cut at an angle of 45 degrees to create a slope that will allow excess moisture to drain away. If it is not practicable, turn the open end so that it is facing down.

Don’t Cut Any Further Than the Collar

It is in your best interest to make your cuts somewhat close together so that you do not leave an ugly stub hanging out where a branch has been removed. Having said that, you should never cut so near to the branch that you risk damaging the branch collar. 

This is the ring of rather more substantial wood that may be found at the very bottom of every limb and branch.

This part includes vital tissue for the healing process, so if you were to injure it, you would significantly increase the likelihood that your Japanese Maple would get infected. 

To achieve the best results, stop cutting slightly past the collar. In the event that this cannot be accomplished, you should err on the side of cutting too far out.

Prune a Japanese Maple Inside and Out

In most cases, the removal of lower branches is preferable to the removal of higher ones. And in terms of the general appearance of your Japanese Maple tree, branches that are growing inward or across the midline of the tree are often more disposable than other types of branches. 

Because of this, it is recommended to begin the pruning process at the base of the plant and work your way up through the interior before proceeding outward and upward.

As you go forward, make a circle around the tree. Before you call it a day, try to complete at least two circuits around the object. Instead of over-pruning certain areas of your maple tree, keeping this in mind will help you maintain the tree’s overall shape in mind.

Be Careful Not to Over-Prune Your Japanese Maple

These trees have a rather moderate growth rate, especially as they reach maturity. If you are unsure about a particular edit, wait until the next season to look at it again. 

Also, you should never remove more than one-third of the leaf off your Japanese Maple in a single growing season. It is generally a good idea to snap a short snapshot of the tree before you get started so that you can return to it as you go along. 

This allows you to keep track of where you are in the process. It is important to take regular stops in order to gain perspective and see the tree in its entirety.

Winter Pruning

Japanese maples should have their structural branches pruned throughout the winter months. The vast majority of the leaves, if not all of them, will have fallen off, leaving behind a stunning (or potentially gorgeous) “winter silhouette.” 

During this time of year, the tree becomes dormant, its bark becomes less fragile, and it takes less time for severe wounds to heal. 

When this happens, we actually have the ability to change the architecture or lines of a tree in significant ways: to reveal more of its essence; to resolve a spatial problem (because the tree is too big); to enhance the surrounding environment (for example, by training the tree around an entryway); or simply to make a tree that is more beautiful and healthy.

Spring Pruning

In the spring, much of the work consists of shaping and thinning, particularly with the purpose of producing a lacy appearance that resembles leaves moving in the breeze. 

It is crucial to use caution while making cuts and sawing and to avoid trimming off huge branches unless it is absolutely required for the tree’s health. Because new layers of bark are fragile and quickly rip, it is important to protect them.

Concentrate on the more delicate aspects of pruning, such as shaping, thinning out leaves, and thinning off branches that are overcrowded (by hand or with scissors). 

By the end of the process, the tree will have fewer leaves overall, but each leaf will be more distinct, and the overall appearance of the tree will be one that is more delicate, more vibrant, and better formed. It ought to be possible for you to see the light passing through the tree, which will contribute to the impression that the garden is both large and deep.

Summer Pruning

During the hot days of summer, pruning may or may not be required depending on the situation. This is partially dependent on whether or not the tree is exposed to a great deal of direct sunlight. 

The removal of vigorous water sprouts that are developing vertically upward through the tree is often all that is done during summer trimming. When it comes to Japanese maples, this is not the optimum time to perform other sorts of pruning.


Pruning a Japanese maple in the fall involves removing dead or damaged wood, as well as any minor crossing shoots, and opening up the tree’s center to improve air circulation.

Minimal shaping pruning should be performed in the late summer or early fall when the sap has slowed. 

To avoid stem dieback and/or infection, avoid performing this sort of pruning in the winter and early spring. Big cuts made in the spring can cause the stems to bleed and even become infected.

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