How to Prune a Japanese Maple Tree (Best Guide)

Last Modified

February 23, 2023 by Hirah Ehsan

The Japanese maple tree, also known as Lace Leaf Maple, is one of the most elegant, architectural, and valuable trees that you can have in your yard. Therefore, if you are fortunate enough to have one on your property, you should take proper care of it.

These garden favorites can be enhanced or restored with some simple pruning, making them a one-of-a-kind display in summer or winter. Trimming the tree’s skeleton over its first few years enhances its graceful appearance.

As leaves fall off the tree in the winter, the trunk of the tree becomes exposed, so it’s a great time to get your clippers out. Pruning these trees is one of the most challenging and complicated aspects of their care.

But our easy-to-follow guide and tricks will allow you to easily trim your Japanese maple tree. Learn how to prune a Japanese maple tree properly to enhance both its attractive form and its beauty.

How to Prune a Japanese Maple Tree

  1. Get rid of dead branches first

If you are planning to prune any tree, the first thing that you need to do is to remove any dead branches that you find. It’s easier to decide which branches to prune next if you remove all the dead ones first.

Remove the dead branch at the junction with the closest healthy one, keeping the collar intact. If the tree is left with this small stub, it will be able to heal more quickly.

You may simply snap off smaller branches, but you will need a pair of bypass pruning shears if you want to cut off larger ones.

2. Get rid of branches that cross or rub

When the dead branches have all been removed, you’ll need to check for crossing branches that rub against each other. In the wind, the branches rub against each other, creating wounds in the bark that can invite insects or diseases.

Make a mental image of how the tree will look if you remove each branch, and then choose the one you think will look the most attractive. If there is obvious damage to the branch or if it has a divot, you should cut it.

3. Prune branches that cross the midline

A Japanese Maple tree’s shape plays a crucial role in its aesthetic beauty. Unfortunately, some branches crossed the tree’s midline and ruined its beauty.

Therefore, it is imperative to prune branches that cross the midline of a weeping Japanese maple tree to maintain its form. 

4. Thin and shape the tree

Once the problem branches have been removed, you can focus on the aesthetics of the tree. Taking your time and only making a few cuts at a time is a smart idea.

Remember one thing: you can always prune more, but you can’t add more branches! When shaping a Japanese maple tree, you should consider the following factors:

  • Get rid of straight-up branches.
  • You’ve got to start from the bottom up.
  • Remove branches that interrupt your layers of “clouds.
  • Cover the trunk with enough leaves to keep it from getting sunburned.

Take a look at the tree from every angle. There’s a chance that removing a branch on one side will make it look awful on the other.

5. Shaping a Weeping Japanese Maple

Weeping Japanese maples are known for their branches flowing downward in a waterfall-like fashion. You can easily see this effect if you wait until the leaves have started to grow.

Because of this, it might be a good idea for you to wait a few weeks after pruning before you attempt to shape the tree. If any branches are sticking out at an odd angle, you should remove them.

In a perfect world, all of them would be flowing down to the ground. Make sure any branches touching the ground are trimmed, so insects will not crawl up them. It takes several haircuts a year to keep this tree looking good!

How to Prune an Upright Maple

Start from the bottom and work your way up

Trim the maple from the bottom to the center, then proceed to the outside.

Remove dead or protruding branches

Check your tree for dead or unhealthy branches, as well as branches that stick out and ruin the shape of your tree. If the branches are small, you can cut them off with pruning shears or loppers.

Get rid of excess branches

If you give branches enough space to grow, they’ll grow best. Remove any overlapping branches with shears or loppers to reduce the tree’s bulk. Make sure that the tree is thinned evenly to give it a balanced appearance.

Correct the Direction of Bud

It is common for the buds of trees to grow into dominant branches later in life. Whenever you see a bud, gently press it between your fingers and point it in the direction in which you would like it to grow.

The buds may also be rubbed away with your fingernails if they are in an awkward position or may lead to an overgrowth in the future.

If the maple grows too large, replant it

If a Japanese maple grows too large for its area, avoid cutting down the top or excessively pruning the sides of the tree. Instead of doing this, hire a landscaper to transplant your tree to a place that will give it more space to grow in.

When to Prune Japanese Maple Trees

When it comes to trimming ornamental and fruit trees, the best time of year is during the winter months when they are dormant. The winter pruning of Japanese maples should be done for structural reasons.

The fine pruning should be done in late spring after the leaves have come out. Also, the summer months are a good time to remove large branches from trees, as well as dead, damaged, or diseased wood.

Why prune a Japanese Maple tree

There is no particular reason for you to prune a Japanese maple if it is only for health purposes. These trees are healthy and are growing in a unique way that simply adds to the charm of this tree species.

However, if you are growing them for landscaping purposes, it may be necessary to prune your plants

  • To keep them in the shape you want
  • Protect them from the elements
  • Remove dead or diseased limbs
  • Prevent them from damaging the plants around them

If the tree’s canopy is too big, sun-loving flowers might get shady for too long and not grow. Other than that, there isn’t any need to prune a Japanese maple for its growth to be happy and healthy. 

Few Things to Consider When Pruning

For best results, follow these guidelines when pruning a Japanese maple:

  • You might see whippy side branches on young Japanese maples. It is important not to remove them. If you’re impatient and cut them off, you’ll only exacerbate the situation. Cutting off whippy branches only leads to more branches. You’ll achieve a robust architectural framework as your branches mature.
  • If possible, let your tree grow naturally for as long as possible without pruning, removing only dead, damaged, improperly placed, or crossing branches.
  • Japanese maples shouldn’t have more than 20% of their crown cut off. Not only will it stress the plant, but it will also stimulate unsightly growth.
  • To keep your tree healthy, don’t take a quarter of the foliage off each branch.
  • Avoid cutting branches that are bigger than half the main stem’s diameter.
  • Don’t limit your tree’s height. You should instead choose a tree that has a maximum height and spread suited to your location. It is rare to be able to control the height of a tree without damaging it in the process.
  • Pruning should be done mainly on the interior of the tree.
  • Be careful not to attempt a major reshaping. If this is done, the canopy will have unsightly holes in it.
  • It is best to avoid shearing. The result is likely to be a growth pattern that is out of sync with the flowing, drooping branches on the tree.
  • It is important to disinfect your tools after every tree you cut to prevent the spread of disease.

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