I’ll show you how to prune a Japanese maple tree in this article.

There are two significant Japanese maple trees: Laceleaf and upright maple. The Lacleafs have a weeping form with lacy-looking leaves, while the uprights have more solid leaves and grow to point upwards without tilts.

Both species are beautiful, but you must prune them correctly to maintain their attractive looks.

When To Prune Japanese Maple Tree

Unlike many other trees, Japanese maples are not season-specific.

However, pruning in the spring may not give you the best results since the tree will produce new growth and will be flowing with sap. Pruning in the winter, and experts consider the summer seasons as the best times.

Winter is preferred because the tree loses some of its leaves during this season, making it easier to spot the branches that need to be cut back.

The summer, however, permits more accurate measurement of the brand that needs thinning. If you plan to prune in the summer, you must be careful of the temperature. Removing branches that provide shade will allow harsh sunlight into the tree’s center if the temperature is too hot.

A summer temperature of 80° Fahrenheit is ideal for pruning the Japanese Maple tree.

Pruning Upright Trees

To prune the upright Japanese Maple tree, you must follow four significant steps.

Firstly, you must prune off the lower limbs, which choke the lower shrubs or cause obstacles to walkways. Secondly, you need to prune off the deadwood.

These include dead or brittle branches that no longer produce foliage.

The next step is to separate the tree into different layers. Remove any branches that are encroaching into the layers below or above them.

The fourth and final step is to give the branches an even thinning. Cut off some small lateral branches and keep the others to get an all-around thinned outlook.

The preferred look is to have fewer branches filling the empty spaces.

Pruning Laceleaf Trees

Pruning the Laceleaf Japanese Maple tree is a bit more complicated than pruning the uprights. Some gardeners don’t like pruning this species, which will result in too much foliage.

On the other hand, some gardeners are fond of Pruning too much, resulting in very little foliage.

For the upright maple tree, preserving its natural shape and promoting its shell-shaped growth is essential.

First, you will have to remove all deadwood and low-hanging branches. Do not prune the thicker branches if they are more than 50% of the thickness of the trunk’s diameter.

Any unit that doesn’t suit the aesthetic look of the tree should also be pruned out.

Also, if you find any branch that doesn’t curve or divide, you can also prune those back.

Like the upright trees, you should separate the layers and cut off branches that do not conform to the tree’s natural pattern.

The last step is to create a top layer with a veiled form. This uniform curtain protects the rest of the tree’s foliage.

Pruning Tips

Below, I will list some vital pruning tips for a maple tree.

  • You can prune in almost any season, especially the winter (avoid Pruning in the spring)
  • Prune according to the natural growth pattern of the tree
  • Remove all the dead, decayed, or brittle branches
  • Do not remove more than 50% of the tree’s mass
  • Don’t attempt to change the tree’s shape (prune according to natural body)
  • You can reduce the width of the tree, but not its height
  • Don’t cut off large limbs that are up to half the diameter of the tree trunk

How To Keep Japanese Maple Trees Small

Japanese Maple trees are usually small trees, shrub-like if you will, although some grow tall. Most varieties grow no more than 15 feet high, while a few larger species grow as high as 50 feet.

Small species are grown as bonsai specimens in small pots or containers.

To control the size, all you need is some minor pruning. However, if keeping your Japanese maple small is so important, you should buy the miniature varieties.

Japanese maples have excellent qualities, so I understand why you would like to have them in your yard.

Below are some tips for you to have small-sized Japanese maples in your yard.

Buy compact species: This should be a no-brainer. If you’re keen on having a small Japanese maple, buy one.

The one you buy shouldn’t be able to grow more than 10 feet at full maturity. Burgundy Lace and Crimson Queen are among your best options.

Pruning: For a mature Japanese oak, the best way to keep them small is by pruning regularly. The early winter season is the best time, although you can remove deadwood anytime you find them.

Delay pruning young trees: Pruning will promote quicker growth for a young tree. You can delay Pruning for a while to slow its growth.

How To Prune Overgrown Japanese Maple Trees

No matter how overgrown your Japanese maple tree gets, you must not prune more than one-fifth of its canopy or more than 30% of the whole tree.

Follow the steps below to prune the Japanese Maple Tree.

Step 1: Clean off all the dirt from your cutting tools and wipe them off with an alcohol-based sterilizer. Any blunt instruments should be replaced or sharpened before they are used for Pruning.

Step 2: Remove all dead, decayed, or brittle limbs from the tree. Cut them back as close to the trunk as you possibly can.

If you find branches that grow straight up or down, you should also cut them off. Components that are crossed or are rubbing against each other should also be cut off.

Any limbs growing toward the tree’s center must also be cut off.

Step 3: Cut off any low-hanging branches that shield the trunk. When Japanese maples are untrimmed, they form a shrub-like look. Before you trim such trees, determine the point from which you want the canopy to start.

Remove all the branches below the point where you want the canopy to start.

Step 4: Remove all branches that disturb the planes of other components during thinning.

The lateral branches of the Japanese maple should come from all sides of the trunk, and foliage must be produced on a horizontal level perpendicular to the tree’s trunk.

Cut any branches that shoot down or up into the lateral branches to avoid overcrowding. Doing this will also give the tree good shape.

The aim is to have overlapping layers of foliage along the tree’s trunk.

Step 5: Trim the rest of the branches as required to give the tree your desired shape. This step should eliminate the long and unbalanced components.

Concentrate your efforts on removing thin-looking limbs, and keep the thick-looking, healthy limbs intact, as they are the main branches.

If you discover that the end of the main branch is growing between two offshoots, make a heading cut to remove the significant component from the center. This will allow the two offshoots to grow into thicker branches.

What You Will Need

  • A cleaning brush
  • Bleach or alcohol-based sterilizer
  • Water
  • Clean rags
  • Pruning shears
  • Loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Tree wrap

Extra Tips

After trimming, you can wrap up the tree with a protective park to spare it from sunburn if it is planted in an area exposed to too much sunlight or temperatures higher than 80° Fahrenheit.

Aesthetic Pruning Of Japanese Maple Tree

Follow these steps to achieve aesthetic Pruning of your Japanese maple tree.

Knowing the tree’s dynamics is the first step to take. Study it from all angles and identify all redundant branches and units with excess foliage. After that, create a mental image of the tree’s appearance.

You also have to consider the tree’s age and how it was planted. Identify all the natural elements that have affected its growth since its production and determine if it needs more or less water.

Incorrect Pruning will lead to the development of ugly tree knuckles. These knuckles will defeat the whole purpose of aesthetic Pruning, as the central aesthetic concept of “coarse to fine” will no longer be applicable.

The gradual progression from having a thick base to a fine tip is essential to having a fine, aesthetically pruned Japanese maple tree.


There are wide varieties of Japanese maple trees, all requiring regular Pruning to get the best results, both for healthy re-growth and aesthetic reasons.

I hope this article on pruning a Japanese maple tree has been informative.

Good luck!

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