Should Japanese Maples Be Pruned?

The Japanese maple is a colorful tree that homeowners like to plant for landscaping purposes. We often wonder if it is necessary to prune this decorative plant or just let it grow and flourish. To answer this question, we carried out thorough research for you, and here is what we found.

Japanese maple pruning is necessary to help the tree thrive and develop properly. You should prune in the winter to avoid damage or injury to the tree. Regular trimmings does not count as pruning because this just removes the broken branches and dead wood.

Japanese maples, just like every other plant, need proper care. In addition to pruning, there are other important things to know to take good care of your maple tree. Read on as we will elaborate more on this topic. 

Woman gardener trimming a red Japanese maple plant with pruning shears on spring. - Should Japanese Maples Be Pruned?

Japanese Maples: Characteristics and Growing Conditions

Should Japanese Maples Be Pruned

Japanese maple, also known as palmate maple with the botanical name Acer palmatum is found in East Asian countries such as China, Korea, Japan, and southeast Russia. These plants are especially popular for their colorful looks

Japanese maples thrive in moist, slightly acidic, and well-drained soil. They grow about 20 to 35 feet tall and 15 to 35 feet wide, with an average growth of 1 to 2 feet per year. Younger maples grow faster than older maples, so growth will be slower as they age.

Features and Characteristics

The Japanese maple leaf looks like an outstretched hand but has 5 to 9 lobes that are acutely pointed. Leaves are 4 ½ inches long and 1 - 4 ¾ inches wide. Maple leaves come in different colors, such as purple, red, and yellow. Sizes and shapes are also often different. Variations of these trees include weeping willows (leaves down) and upright maples.

They have shallow roots, so transplanting is usually done during dormancy. If you have a Japanese maple and plan to plant it, you may need to wait until spring to allow the maple to adjust before the new season begins.

It is also important to note that Japanese maples prefer partially shaded areas to avoid direct sunlight and strong winds, although some types of Japanese maples can survive without these shades. Different species of these trees have different growing conditions, and these climatic conditions are critical to the tree's survival.

Japanese maples are a great decoration for gardens, parks, and public spaces that require a color change.

Should Japanese Maples Be Pruned?

Yes, every tree needs pruning to thrive, and Japanese maples are no exception. Pruning should be done according to the grower's preferences, although the tree's shape should not be the focus of the pruning.

Depending on the time of year and the tree's health, Japanese maples can handle anything from light trimmings to more extensive pruning of branches.

Using the proper tools and following the correct steps when pruning can increase the productivity of your pruned tree. The following steps are important when pruning:

  • Be sure to prune carefully in the winter, when all the leaves should have fallen from the tree, and you should be able to prune without any obstructions or omissions. That doesn't mean you can't locate weak and dead branches for periodic pruning at any time of the year.
  • Make sure the tree leaves are not cut more than ⅓ of the leaves. If you cut more, your tree could be exposed to disease and insects.
  • When pruning, it's important to use the right tools for the job. You should use tools like shears and loppers to shape your tree as they will give you a cleaner cut than regular scissors.

Check out the Fiskers Gardening Shears on Amazon 

What Month Do You Prune Japanese Maples?

Bonsai of chrysanthemum flowers

Regular tree pruning is important for proper growth, as pruning promotes the tree's natural growth habits. While cutting is essential, knowing the right time and season to cut is also essential. Especially when it comes to pruning Japanese maples, doing it at the right time goes a long way.

Japanese maples are best pruned from the last month of the year to the second month of the following year, which means pruning should be done between December and early February.

It is usually winter, which is the best season to prune these trees, as the trees are generally dormant and pruning during this season reduces damage and injury caused to the tree.

How Do You Prune a Tall Japanese Maple Tree?

Trees that are too tall can cause damage in residential areas, and it is very dangerous for trees to touch the electrical wires outside the house. These trees must therefore be pruned.

Although pruning should be done to prevent Japanese maple trees from getting too tall, in some cases, there are ways to do this if the tree was not pruned.

It is recommended you use crown reduction methods when trimming tall Japanese maples. This method is used because the treetops open the way to infection and disease. Although the felling method is also not very desirable, it is a better option than a top tree. Here are the steps for pruning a large tree:

  • Pruning should be done in winter when the leaves are falling.
  • Remove brittle and dead branches.
  • Prune a calculated portion of the top gently.
  • Prune only a quarter of the canopy in one year, and any additional pruning should be done the following year.

Can You Cut a Japanese Maple All The Way Back?

Old Japanese Maple Tree in Autumn

Tree pruning is great, but when trees are pruned excessively, it can negatively affect the tree. Pruning and cutting should be done carefully so as not to endanger the tree.

Yes, you can cut down a Japanese maple completely, but you will end up severely damaging the tree. When cutting, be sure to follow the following rules:

  • You cannot cut more than 20% of the tree canopy.
  • Never cut more than 1/3 of the leaves from a branch.
  • Do not cut any branch whose diameter exceeds half the diameter of the main trunk.

Should You Top a Japanese Maple?

In most cases, the upper branches tend to block sunlight from reaching the lower branches, which affects the lower branches as the lack of the right amount of sunlight can reduce their growth.

Topping is the removal or cutting of the top of the tree so that the rest of the tree receives sunlight evenly. Some growers also cut the top of the tree to improve the shape.

Although the top of the tree helps the lower branches receive sunlight, it can damage the upper branches, and in most cases, the tree begins to rot from above. Topping your Japanese maple is not a good idea as it opens the way for disease and infection to enter your maple.

Topping to improve the shape of your Japanese maple is not recommended, as pruning could disfigure the tree's shape. The topping should be left as the last option in extreme cases where trees have grown too tall and are causing damage.

How Do You Shape a Japanese Maple?

Sun Beams at Japanese Flat Sand Zen Garden

Japanese maples are a form of garden beautification, and it is important to know why you are pruning and what you want the end result. Pruning Japanese maples can prove difficult at times, so it is better to call a professional to do it for you.

Doing it yourself is always another option, and in that case, we're here to help. Just follow the steps below, and you will have your tree pruned in no time. 

  • Always start by removing broken, dead, or clustered branches.
  • Cut off weak branches on top that are shading the stronger branches below.
  • Always use clean cuts so you don't damage your tree.
  • Avoid trying to reshape the tree only, but try to focus more on removing unwanted parts of the tree.
  • Cut off branches heading in the wrong direction as they can create more clusters in the future.

A rough or untamed tree is unattractive, so remember to reshape the tree as its branches shrivel, weaken and break. These will help in allowing stronger branches to grow.

How Long Do Japanese Maple Live?

Japanese maples are relatively short-lived and can live for around 100 years with proper care and effort. Care should be taken when handling Japanese maples, as one of the main factors that kill them is a fungal infection.

Fungal pathogens such as Verticillium wilt and Phytophthora (root rot) are problems with excessive soil moisture, and these pathogens can kill trees. Unstable weather conditions, such as strong sunshine and strong winds, can also negatively affect tree life.

How Do You Rejuvenate a Japanese Maple Tree?

There are many reasons why your Japanese maple tree is dying, and finding out why is the first step to rejuvenating your maple. Weather conditions, infections, or fertile soil can lead to tree death.

Once the cause of death has been identified, the next step is to find a solution. Here are some reasons for the decline of Japanese maples and how to fix them:

Intense sunlight and strong wind

Red Maple trees in Japanese temple

You can solve this problem, by installing a partial shade on the tree to prevent the sun from burning the leaves further.

Infection and disease

This problem can be solved by spraying the tree with an appropriate herbicide to prevent pathogenic fungi. When watering the Japanese maple, be sure not to overwater and end up swapping the area with water.

To Wrap Up

Beautiful Maple in the fall. - Should Japanese Maples Be Pruned?

The Japanese maple is an aesthetically pleasing set of trees to plant in your garden or around your home to enhance its beauty. Proper care should be taken during pruning, watering, and planting a new Japanese maple.

For more on trees and gardens, we recommend you check out these engaging posts:

11 Deciduous Flowering Shrubs For Your Garden 

How Long Can a Tree Live in a Pot?

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