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How to Prune a Japanese Maple

This simple, four-step approach will leave you with a beautiful focal point in your landscape

Video by Danielle Sherry. Edited by Christine Alexander.

Japanese maples are gorgeous trees that add an instant focal point to any garden. In order to maintain their health and to be sure they’re looking their best, pruning is necessary. The following steps will help you keep your upright Japanese maple looking top-notch, and ensure that it remains a treasured specimen tree in your yard for many years.

Step 1: Remove dead or damaged branches

Aside from being unsightly, dead and damaged branches can be perfect points for pests and diseases to infiltrate your tree and affect its overall health.

Step 2: Address potential problems

There are three parts to this step.

Part 1: Remove crossing branches that ruin the visual structure of the tree and can cause damage to neighboring branches through unwanted rubbing.

Part 2: Remove branches that have the potential to cross in another year or two. If the branch looks like it’s eventually going to interfere with another branch, cut it out.

Part 3: Reduce the number of branches coming from one concentrated area of the tree. If one branch intersection has five or more smaller branches all clustered in one spot, reduce that number by at least half. If you leave these clusters of branches in place, their weight can eventually cause the tree to split.

Step 3: Thin out the interior of the tree

Reduce the number of branches in the interior of the tree for better airflow. Japanese maples can be susceptible to fungal disease, and this action will help avoid those problems.

Step 4: Prune for aesthetics

This step has two parts.

Part 1: Prune for a purpose. This means removing branches for a specific purpose that makes your life better as a gardener. This includes cutting back branches that are in the way when mowing your lawn or even cutting away a branch so you can more easily hang a bird feeder from your tree.

Part 2: Prune to accentuate certain features. This includes cutting away lower branches to expose the lovely trunk and bark of your Japanese maple.

Removing dead or damaged branches and crossing branches from your Japanese maple should happen every year. Rejuvenating your tree with more drastic pruning (like thinning out the interior and pruning for aesthetics) will only need to be done every three to four years.

For more information on pruning Japanese maples (including how to address weeping forms), read on here: Pruning Japanese Maples.


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