The red maple, named for the red flowers and fruit it produces, is a valuable shade tree. Before leaf emergence, it yields clusters of showy red flowers in early spring, followed by red to brownish fruit. The fruit of the red maple is attractive to wildlife but not a significant source of food. The red maple grows to an average of 40 to 60 feet tall. As you make pruning decisions, keep in mind that branches of the red maple will droop as the tree matures.
Prune young red maples in late winter or early spring before flowers emerge. Shape the tree by cutting off crossing, competing and inward growing branches and encouraging the growth of a strong single leader. Make each cut at an angle that points downward, away from the tree trunk. Always cut near a node (the place where a branch or twig attaches to another).
Thin overcrowded branches, if needed, to improve the symmetry or balance of the red maple.
Cut back or cut off any lower branches of your red maple that are too long or large. This will encourage the tree to grow upward. If you do not want to remove a large lower branch completely, cut it back by half or more. If you need to prune a branch that is too heavy to hold while you cut it, make three cuts as described in order to avoid damage to the tree bark.
First, make a shallow notch on the underside of the branch outside the branch collar (the part of the branch close to the trunk that grows from stem tissue) but not flush against the trunk. Second, cut down from the top of the branch a little farther away from the trunk than the first cut. With this second cut, go all the way through so you just have a short stub left. Third, cut off the small stub that remains from the first two cuts.
Prune off broken, dead or damaged branches when you observe them. This may be done any time of the year.