How to Cut Back Japanese Maple Trees


Japanese maples are most commonly planted as ornamental specimen trees to showcase their richly colored foliage and delicate, irregular and slightly weeping canopies. Young trees benefit from heavy pruning to develop a strong lateral branch architecture, according to the University of Florida. Very little to no pruning is required for mature trees, and any pruning that is undertaken should be thoughtful and follow the natural contours of the canopy as much as possible.

Step 1

Prune young trees to support future growth in the winter when the tree is dormant. Remove weak or spindly branches, completely vertical shoots, downward-growing branches and interior-facing branches that cross or abrade one another. Preserve outward- and upward-facing branches. Place all cuts down to the parent branch, just outside of the slightly swollen branch collar.

Step 2

Prune the canopy of mature trees only when they are interfering with utility lines, structures or other trees. Plan to prune in the winter when dormant or during the late spring when the tree is not under other stress. Remove only as many shoots and branches necessary to correct the conflict and keep the canopy looking naturally balanced.

Step 3

Prune away weather-damaged, diseased, dead or otherwise troubled branches and foliage any time throughout the year when you see it. Pull the cuttings clear from the canopy and compost or discard. Place the cut back to the point of healthy wood or to the parent branch just outside of the swollen branch collar.

Things You'll Need

  • Secateurs
  • Loppers
  • Pruning hand saw


  • University of Florida: Acer palmatum
  • University of Georgia: Pruning Ornamentals in the Landscape
  • Washington State University: Japanese Maples
Keywords: prune Japanese maple, Japanese maple care, trim Japanese maple

About this Author

An omni-curious communications professional, Dena Kane has more than 17 years of experience writing and editing content for online publications, corporate communications, business clients, industry journals, as well as film and broadcast media. Kane studied political science at the University of California, San Diego.