The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is an ornamental tree grown for its striking foliage. Most of the year it produces serrated green or red leaves. In fall, the tree seems to burst into flames as the foliage changes to gold, orange and red. Japanese maples are supposed to be informal and a bit wild-looking, so heavy pruning is usually not performed. Prune the Japanese maple in the late fall or early winter when it's dormant. Use the bypass pruners on any branches that are finger-sized or smaller and the pruning saw on larger branches.
Remove any growth from below the graft union (slightly swollen area toward the lower end of the trunk where the tree was grafted onto the stock).
Prune off broken and dead branches all the way back to the main branch.
Cut off any branches that are crossing over others. These can rub against other branches, damaging the bark and creating places for diseases to enter.
Prune away any branches that are growing inward and any branches that are growing parallel.
Rake up all pruning debris from around the tree and water until the water puddles.
Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch on the soil, completely encircling the tree. Keep the mulch 2 inches away from the tree's bark and spread it out to the drip line (area at the tips of the longest branches).