Trimming Japanese Maples


Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are small elegant trees with delicate foliage. The leaves may have lacy tips, narrow fingers, deeply lobed edges or other interesting features. The foliage often turns golden or red in the spring and fall. Some varieties have leaves with a purplish or yellowish tinge all season. Japanese maples are often used as specimen plants. They can also be grown in a group where the colors and patterns of the foliage complement each other. Prune them in the winter to improve their form and appearance, as well as to remove dead and damaged branches.

Step 1

Examine the Japanese maple from all angles, including from the ground up, to determine which branches that need to be removed to attain the shape you want.

Step 2

Use hand pruners for limbs up to 1/2 inch in diameter, lopping shears for limbs up to 3/4 inch in diameter and a pruning saw for larger branches. Make pruning cuts at a 30-degree angle at a bud or joint. Begin pruning at the bottom of the canopy and work up, and work from the inside towards the outside of the canopy.

Step 3

Cut out dead, diseased, damaged or crossed limbs and branches.

Step 4

If two limbs are parallel to each other, remove the one that most detracts from the shape of the tree.

Step 5

Remove any limbs that grow beyond the main shape of the canopy of the tree and any limbs that ruin the appearance of the tree.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not remove more than 1/5 of the canopy at a time to prevent stressing the tree.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners
  • Lopping shears
  • Pruning saw


  • Clemson University Extension

Who Can Help

  • Pruning Japanese Maple
Keywords: trim Japanese Maple, Japanese Maple, trim Acer palmatum, Acer palmatum

About this Author

Melody Lee worked as a newspaper reporter, copywriter and editor for 5 years. In addition, she has edited magazine articles and books. Lee holds a degree in landscape design and is a Florida master gardener. She has more than 25 years of gardening experience, which includes working at nurseries and greenhouses.