Japanese maples are prized for their vibrant color and elegant arching natural canopy. With such a pleasing growth form and striking coloration they are typically placed in the garden as specimen plants. Whether grown in the ground soil or in containers, Japanese maples require little and infrequent pruning to maintain their pleasing shape. Always use a light hand when cutting and step back with each cut to view your progress before initiating the next cut.
Inspect your Japanese maple regularly each time that you water the tree. Look for and remove any damaged or diseased branches or dying foliage. Cut away only what is necessary to remove the damage and maintain a balanced and pleasing shape.
Prune your Japanese maple once a year or every other year in the winter when the tree is in its dormancy. Start by cutting away any interior branches that cross or abrade one another. Prune away small branches that face into the center of the tree.
Place cuts at the base of the branch where it meets the parent branch and make all cuts flush with the branch's slightly swollen collar, while not cutting into the parent branch.
Stand back and consider the overall architectural form of the tree, envisioning it clad with leaves, and only make further cuts that enhance the natural shape and flow of the tree.
Clear out all of the cuttings from the tree canopy and from the soil below. Water the tree in well after pruning to make the soil evenly moist but not soaking wet. This will reduce stress and help guard against winter drought.