Shaping / pruning a Japanese Maple?

Asked November 1, 2017, 1:14 PM EDT

I've got a JM that I've had in the ground for about 3 years, and it's just become a full ball of branches / leaves that is starting to drown out other surrounding plants. What little research I've done so far tells me that fall / winter is the best time to prune, after the tree has gone dormant. Do you have any suggestions on what limbs to target and where to apply the pruner to start developing a thinner, more layered shape?

Multnomah County Oregon pruning japanese maples

1 Response

Thanks for your question about pruning your Japanese maple tree. You are correct in observing now is not the time to prune deciduous trees. This OSU Extension article has information about pruning reasons, techniques and timing, and says (page 15):

"Prune deciduous trees in late winter or early spring before the leaves begin to appear. This allows the new growth to begin covering the wound and lets the tree internally seal the wound during the growing season."

Here is another link to an excellent article on the potential aesthetics of Japanese maples in the landscape, that may have you thinking about its character in the years to come. Finally, here's a link to a WSU Extension article on the "hows" of pruning, that I think you'll find informative. When I watched a licensed arborist prune our 3 Japanese maples, he did all of his work laying down, and they are all beautifully shaped--and you can see no evidence of any pruning cuts!

Hope these are helpful to you. Good luck!