Pruning Japanese Maple

Asked September 26, 2019, 11:24 AM EDT

Hello - we recently purchased a house, and on the property we have a mature Japanese Maple. We were told that it needs to be pruned, but unsure how to go about it. We did prune a little earlier this summer, when we noticed one of the bottom branches hanging low. Unfortunately the branches are delicate and intertwined, we ended up cutting a big hole on one side of the tree. Since then, we've been reluctant to do much. When, and how often, does it need to be pruned? How do you prune it? Where do you start from? How do you know when you've done too much? How do you take care of the overall health of the tree? Does it need mulch? How often? Any information would be helpful. Attached are 3 pictures. Please let us know if you need more.

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

Hi - First of all, your tree looks beautiful! We often see Japanese maples with problems, but yours appears to be thriving. Japanese maples do benefit from some pruning and shaping each year. It is better to make small pruning cuts (they will heal quicker) rather than cutting larger branches when the size/shape gets larger and out of hand. Corrective pruning can be done any time of year except in late winter/early spring when the sap is rising and the tree is putting its energy into the development of new leaves. Major pruning, if you need to do any, is best done when the tree is dormant (November-early January). Refer to our page about how to prune trees.

Pruning cuts should be made just behind where you see a pair of buds on a twig. Fine twiggy growth from the interior for these can be pruned out if you want to see more of the branching structure (some people appreciate the aesthetics of seeing more of limbs), but you don't need to do that. Again, your tree looks very healthy as it is and it is growing in a normal, natural form (these are not an upright type of tree). You may just want to prune periodically to keep branches from reaching over the walkway/driveway areas.

I do recommend using mulch at the base of the tree. It should be no more than 2-3" deep and keep the mulch about 6" away from the base of the trunk to prevent rotting/pest issues. Be sure to water the tree during periods of drought, like we are having now. Trees that become stressed by drought conditions can be more susceptible to disease/pest problems. Refer to our tips for watering in drought conditions.