Pruning Japanese Maples

swmogardens(6)January 20, 2010

Japanese Maples are the shining stars of my shade garden. Every January, I look forward to a full day of pruning my maples.

After 10 years and 81 Japanese Maples, I've come up with these tips for better pruning.

Step One...The Basics

1. Use sharp pruners.

2. Mix a jar full of 8 parts water and 2 parts bleach. Dip your pruners in the jar between maples to avoid spreading disease.

3. Wear eye protection. You will get a branch in the eye if you don't. This year I got a branch up my nose!

4. In the midwest, do major pruning late December to late January. Touch up pruning can be done in summer.

Step Two...What to Cut

1. All dead or diseased branches.

2. Old, short stubs. I call them my old pruning mistakes. Cut them back to the main trunk.

3. Ugly branches. Some just never look good or have sharp, right angle turns.

4. Branches that grow into the middle of the tree instead of out.

5. Small, weak branches that grow from the fork of two or three strong branches.

6. Horizontal branches growing close to or along each other. Remove the weakest one.

7. Tiny, twiggy branches below main tree forks.

8. Branches that wrap around another branch.

9. If two branches rub together, remove one.

  1. Any broken branches.

Step Three...How to Cut

1. Work from the bottom up.

2. Work on one limb at a time from the main trunk out.

3. If in doubt, leave the branch for next year. You can't glue it back on once it's cut.

4. Step back and look at your tree. Try to keep it balanced.

5. Don't prune too much in one year.

Using these tips will give you a beautiful and healthy Japanese Maple all year long.

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mafle(8)

Very good advice, and I'm particularly glad you included the line "If in doubt, leave the branch for next year. You can't glue it back on once it's cut." So true, but so easily forgotten.

One thing I would like to add is that in many (milder) climates January is too late to prune as the sap is already rising by then, and the wounds will continue to bleed for a long time as healing is slow in the early spring. For example here in England, which has winter temperatures similar to USDA zone 8, I prefer to prune before christmas and certainly never later than mid January. November is also a good month to prune in my climate.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 5:36PM
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gardengal48

I would also add that pruning to maintain a desired height is not recommended for various reasons. As stated by a very well-known, well-published local pruning authority: "Another practice to avoid is attempting to restrict the height of a Japanese maple. It wonÂt work. The tree will simply grow faster with thin, unruly branches. The width of these trees, on the other hand, can be somewhat modified." And you can always prune in summer, which is the preferred time for many growers. Less growth is encouraged by summer pruning so one can safely remove a larger amount of material without worry. However, with Japanese maples, a lighter touch is far more preferrable than a heavy pruning hand.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 11:45AM
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jimandanne_mi(SE MI z5)

Thank you SO much for posting this! We got a couple of Japanese maples 2 years ago, and I've barely pruned them for fear of making the wrong cuts. With your help here, I now feel like I can proceed.

Anne

    Bookmark   February 25, 2010 at 5:42PM
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jimandanne_mi(SE MI z5)

Thank you SO much for posting this! We got a couple of Japanese maples 2 years ago, and I've barely pruned them for fear of making the wrong cuts. With your help here, I now feel like I can proceed.

Anne

    Bookmark   February 25, 2010 at 6:03PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I have a small disagreement with step #7. You say to remove small, twiggy branches below main tree forks. When a tree is young, I leave those branches on to protect the trunk from too much sun until the tree matures enough to have a canopy to do the job. Then I remove them.
On a young tree I prune for structure to support the eventual canopy, not a smaller version of a mature tree. Most of the branches on a young upright tree below six ft. will eventually have to be removed.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2010 at 11:59AM
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sqp39(z5 MA)

This question is sort of related to pruning JMs: I have 2 unnamed seedlings, rescued last summer from the roadside opposite a mature tree, in small pots right now but growing strongly in an unused raised bed in my vegetable garden. Soon I will transplant them to larger containers. One has started branching nicely and I will leave it to grow, but the other has just one stem. I was wondering if I should cut that one stem to prompt the baby tree to branch, or leave it to branch on its own? Also, any advice on what sort of organic (i.e. no chemicals) soil mix to use? I have lots of homemade compost but am unsure about other amendments to use for JM specifically.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 8:24AM
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justme4now(7)

swmogardens

Thank You for some great tips!

I have a question about pruning: Do you 'paint' or seal off the branches that you prune.

I have read various opinions on this subject .. Some say yes, some say no!?

Thanks

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 8:06PM
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swmogardens(6)

Thought this might be helpful again.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 4:40PM
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