Landscaping & Yard Care

When and How to Prune Japanese Maples

The ideal time to prune your Japanese Maple tree is as soon as it needs pruning. Right now, all the Japanese Maples in my landscape are covered with beautiful new growth. 

They are breathtaking!

But in two to three weeks many of them are going to need a light pruning because they’ll have new branches that have grown out of proportion to the rest of the plant and to maintain symmetry with the trees a few minutes will need to be spent on each tree removing all of the branches that are growing outside of the “vision” we have for the tree.

Mike, whaddya mean the “vision you have for the tree?”

For each of the Japanese Maple trees that we have in our landscape we have a vision of how we want them to look now, in 5 years and even in 10 or 20 years. Simply picture in your mind what the ideal shape of your tree would be and then prune away anything that is growing outside of that shape. It really is that easy!

For instance, for all the weeping Japanese Maples in our landscape we want them to resemble the shape of a large umbrella. So, as we prune, we picture that shape in our mind, then remove any growth outside of that imaginary line.

The upright, non weeping, Japanese Maples we want those in an “upright vase shape”. We don’t want them tall because most are close to the house and the beauty of the trees is their very interesting foliage, so we keep them trimmed to a height of five feet or less.

When they are small, we trim them at least two or three times a year to make them nice and full, then as they grow the head of the tree will be dense and provide a beautiful display of color and magic that only a Japanese Maple can provide.

So, my answer about when to trim a Japanese Maple tree is anytime they need it. Most of mine need some pruning in July, then again, a light pruning in the fall. Come early spring if they have a stray branch here or there, we remove it as soon as we see it. If you don’t the tree puts on new growth on that branch, then when you trim, you lose all that beautiful new growth.

But, but, but you must trim your Japanese Maples! If you don’t, they get straggly and will not be very attractive.

Please don’t be afraid to prune them. They’ll love you for it.

Mike McGroarty is the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at and read his blog at

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