How to Prune a Red Maple Tree

You should prune your red maple to a single trunk while the tree is young.
You should prune your red maple to a single trunk while the tree is young. (Image: red maple tree image by Giovanni Aquaro from

Red maple trees grow to a height of 60 feet and their heavy branches droop as the trees develop, in the same way the lower branches of trees loaded with fruit do. For this reason, the Clemson University Extension Office recommends you prune your maple tree to a single trunk while it's still young. This pruning method is called the "central leader" training system, a technique fruit tree growers also use.

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Cut the top of your red maple 30 inches above the ground the first spring after you plant it.

Choose an upright branch in the center and close to the top to be the leader. Prune all other branches for 4 inches below it. Do this in the summer when new growth has reached at least 3 inches.

Lop off the tree above the leader. The rest of the summer, prune only to remove branches growing downward or lower than you want them on the trunk.

Chop off the top of your maple at 24 inches above the central leader while the tree is dormant in the winter. Also, cut any branches that grew downward after you last trimmed the tree. If you notice any diseased and broken limbs, remove them.

Remove side branches for 4 inches below the central leader the following summer. Then, head it at 2 feet above the highest set of branches.

Repeat the steps for winter and summer pruning for the next three to five years.

Tips & Warnings

  • Tie a colorful ribbon to your central leader to avoid cutting it by mistake.


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