Japanese maples display bright red leaves either in the fall or throughout the growing season, depending on the type. They come in a variety of sizes, making them an ideal choice, even in small yards. Light annual pruning maximizes the beauty of the Japanese maple by encouraging proper shape and new growth while removing any dead or damaged branches. Japanese maples grow slowly, so heavy pruning is not necessary.
Japanese maples do well with pruning in spring, summer or winter. Pruning them in winter while dormant allows you to better see the shape of the tree and works best for major pruning. Summer pruning provides better guidance for thinning leaves in thick areas, but increases the risk of sun scald on leaves newly exposed to direct light. Spring pruning causes sap to run, but this does not harm the tree.
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Using hand pruners, loppers and a small chainsaw should suffice for most Japanese maple trees, even those that have reached maturity. Japanese maples rarely reach more than approximately 20 feet in height and most of the pruning occurs on lower portions of the tree. Ensure a clean cut by using only sharpened tools. This minimizes damage to the tree and reduces the risk of insect infestation or disease in newly pruned branches.
Removing dead or damaged branches first provides an accurate assessment of additional pruning needed to maintain the desired shape. Follow this up by removing branches growing too low to the ground. Only after completing these two steps should you begin pruning for aesthetic qualities.
Avoid excessive pruning in an attempt to keep trees to a smaller size. This results in a tree with many bluntly cut, odd-looking branches. Instead, choose an appropriately sized tree to begin with, depending on both your preferences and the growing space of the planting site. Japanese maples come in many sizes, including dwarf varieties that reach only 1 to 4 feet in height at maturity. By taking the time to make a good selection before purchasing, you minimize the pruning needed to maintain the tree. This maximizes the natural beauty of the tree and encourages optimal health and development.