How to trim a Japanese maple tree

Updated February 21, 2017

Japanese maple trees are one of the loveliest trees that can add beauty and colour to any landscape. There are different varieties of Japanese maple trees, some of them can be left alone without pruning while others, like the Cutleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum), should be pruned to improve appearance and keep them healthy. All you need is one afternoon, and the correct tools and techniques to prune a Japanese maple tree.

Examine the overall appearance of the Japanese maple tree. Step back as far as you can to see the entire tree form. Go around and look at the tree from all angles. Examining the tree allows you to see the shape and picture how you would balance the overall look as you prune.

Go beneath the Japanese maple tree and remove the lower branches. If the tree is low-sweeping, you may need to do this while lying on your back on the ground. Cut the lowest branches that touch the ground.

Use a pruning saw to prune larger and thicker branches. Use pruning shears to remove the smaller ones.

Stand up again, look at the tree, and see if removing the lower branches has exposed more of the trunk.

Go back and cut more branches under the tree to increase the height of the trunk. "Crown raising" is a pruning technique that exposes more of the trunk by removing the lower branches. Concentrate on removing the dead and wayward branches first, before removing the healthier ones.

Stand up again and look at the overall appearance. Once you are satisfied that you have exposed enough of the tree trunk and are happy with the height of the crown, you can now proceed to "crown thinning," which is a method to remove some of the branches and leaves to let in more air and sunlight.

Thin the crown by removing some of the dead and crossed limbs on the upper portion of the tree. Remove them sparingly. Be careful when cutting or pruning. You have to examine the overall look before performing more cuts. Since branches take a while to grow back, sometimes a couple of years, be sure to remove them a few at a time.

Remove the cut branches and leaves from the ground. Throw them in a compost heap or recycle the branches by converting them into mulch.

Spray water on the tree to eliminate debris that fell through while cutting. This will ensure that your Japanese maple tree has a clean appearance.


The best time to prune the Japanese maple tree is at the end of summer.


Use safety goggles and work gloves while pruning.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
  • Hose
  • Safety goggles
  • Work gloves
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About the Author

Josienita Borlongan is a full-time lead web systems engineer and a writer. She writes for, and various other websites. She is a Microsoft-certified systems engineer and a Cisco-certified network associate. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in medical technology from Saint Louis University, Philippines.