Prune and Train Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples are a favorite tree for their bright foliage and interesting shapes. Japanese Maple trees are not difficult to prune or train so they are looking their best. I am not an expert or trained, I have just experimented with seedlings I have grown and am passing on what I have learned so far. 

Japanese Maples are so beautiful no matter what time of year. Especially if you prune and train Japanese Maples into beautiful shapes.

In Spring they emerge with bright foliage and as summer progresses that foliage can change color depending on the variety.

Mine I share today are basically mutts. When you start Japanese Maples from seeds you get what you get. The seeds I grew are from a winery that has a wide range of Japanese Maples of all colors.

Back deck for Fall

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They cross pollinate so the colors of trees you get from growing those seeds can display any of the qualities from any of those trees. So if you think you are going to get a red Japanese Maple because the tree you collected seed from is red then you may be sadly disappointed.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t get pretty colors and you may very well get red. It is a surprise every time.

Be sure to see the video at the end where I share plain pruning and then how I prune and shape others.

When to Prune Japanese Maples

Lets get started on pruning. This is best done in late winter while the tree is still dormant. Plus with no foliage it is easier to see where you need to cut out or back limbs.

dormant Japanese Maple Tree about to get pruned and shaped

Where to start Pruning

Start with limbs that may be dead or crossing where they could rub or have been rubbing.

Note the limbs that are too close together. Pick one to keep and trim out the others.

Limbs crossing or too close together on a Japanese Maple tree needing to be pruned.

Take your time, and walk around the tree often to make sure you are keeping it even.

Prune to Define the Japanese Maple Trunk

You will note the stems and limbs coming up from the base of this Japanese Maple obscures a true trunk area. Those will be trimmed off.

Japanese Maple tree about to get pruned

The limb at the top the arrow is pointing at is much longer than any others and needs to be trimmed back.

Some limbs just need to be edited out so there is not too many going every which a ways.

For smaller limbs I use my Fiskars Pruners and for larger I use the Fiskars Loppers

Create an upper Canopy

See how few limbs are left on the upper part of this tree? And I have shortened the limb that was so long it was off the camera view. Now it is inline with the other branches.

The rest of the trunk beneath this canopy is cleared of limbs.

Canopy of Japanese Maple that is dormant

How to Shape Japanese Maple

I have no idea how this is done by experts but this works for me and you care really create some fantastic shapes.

Start with pantyhose strips. They are stretchy so they don’t cause damage, they last forever and they actually turn green in the weather. I use them extensively when training roses on arbors or pillaring roses.

Bow the limbs down and secure by tying in with the pantyhose strips. This may look overly dramatic but they will spring back some after being tied down.

See the top limbs? They were tied down previously, note how they came back up some. It ends up being an umbrella shape.

I leave them tied like this at least one season but I may see how they are faring in mid to late Summer to see how they are shaping up.

I will be sure to share the progress.

Here is my video for you! Enjoy.

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Red Japanese Maple tree with text overlay, Prune and Shape Japanese Maples w video

Until next time…

Happy Gardening!

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  1. When this virus gets under control, I will invite you over to give you a grafting demo. As I mentioned, on my 3 apple trees, I think I now have about 11 kinds of apples grafted. They are young so haven’t produced. But, I am looking forward to when they produce.

  2. Creighton says:

    Hi Pamela,
    Great article, very helpful. Do you think it’s OK to shape Japanese Maples in the late Spring (ie, now in June) ? Also, I have shaping wire to help bend the branches, but would still advise using the pantyhose?

    Thanks so much,

  3. Steve Crawford says:

    Love Japanese maples and interested in bonsai. My problem is I am 70 and it takes a while to train. So maybe I need to think small and enjoy them while I can. Wish I had started sooner. Thanks Steve Crawford Newark Delaware

    1. Quite frankly, I wish I had started sooner as well.

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