How To: Prune a Japanese Maple

How To: Prune a Japanese Maple

Lise Harwin
Jan 8, 2009

"Don't rush and, when in doubt, don't cut." Sage words of advice when it comes to pruning a Japanese maple. While experts might prune in late summer, beginners have it easier when trees are leafless and dormant, which makes now a great time to get started. Here's a quick guide to keeping your maple looking its best.

For an excellent tutorial, we're turning to The Oregonian, who spoke with Peter Lynn, owner of Portland's Pomarius Nursery.

  • Work from the bottom up and inside out. Note that Japanese maples have an opposite branch pattern rather than an alternate branch pattern.
  • Prune away dead and overlapping branches, as shown in illustration A. Deadwood is relatively easy to spot; dead branches are leafless in the growing season, brittle and a dull gray color, unlike healthy branch color.

  • Use what's known as a "selective heading cut" to remove main branches growing between two healthy buds or branches, as shown in illustration B. Cut as close as you can to the base without doing any damage to the buds or other branches.

  • Prune side branches back to a healthy wood. Be sure to leave the branch collar, the swelling where a branch joins the trunk, as shown in illustration C. Cutting into the collar or leaving a longer stub will delay or prevent healing.

  • Do not cut off tips. It results in rapid, unhealthy growth, as shown in illustration D.

  • For larger branches, use the technique shown in illustration E to prevent limbs from breaking during pruning.

For a list of what to prune and more helpful tips, check out the entire article here.


Image: digiyesica for Flickr

Illustrations: Eric Baker/The Oregonian

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