Gardeners share when to prune Japanese maples to avoid weakening the plant

Japanese maples, also known as acer trees, are some of the most frequently photographed trees in the world and the really striking ones draw people to gardens across the globe. 

Their elegant, organic forms are instantly recognisable, whether weeping or upright.

But most Japanese maples don’t just produce those stunning shapes on their own. Left to their own devices, they can become overcrowded and a bit misshapen.

The most striking specimens have been pruned carefully to preserve their natural shape while enhancing their appearance.

Pruning this plant is about bringing out the best in a Japanese maple without trying to change its overall form, in other words tidying up rather than making serious changes.

If a branch cracks or breaks, gardeners notice any growth that’s dying or diseased, or a single branch is touching their home or interfering with a pathway, they can prune it at any time.

However, for those who want to change the shape of the plant or remove large branches, gardeners have shared when the best time to do so is.

Posting a picture to the the Loving Your Garden Facebook page of a Japanese maple, Nikki Allen asked: “Hi does anyone know when best to prune this? We’ve had it a few years now and this year it seems to have had a growth spurt.”

According to group members, winter is the prime time to cut back Japanese maples to “avoid bleeding sap” coming from the tree.

Alison Neale wrote: “Acers are prone to bleeding sap, so ideally needs to be done when dormant. The best time to prune them is from November until January.”

Karen James said: “It’s best pruned when it’s cold so it doesn’t lose sap and this can end up weakening the tree – and it shouldn’t need much cutting.”

Susanna Lincoln urged: “No, don’t prune it back now! It’s the growing season so best left for now. Start pruning it in winter.”

Janet Lewis said: “I would wait till leaves have fallen and dormant trim a little just for shape in December.”

When the plant is dormant during winter gardeners will be able to easily see the shape of the tree without any foliage in the way.

When it is time to prune, gardeners should just remove badly placed or crossing shoots to encourage a good framework of branches to grow.

Where height and width need to be reduced, follow long branches back to a side branch and prune it out at this point.

Always prune back to a well-placed side branch and do not leave a stub as this is often prone to decay and dieback.

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