Japanese Maple Tree Trimming: Safely Pruning Japanese Maple Trees, Steps

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | February 19, 2024

Woman holding a japanese maple tree wonders if there is a Japanese Maple tree trimming guide that explains how to trim japanese maple tree branches and the steps for pruning types of japanese maple trees.

Do you know the fundamentals of Japanese maple tree trimming?

If you have one of these ornamental maples growing in your yard (or even indoors as bonsai), knowing how to correctly trim a Japanese Maple tree is important for limiting damages and fostering the healthy growth of your tree.

This guide outlines Japanese Maple tree trimming steps, and explains how it helps keep your trees healthy as well as when you should contact a professional tree trimmer to take care of the pruning process.

Which Type of Japanese Maple Tree Do You Have?

Japanese Maple trees originally come from central and south Japan and southeast Korea. However, they’re found worldwide these days.1

These trees also come in several varieties, including the ones described in this table:

TypeHeightLeaf ColorWeeping or Upright?
Laceleaf Japanese Maple26-12 feet tallOrange, Red, or Burgundy leavesWeeping
Butterfly Variegated Japanese Maple37-12 feet tallGreen leavesUpright
Bloodgood Japanese Maple415-20 feet tallRed or Burgundy leavesUpright
Coral Bark Japanese Maple520-25 feet tallGreen or Yellow leavesUpright

Reasons To Trim Japanese Maple Trees

It doesn’t matter what kind of Japanese Maple Tree you have. Regardless of height, branch type, etc., regular trimming offers many benefits:

Reduced Pest and Disease Risk

Pruning removes dead, diseased, or injured parts of the tree, which reduces the risk of diseases spreading and pests taking over.6

Improved Landscaping

Trees that are trimmed regularly and correctly simply look nicer than ones that have been left to their own devices.

This point is especially true when you’re talking about vibrant, eye-catching ornamental Japanese maples.

Increased Personal and Property Safety

Overgrown tree branches are more likely to break, especially during storms or after snowfalls. Pruning reduces the risk of branches falling or being torn off (and injuring others or harming your property).

Japanese Maple Tree Trimming Tips

You might feel intimidated by the idea of pruning your Japanese maple trees at first. It’s not as difficult as you may have initially thought, though, especially if you follow these steps:

Collect Your Tools

Make sure you have access to these supplies:

  • Gloves and a long-sleeved shirt (to protect your hands and arms from scratches)
  • Goggles or glasses (to protect your eyes from dirt, dust, and debris)
  • Hard hat (to protect yourself from falling branches)
  • Shears (for small branches)
  • Loppers (for thicker branches)
  • Saw (for extra thick branches)
  • Pole pruners and ladder (for hard-to-reach branches)

Cut the Correct Branches

You’ve got your tools ready. The next step is to make sure you cut the correct branches.

Graphics that shows the different types of Japanese maple tree such as laceleaf, butterfly variegated, bloodgood, and carol bark maple tree.

Don’t start cutting without a plan — that’s a recipe for disaster. Make sure you focus on the following branch types:

  • Ones that are dead, broken, or diseased
  • Inward-growing branches: Removing these branches improves aesthetics and decreases the risk of diseases.
  • Branches that cross over others: Cutting these prevents bark damage, diseases, and pests.
  • Narrow crotches (two branches that meet at an angle of 45 degrees or less): Focusing on these helps to prevent breakage.7
  • Crowding, particularly at the tree’s crown: Cutting these branches increases airflow and helps the tree breathe better.

Prune Close to the Collar

The branch collar is the swollen part of the branch where it connects to the tree trunk or branch.8

When trimming your Japanese maple trees, get as close to the collar as you can without actually cutting into it. Doing so may interfere with the healing process and make the tree more vulnerable to diseases or pests.

Don’t Trim Too Much

Sometimes, get so caught up in the process that you end up cutting off too many branches.

To avoid this common mistake, keep track of how many branches you’re removing. Don’t cut away more than about one-third of the tree each year, either.

Why is over-trimming problematic?

If you overdo it, you might make your tree more vulnerable to pests and diseases. It will also, in most cases, create a less attractive tree.

Weeping Vs. Upright Tree Trimming

The specific rules for Japanese Maple Tree trimming vary slightly depending on whether you have an upright or weeping tree. This table highlights some of the key differences to keep in mind when pruning either type:

Weeping TreesUpright Trees
Prune dead woodPrune dead wood
Remove branches that touch the groundRemove lower limbs that interfere with foot traffic or crowd nearby shrubs
Remove unsightly or irregular branches (ones that take away from the tree’s “umbrella” shape)Separate branch layers to prevent branches from crisscrossing (unless doing so will leave a large hole)
Separate branch layers to prevent branches from crisscrossing (unless doing so will leave  a large hole)Thin branches evenly and don’t remove too much of the crown at once
Don’t remove too much of the crown at once
Create a “veil” by trimming small branches so that a layer of twigs rises above the main ones, causing the leaves to cascade over them

How To Pick an Arborist (Japanese Maple Tree Trimming)

Even after reading those tips, you might still not be confident in your tree-trimming abilities. Or, perhaps you just don’t have the time to dedicate to Japanese maple pruning.

Perfectly pruned Dwarf Japanese Maple situated in a lawn garden with other plants.

(Image: Mike James14)

In either case, consider hiring a professional. Here are some tips to help you select the most qualified arborist on Japanese maple tree trimming :

Find Someone With Japanese Maple Experience

If possible, hire an arborist who has experience working on Japanese maple trees and other types of Maple trees. Ask, specifically, if they have experience with the type of tree you have (weeping, upright, etc.).

If the professional you work with has experience with these types of trees, they’ll be more likely to prune them properly and set them up for long-term healthy growth.

The good news is that because Japanese maples are fairly common, you likely won’t have to look too hard to find someone who knows how to trim them.

Make Sure They’re Insured

Any arborist you hire should, at a minimum, have workers’ compensation insurance and general liability insurance.9,10 If they’re insured, you won’t have to worry about being held liable if an accident happens on-site.

Remember to ask about insurance and verify that the policies are active. Taking this extra step is worthwhile if it provides you with additional protection.

Check Their License and Certifications

Furthermore, make sure you hire a tree-trimming professional who is properly licensed and certified.

Being certified through the International Society of Arboriculture increases the likelihood that the team will provide quality work and properly preserve your trees.11

Ask for References

Always request references before deciding to hire an arborist (or any other professional, for that matter).

Graphic that shows the reasons for pruning Japanese maple trees.

Ideally, the candidate you’re considering will have several satisfied customers who are eager to sing their praises. If an arborist hesitates to give you references — or doesn’t have anyone who can back them up — that’s a red flag.

Don’t stop once you get the references. Talk to each person about the quality of the team’s work and how fair their prices are. Ask about how efficiently they worked and if the customer would rehire that arborist, too.

Get Three or More Bids

Get bids from at least three different arborists before you make your final choice (and don’t work with someone who tries to pressure you into hiring them right away). Getting multiple quotes allows you to ensure you’re treated fairly and get the best service for the best price.

Remember, too, that it’s rarely a good idea to choose someone based on price alone.

If an arborist’s fees on Japanese maple tree trimming are far lower than their competitors, there’s a reason, and it might be that they don’t do quality work or lack adequate insurance.

performing Japanese Maple tree trimming isn’t difficult, but it’s always wise to err on the side of caution and choose a professional if you’re unsure about the process.

Frequently Asked Questions About Japanese Maple Tree Trimming

Where Can Japanese Maple Trees Grow?

Most Japanese Maples thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8.12

Not sure which zone you live in? Use the map linked above. Just type in your zip code to see which color corresponds with your location.

Keep in mind, too, that wherever you live, most Japanese maple trees do not respond well to full sun. The leaves can burn in hot temperatures, so be cautious when choosing a planting spot.

When Should I Prune My Japanese Maple Trees?

It depends on how much you want to cut off.

You can trim away a couple of dead branches here and there whenever they pop up.

If you’re planning on doing wavy pruning to shape your tree or encourage new growth, though, you should wait until the winter. Waiting means you’ll be less likely to make your tree vulnerable.

Leave young trees to grow for several years (some recommend waiting up to ten) before heavy pruning. You can still trim off dead or broken branches during this waiting period, though.

How Much Does Professional Tree Trimming Cost?

To prune trees up to 30 feet tall, such as Japanese maples, arborists charge between $100 and $400.13

The cost depends on many other factors, primarily those that influence the amount of labor needed to control it, such as your location, whether your tree is near a power line, how healthy it is, and how long it’s been since the tree was last trimmed.


1Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple, Japanese Maple Cultivars) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. (n.d.). Plants.ces.ncsu.edu. <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/acer-palmatum/>

2Acer palmatum var. dissectum (Japanese Lanceleaf Maple, Spiderleaf Maple, Threadleaf Maple) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. (n.d.). Plants.ces.ncsu.edu. <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/acer-palmatum-var-dissectum/>

3Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly’ (Japanese Maple). (n.d.). Gardenia.net. Retrieved October 14, 2023, from <https://www.gardenia.net/plant/acer-palmatum-butterfly-japanese-maple>

4FPS009/FP009: Acer palmatum “Bloodgood” Bloodgood Japanese Maple. (n.d.). Edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FP009>

5Acer palmatum “Sango-kaku” (Coral Bark Japanese Maple) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. (n.d.). Plants.ces.ncsu.edu. <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/acer-palmatum-sango-kaku/>

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7Tree Pruning Techniques | New Mexico State University – BE BOLD. Shape the Future. (n.d.). Pubs.nmsu.edu. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://pubs.nmsu.edu/_h/H156/index.html#:~:text=V%2Dshaped%20crotches%20threaten%20tree>

8Purdue Landscape Report: Branch Component Identification for Better Pruning Cuts. (2021, June 17). Purdue Extension Forestry & Natural Resources. <https://www.purdue.edu/fnr/extension/purdue-landscape-report-branch-component-identification-for-better-pruning-cuts/>

9Workers compensation. (2019). LII / Legal Information Institute. <https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/workers_compensation>

10Commercial General Liability. (n.d.). Rmas.fad.harvard.edu. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://rmas.fad.harvard.edu/pages/commercial-general-liability>

11Welcome. (2019). Isa-Arbor.com. <https://www.isa-arbor.com/>

12United States Department of Agriculture. (2020). USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Usda.gov. <https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/>

132020 Tree Trimming Costs & Prices | Tree Pruning Cost // HomeGuide. (n.d.). HomeGuide. <https://homeguide.com/costs/tree-trimming-cost>

14Pruned Japanese Maple in Neighbor’s yard Photo by Mike James / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikijames/17292838/>