Maple Tree Trimming Guide: How To Trim Maple Branches Safely (3 Steps)

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

Gardening | December 5, 2023

Man with a pruning tool wonders if there is a maple tree trimming guide that explains how to prune maple trees to increase health, trim maple tree branches safely, when to cut maple tree limbs with steps.

Maple Tree trimming is vital to ensuring the continued beauty of these trees in your outdoor space. While maples consistently enhance your landscape throughout the year, they truly shine in the fall when their leaves adopt vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Proper pruning is essential to maintaining this garden gem.

However, many people use dwarf maple trees for bonsai, and although the Maple tree trimming technique differs slightly, knowing when and where to cut Maple tree branches can have a big impact on the long-term health of the tree.

With the right equipment and knowledge about the pruning process, many people can handle pruning a Maple Tree by themselves, particularly a younger tree.

Yet, many people find that using an arborist for more established types of trees with thicker branches to cut, or those that need a lot of pruning higher up. When safety is a concern, it’s always a good idea to consult the pros.

This Maple tree trimming guide outlines the basics involved in pruning Maple trees, and explains when you should have a certified professional do the job for you.

How To Cut Branches Safely

If you are cutting branches bigger than 2 inches in diameter, you don’t want to just lop them off the tree all at once. This risks damaging the remaining part of the branch as well as the trunk.

Graphics showing an illustration of a tree trunk and branches with cutting saw along with text describing each on how to trim maple branches.

The 3-Cut Method is the way to go.3

Step 1:

Two to three inches out from the branch collar (the swollen, wrinkly part of the tree that connects to the trunk), make a small cut on the underside of the limb–about ⅓ to ½ through the branch.

Step 2:

Make a second cut about 2 to 3 inches away on the top of the branch, again going about ⅓ to ½ through it. As you saw, the branch will eventually snap off. Don’t try to snap it off yourself.

Step 3:

After the limb falls off you are now left with the stump. Saw it off while being mindful to avoid cutting the branch collar–the swollen, wrinkly part that meets the trunk. It contains a substance that promotes wound healing and protects against decay and disease.

Maple Tree Trimming: How To Prune a Maple Tree

These are the things to remember in pruning Maple Tree:

Bad Branches Be Gone

Clearing away damaged, diseased, or dead branches is the first step in pruning your Maple Tree.

Branches with no leaves are the most obvious candidates for removal since the absence of leaves indicates they are not capable of sustaining growth.

Branches with few leaves can go as well, as this suggests they have taken a turn for the worse and are heading for the same fate.

Graphic that shows how to prune a Maple tree and the best way in trimming a maple tree.

If you don’t remove ‘undesirable’ branches, they will waste resources. They also make the tree more vulnerable to pests, fungi, and other issues.

The tree uses leaves to feed itself, so don’t remove more than ¼ of them during your pruning sessions.

You can remove these branches at any time, not just during ‘proper’ pruning periods for this type of tree.

Remove Branches That Are Too Close Together

Branches competing for water, air, light, and nutrients to thrive can end up as damaged branches. Anywhere you see branches touching up against each other, cut the weaker of the two.

Remove branches with a ‘V’ shape–or with a ‘narrow crotch angle’ in fancy gardening parlance–since they are more likely to grow into other branches. The same goes for branches growing towards the trunk or the ground.

Leave branches that form a ‘U’ shape where they meet the tree or branches growing at a 90-degree angle. The angles at which these types of branches grow make them less likely to end up touching other ones.

The tree uses leaves to feed itself, so don’t remove more than ¼ of them during your pruning sessions.

You can remove these branches at any time, not just during ‘proper’ pruning periods for this type of tree.

Remove Low Hanging Branches

Removing low-hanging branches lifts your tree’s crown nice and tall and helps the trunk grow strongly and straight, and is done over a period of years.

During the first pruning period after the tree’s third year, simply remove the lowest hanging branches. As the tree matures, remove only enough branches that you can safely walk under the tree. There is no need to trim beyond this measure.

Remove Sucker Growth and Water Sprouts

Suckers grow from the tree roots, near the base, while water sprouts come from the side of the trunk.

These growths are essentially smaller trees that will interfere with the growth of your actual tree by taking up water and nutrients. You need to remove them completely to protect your tree.

Cut Branches Around the Leader

The leader is the main branch on campus–it’s the highest, the strongest, the most vertical, and the most central.

You don’t want other big branches nearby taking up the resources this crucial branch needs.

Cut one-third from any branches within two feet of the big guy to give it room to grow; remove competing branches with no leaves fully. This structural trimming is typical for younger trees, and you probably won’t need to do much of this once a tree is mature and established.

Balance the Tree Through Maple Tree Trimming

Balancing out your tree maintains its aesthetics. Branches should be evenly spaced, so take note of areas that look thicker and may need a bit of thinning out.

You can’t add branches, so areas that are too thin just need time to grow. Cut back branches growing much longer than the surrounding ones so they are even. Especially when dealing with Maple Tree trimming, younger trees will usually require more attention in this regard.

Maple Tree Trimming: When To Prune Maple Trees (When Is the Best Time To Trim Trees)

Below are the common times that you need Maple Tree trimming:

Age of the Tree

Like many other trees, a Maple Tree doesn’t require pruning right out of the gate. It needs time to grow and establish itself. When is the best time to trim trees? Wait until a Maple Tree reaches its third year before trimming. If you cut away branches before this point, it might lack sufficient foliage for nourishment.

Starting from its third season, prune the tree every other year until it reaches ten years of age. During this period, pruning serves two purposes: shaping the tree and promoting healthy development.

Once a Maple Tree hits ten years old, you don’t need to worry about Maple tree trimming more than once every five years. The tree’s shape has been pretty well-established at this point, and pruning mainly serves to remove dead, diseased, or weak branches or branches that are crossing others or blocking the interior of the canopy.

In older trees that can handle sap loss more effectively, mid-winter is an ideal period for structural pruning. The absence of foliage on the branches, which are essential parts of a tree, provides a clearer perspective on which ones should be taken out.

Trees are vulnerable to disease and damage at any point, so your Maple Tree may require pruning during ‘off years.’ It is always best to keep an eye on your trees all year round.

Time of Year (When To Trim Tree)

While most trees benefit from pruning in their dormant period of late winter to early spring to prepare for the rapid growth that happens shortly after, maples are a different story.

When to trim tree? Sap–the nutritious life-giving force of trees–flows more freely during the spring, and because maples lose much more than other trees ‘wounding’ them with fresh cuts now will result in excessive sap loss, increasing the risk for damage and disease.

Summer is the best time for pruning because growth has slowed by this point, and less sap will ooze from the cut branches, with the optimal time being between mid-July and late August. Summer pruning will also give the tree sufficient time to heal before the harsh conditions of winter set in, where fresh cuts and growths would be more vulnerable to the colder temperatures.

Trees that are older and larger are less affected by sap loss, so it may be possible to prune them during the traditional period without consequence. The younger and smaller your tree, the more vulnerable it will be to sap loss.

Why You Need To Prune Maple Trees?

There are many reasons to prune your Maple Tree.1


Damaged branches create an entry point for pathogens and pests. Removing them shields the Maple Tree from infestations and infections and strengthens the remaining branches.

Graphics with text that shows the reasons in pruning maple trees such as airflow, protection, light exposure, and growth.

Be sure to remove any debris away from the base of the tree. It is an entryway for pests, fungi, and other pathogens that can spread to the tree.


When branches become crowded and cross over each other, reduced airflow makes the tree more vulnerable to fungal infections.

Thinning out the canopy when necessary keeps the branches clean and dry.

Increased Light Exposure

Thinning out the canopy of shade trees lets light penetrate the middle of the tree more deeply, giving less exposed leaves a healthy dose of sunshine they need to thrive.

Promote Growth

There is only so much water and nutrients to go around, and you don’t want damaged and diseased branches taking up resources better used by healthy ones.

When you remove parts of the tree no longer thriving, it takes its ‘cue’ to produce new growth, and directs its energy towards this end.


An unkempt tree is an unattractive tree. To keep your Maple Tree looking its best, regular Maple Tree trimming is essential. Pruning for shaping purposes–which strongly influences the tree’s overall appearance– is most important in the earlier years of the tree’s life, which is between 3 and ten years old.

After this time, maintaining the aesthetics of the tree simply involves removing dead, damaged, and diseased branches.

Essential Tools for Maple Tree Trimming

You can spread disease from one tree to another with tainted pruning tools, so be sure you are starting with clean equipment.2 Wipe down equipment as you go along if you know for sure you have removed any diseased branches; clean between trees if you are working on more than one.

Graphics with text that shows the tools for maple tree trimming such as hand pruner, pruning saw, lopping shears, and pole saw.

Bleach or rubbing alcohol are good choices for their strong disinfectant properties. Bleach can rust your shears and saws, so wash them down with water afterward to remove any residue.

Hand Pruners

Use hand pruners for small cuts measuring between ½ to ¾ inches in diameter.

Bypass pruners give a nice clean cut without crushing the tissue, which makes the tree vulnerable to infection.

Lopping Shears

Lopping shears are beefed-up pruners good for cuts larger than ¾ inches in diameter up to 2 inches in diameter.

Pruning Saw

Pruning saws are good for larger branches bigger than 2 inches in diameter.

Pole Saw

Cutting branches out of your reach will require a pole saw. If you have a lot of taller branches that require maintenance, this is where you need to consider if you are able to do the job on your own or if it is best to call someone to do it.

Choosing an Arborist

The best practices for choosing an arborist or a tree trimming service are very similar to any service provider working on any aspect of your home, inside or out.4 Here are a few key considerations:

Proper Credentials

Only work with arborists with an ISA certification (International Society of Arboriculture). Check if they also have the necessary certifications, licensing, insurance, and bonding your state requires.

Graphics with text that shows the things to consider in choosing an arborist such as proper credentials, proper vetting, and multiple quotes.

The proper credentials ensure you are working with a true professional, and it protects you from potential liability. In the rare event, that the arborist injured someone or damaged property, you could end up in hot water for hiring someone without the proper credentials.

Proper Vetting

It is common for people promoting landscaping services to do so through door-knocking and cold calls.

While not everyone who promotes their business this way is automatically a shady character, there is a greater risk here, so do your homework before hiring such people.

Get Multiple Quotes

Arborist services can be expensive, with good reason. More extensive pruning requires time and skill. Get multiple quotes and be sure you fully understand which services the quote entails specifically.

Someone coming in with a much lower bid may not be reputable or will spring hidden costs on you.

For the best results, especially with tasks like Maple Tree trimming, it’s crucial to choose wisely.

Frequently Asked Questions About Maple Tree Trimming

Should I Top a Maple Tree?

No. ‘topping’ or reducing the size of the Maple Tree will create several problems, namely the rapid growth of a weak canopy that could damage rooftops and utility lines.5 Topping a tree can expose the interior to excessive sun, making it more vulnerable to disease and infestations. Topping will damage the aesthetics, and may even reduce your property value.

Can I Tap My Maple Tree?

Tapping will not hurt your tree, but like pruning, it creates a wound. It typically takes a year for it to heal, and during this time, it isn’t vulnerable to infestation, provided it is healing as it should. But unless you know what you are doing, it is probably best to get your syrup elsewhere.

What Happens if I Over Prune?

Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is wait for new growth to appear, much like a haircut! If you think you damaged the tree in any way, consult an arborist.


1Pruning trees and shrubs. (n.d.). <>

2How do I sanitize my pruners to prevent the spread of disease? (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>

3Colorado Master Gardener sm Program Colorado Gardener Certificate Training Pruning Cuts. (n.d.). <>

4Selecting an Arborist. (2017, September 11). Extension. <>

5Tree-Topping: The Cost is Greater Than You Think. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2023, from <>