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The Japanese maple is one of the most popular ornamental trees in Germany due to its delicate leaves and characteristic growth. The plant originally comes from East Asia, more precisely Japan, China and Korea, and is one of the most important plants used for bonsai art there. If you are a proud Acer palmatum owner yourself, you are most likely wondering how the Japanese maple is pruned. A suitable guide can be found here.

Cut Japanese maple

Before you reach for the scissors, the need should be considered. It is known that maples do not tolerate pruning well, as they bleed profusely. This can lead to a variety of problems:

  • Pathogens find their way into cuts
  • intensive resin formation
  • Frost damage if cut too late

Such problems occur with all maple species and for this reason it is reasonable to think that this can also happen with Acer palmatum. This concern is not unfounded, because if the pruning is too radical, the plant will suffer from the pruning and, in most cases, will not be able to recover. The big advantage of the ornamental maple, however, is the higher tolerance to pruning in contrast to other taxa, which makes it possible to raise it as a bonsai in the first place. For this reason, the opinions of the experts differ greatly. There are two clear opinions:

1. Japanese maple, like other taxa of the genus, does not tolerate pruning and should therefore not be pruned. There is nothing wrong with removing diseased or dead wood.

2. The maple tolerates pruning and will withstand one pruning a year.

The cuts are made and prepared in the same way. You have to decide for yourself whether you want to cut the Japanese maple completely or just refresh it.

notice: Don't be misled if you come across green Japanese maples in addition to red specimens at the tree nursery. The original Japanese maple variant had green leaves and many varieties are intensely red in colour, especially over the autumn.


If you have decided on pruning measures on the Japanese maple, you must determine the right time for this. The right time reduces possible problems after the pruning measures and supports the maple in growth. Red decorative maple is quite resistant to scissors, but not to cold temperatures or high humidity. For this reason, there are two dates that are ideal for the grooming cut:

1. Spring: Spring is the ideal time for pruning the Japanese maple. The days are particularly recommended after the ice saints Mid-May to the first week of June. The climate is mostly dry and sunny, which doesn't give moisture and fungi a chance to damage the maple.

2. Summer: If you prefer summer, the entire maple cut is ideal June on. The weather is excellent for pruning and the plant should be able to recover from the beginning of July at the latest. At this point in time it is possible.

Since red maple, like all other species, needs a long time to heal, you should give the plant enough time to recover accordingly. For this reason, refrain from pruning measures in autumn and especially in winter. Frost is one of Acer palmatum's greatest enemies and should be avoided at all costs. This is another reason why you should never prune the Japanese maple before the ice saints, as temperatures can vary greatly up to mid-May.


Good preparation makes the pruning easier, as it keeps the Japanese maple healthy and does not cause it to bleed too much. The choice of scissors is particularly important, because red decorative maple must not be cut with the wrong tool. You need to avoid damage and because of that you need a tool that will accomplish this project effectively. The following scissors are ideal for cutting maple:

  • pruning shears
  • secateurs

With the scissors you have to make sure that they are also prepared accordingly. This step is important as it will help you avoid possible damage and infection that could result from the cutting procedures. The Japanese maple is quite tolerant of pruning compared to other maples, but only if you can carry out the pruning measures correctly. The following measures are necessary for this:

  • sharpen scissors
  • then clean thoroughly
  • disinfect to finish

Cleaning and disinfecting the scissors is especially necessary if you previously cut a diseased plant. In this way, the pathogens and fungi reach the cut surface via the blades and thus into the maple. Red decorative maple should only be cut with sharp scissors, otherwise serious damage can occur. Do the prep thoroughly so you don't have to worry about problems once you've cut the maple.

pruning shears

Cutting Japanese maple: instructions

Once you have completed the preparations, you can start cutting. In addition to the time, it is important that you choose a day for the cut when it is neither raining nor frosty. Such weather will take its toll on the maple, as the excessive humidity and cold can cause the following problems:

  • fungus
  • cold shock

Above all, fungal infestation must be avoided at all costs, as this can lead to the death of the Japanese maple within a short time. The fungi usually get to the wounds shortly after the cut and can thus spread quickly in the wood. Other than that, all you need is your tools and the following guide:

1. Mark young shoots

Start by looking at your Acer palmatum. They look for the shoots that are less than two years old, as they still have little or no old wood. Because you should never cut into old wood of Japanese maples, otherwise there will be heavy bleeding and even a possible loss of the plant. It is best to mark all young shoots in order to progress quickly and effectively. With a well-branched Japanese maple, the care cut can take a little longer. You can recognize old branches by the fact that they can no longer form any further shoots.

2. Find branches

Red ornamental maple is always cut as little as possible. You always cut off above a bud so that the plant can sprout and recover from the pruning measures. Two to three centimeters above a bud are recommended here. You can also cut above a branch, although you should also pay attention to the distance here. If you want to significantly stimulate growth via the pruning, pruning above the branch is recommended, as this effectively allows the maple to sprout.

3. Smooth cuts

Put the scissors on and cut without tearing. This is very important because if you yank the plant, it will bleed more. Cutting clean is important to keep the area small where fungus and pathogens could get into. You should also not squeeze the shoot, as the Japanese maple does not like this at all. The response is stress, which can have a negative impact on the vitality of the plant.

4. Remove diseased shoots

Remove dried, broken or diseased shoots as far as necessary. Although these must be removed, you should not cut off too much here either.

5. Wound closure

After the incision measures, it is recommended to use a wound sealant for the incision wounds. Red maple will bleed even after a perfect pruning, as the maple genus (bot. Acer) is just too vulnerable to scissors. Apply the wound sealant and let it take effect. Since the Japanese maple has a higher cut tolerance than its relatives, the agent works effectively and ensures that the cut surfaces are not attacked by fungi or bacteria. Do not touch the cuts after pruning to allow the Japanese maple to recover.

6. Dispose of cutting residue

It is best to dispose of the trimmings in the compost. Dispose of diseased shoots in household waste or burn them, as they pose a risk of infection.

As you can see, the grooming cut is not complicated in itself. You just have to be careful not to cut too deep to avoid damaging the old wood. This preserves the shape and vitality of the maple and in this way ensures the durability that is typical of the plant. Be careful with your maple pruning and you'll be amazed at how your red maple will grow.

tip: When growing as a bonsai, you must remove the tips of the shoots in spring in addition to the actual pruning to stimulate the branching of the maple. This will at the same time limit the height of the plant, which is an essential point for bonsai trees.

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