Japanese Maple First Structural Pruning Question


So I inherited several Japanese Maples. Most of them are little more than seedlings and I will be letting them develop for the next few years.

However, about 4 of them are in a mature enough state to be raw material.

I want to start in with a first structural pruning. The problem is being unfamiliar with this species I have no idea when to do the first structural pruning.

I would imagine that right now (Sept. 9) would be a not so good time as the trees are fully foliated and building vascular tissue and saving up sugar and carbs for spring. But I could be wrong.

So my question is when should I do the first structural pruning? Now? After the leaves drop at the start of winter? In the spring? When?


What I want to accomplish is:

  • Set the basic structure of the trees
  • Preserve as much strength as possible for spring
  • Not kill them over winter
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I believe the fall is the best time to do the pruning on Japanese maples. Late summer / early fall is good because it’ll give the tree time to recover and heal wounds before the winter.

If I recall correctly, you will have up to a few days after leaf drop for small and moderate cuts. Larger cuts should be done sooner.

Winter is a bad time to do it because there will be very little sap movement to facilitate healing. Spring is also a bad time for Japanese maples as they will bleed profusely.

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What are the varieties you have, any pictures?

No I don’t have any pictures. I’ve been bad about recording my trees the last few months. Busy busy at work. :slight_smile:

I am unsure of the variety but I am sure they are Acer palmatum.

Hi Sparky,
I live in the very heart of europe and what I found out is, that the best time for cutting big branches off / chopping the trunk is once the tree just passes the peak of fall colour. This is true not only for japanese maples, but most of the decidious trees. The tree has a chance to collect all what is to collect from the leaves and safely store it in the vascular tissue and is still able to seal the cut. This was suggested by Mr. Warren and I personaly find it very successfull. After such an operation trees respond with profuse budding and growth the following spring (in 90% of the cases, in the other 10% I believe that other mistakes I’ve done are to blame). All of that being said, I would only perform such an action on a healthy tree.
Bonsai on, Jan.


That makes sense.

The trees are pretty healthy so I am not so concerned with that. If after the leaf color change is the time then I suppose I have a few weeks to wait still. That being said pruning after the color change and before the leaves drop makes a good deal of sense to me.

I believe that this very topic of trunk chopping was mentioned in the Japanese maple stream which can be found in the library. If I was in your shoes, I would go ahead and watch it.

Depending on where you live (that is unless you live where there is a late spring) the best time for major pruning is late winter, or the time just before sap flows. Be sure to seal all wounds, the large ones with putty.

I was wondering the same thing. I always thought the fall would be the best season but after watching the deciduous stream I’m not sure. This is my maple. The red lines are the points I’m considering for the trunk chop.

Would now be a good time to make this cut?

To my understanding from that stream you should wait till leaves drop @Gem as it is high H2O type of tree.


I’m waiting with mine as well to do structural.

You can see that color starts ti change therefore my saw is almost ready… ;o)


Late winter is the best time, before the sap flows. Be sure to put putty on the cut surface and cut straight across. You could consider an airlayer above the 1st branch and then have a good start on a second tree. This maple should airlayer easily. You can do the airlayer in early spring or my preference is when the leaves first harden off.

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This is a view from previous year.

I’ve missed the window for air layer this year but I’m planning to do it in 2020.
Red cuts are the areas when I’m going to air layer.

Green circle - for me too much of negative space. I’ll probably try to graft something here, but I’m not convinced yet.

There are some curve in the trunk line but not visible on this picture…

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There is also alot of good information in de zelkova cleanup video on fall pruning.

Id do pruning end of fall. If I cut in late winter I leave a stub to be able to dry out/hope on no die-back.

You might consider the trunk chop just above the third branch and creating the new top there. Will add taper and movement to the trunk. You can remove the left lower branch and develop the right branch as the first branch. I’m sure you will get new branches on that segment between the lower branches and the new top. Is this a certain variety of A. palmatum?