The Acer plant, commonly known as Japanese maple, is easily the most eye-catching plant at the garden centre and in our online collection. With beautiful foliage, this slow growing deciduous thrives in partial shade, adding colour to smaller gardens.
Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum are two of the most popular varieties, as they tend to stay quite small in stature… but still, an unruly branch or two can emerge.
So, this guide will take you through how to correctly prune your Japanese maple.
Browse the wide selection of Acer Trees at Gardeners Dream.
Pruning for Formative Training!
At Gardeners Dream, we sell our Japanese maple pot grown and ready for planting in most soils with dappled shade sunlight. All our plants and shrubs are of the highest quality and are ready to grow, developing vibrant shades in the autumn.
However, some Japanese maple trees may need a little trimming to help them spread attractively.
Our advice is to remove the central leader to the first couple strong buds and leave the lateral shoots in tact to encourage a good spread with less height. That’s all the trimming that’s needed at this stage.
Pruning Established Acer Trees (Maple Trees) Step by Step
As your Acer grows, you can enjoy the gorgeous leaf colour throughout summer and autumn. But it’s the shape and branch structure that also give this shrub beauty. In smaller gardens, too many shoots can block out light and intrude on other spaces.
So, cutting back your Acer palmatum may be necessary.
1 – Choose the Right Time and Tools
All Japanese maple species produce sap (these are the plants that produce maple syrup, after all). Trimming during the spring or summer will cause the branches to bleed, so always wait until after the autumn colour has faded to prune.
Prune from November to January, when the bark is exposed, and use a strong pair of secateurs. This applies to both maples grown in containers and directly in gardens.
2 – Remove Winter Dieback
Start trimming Japanese maples by cutting back any winter dieback. This may be hard to spot until early spring, but try to catch it before the shrub enters the new growth stage. Trim dead branches back to approximately 1-inch after the next live buds.
Many varieties are hardy and will survive with minimal dieback, however leaving that dieback on the shrub can damage the foliage display and vibrant colours next season.
3 – Remove Cross-Shoots
Japanese maple trees have good hardiness and are very slow growing, so any spreading that occurs will be slow and easy to spot. To maintain their beautiful shapes, we recommend removing cross-shoots and branches that stick out awkwardly.
Never cut back the central branch whatsoever as the shrub is unlikely to survive that once established.
Trim back awkward lateral shoots to within a few inches of the central branch, to open up the centre of the tree.
4 – Reduce Height and Width
Certain Japanese maples, like the varieties we have at Gardeners Dream, won’t grow to a large size and instead focus on producing beautiful foliage under the summer sun. These varieties are most suitable for smaller gardens and growing Acers in pots.
However, if you want to reduce the height or width of your Acer, prune very lightly. You should prune long shoots back to a well-placed side branch and don’t leave a stump or edge exposed.
Tips for Correctly Trimming Your Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum looks stunning with orange, yellow, pink and even purple foliage in your garden. But to keep it healthy, remember to follow these tips:
- Acer palmatum and other Acer species are prone to leaf scorch, so if you spot this year after year, consider moving the plant to a more sheltered spot rather than just pruning the damage away.
- The goal with pruning an Acer is not to trim it back. Instead, you’re aiming to open up the centre of the tree and create a pleasing branch structure. You do not need to prune to encourage new growth.
- If there hasn’t been much growth, don’t prune at all. This is a slow-grower, so don’t feel like you must prune every year.
How to Get The Best Autumn Colour on Japanese Maples
Did you know that when purple Japanese maples turn green, or any Acer doesn’t produce beautiful foliage in the fall, it is a sign of too much shade!?
To get the best foliage colour:
- Plant in a partially shaded area,
- Prune following our formative and established rules above,
- Cover new leaves in early spring to protect from overnight frost,
- Repot and ensure the soil is well-draining for potted Acers.
Other Slow Growing Deciduous Trees, Shrub and Flower Varieties to Plant
If you’re unsure if the Acer is the right shrub for you, check out these plants next:
- Buddleia – wonderful flowers rather than foliage, and great for insect life in your garden.
- Wisteria – more-shrub like and great for growing against walls in cottage gardens.
- Clematis – amazing climbers that bloom from July to September.
Don’t forget, all our plants at Gardeners Dream from our Acers to our Christmas trees are available with free delivery to any UK address!
Do Acers like sun or shade?
Most Acers prefer partial shade, or a shady spot, over full sun exposure.
What’s the difference between an Acer and a Japanese maple?
Acer is a genus of trees and shrubs, better known as maples. Varieties of Acer that originate in Japan are known as Japanese maples.
How do you look after Acer trees?
This long-living, slow-growing variety needs minimal care. Water during hot spells, and repot annually if growing in containers. This hardy variety will thrive in well-drained soils.
Where is the best place to plant a Japanese maple?
A Japanese maple can be planted directly in the ground or in a pot. It prefers a partial shade area over full sun exposure, and needs to be sheltered from strong winds. You can grow Japanese maple is any soil type.
Are Acers better in pots or ground?
Growing in the ground means less maintenance (no re-potting) but growing in pots allows you to control the size somewhat and move the tree to different positions. Both are great!
How do I look after my Acers UK?
Acers are hardy enough to grow in the UK outdoors, surviving the coldest months comfortably with just a little dieback. Keep trimming to the absolute minimum and water your Acer palmatum (or other variety) during the driest summer months.
When should Acers be pruned?
Prune Japanese maples when they are full dormant, usually from November through January.
Can you prune an Acer to keep it small?
Over-pruning can quickly kill an Acer, so if you want to keep it small in your garden we recommend trimming lightly in the winter. Remove dieback and trim crossing shoots, but don’t cut it right back or the plant will suffer.