Acer palmatum trees, often called Japanese maples are naturally elegant large shrubs or small trees that grow in a weeping form or round form depending on the cultivar that you are cultivating. Hence, they require minimal pruning to remove winter diebacks, damaged stems and branches, and to maintain a desired size, shape, or form. 

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Acer palmatum Sango Kaku – Coral Bark Maple

We have a separate article here on how to take a cutting from an Acer Tree

These graceful trees are best trimmed in their dormant season when the sap is not running. In the UK this period is usually during winter between late November and February (this month duration varies depending on the intensity of the winter season).

Acer palmatum trees present the best aesthetics to the landscape when growth, shape, and size are left to their natural devices but sometimes pruning is desired for various reasons. Read on to learn about pruning your Acer trees in the UK, when to prune and how to prune.

When should I prune acers?

  • Prune when acer is dormant (November to January)
  • It’s easier to prune when there are no leaves to get in the way
  • Easier to see and work on the shape. 
  • Sap production low at this time of year.

How to prune acers – top tips

  • Don’t take to much off at once, nor too many leaves. 
  • Don’t cut branches that are more than half the width of the main stem. 
  • Don’t cut too close to the stem (0.5cm closest) as this can introduce infection into main stem. 
  • Don’t cut more than 20-25% of the main crown, as this will encourage new growth shooting from all over the place. 
  • Don’t use blunt saceteurs!

What is the meaning of ‘limbing up’?

If you want to cut the lower branches, you need to do it in stages (which is called limbing up) – which allows the tree to breathe in between. 

  • If you cut too much in one go, you stress the tree and increase chances of disease or infection. 
  • Keep a nice look by spacing branches equally, avoid ‘rubbing’ branches which can lead to issues in the future. 


Why Prune An Acer Palmatum Tree?

People choose to prune their Acer palmatum trees for some of the following reasons:

  • Size restrictions: While some cultivars of Acer are small, others are much larger and may need to be pruned regularly to maintain the desired size. 
  • Aesthetics: Everyone has an idea of how they want tier garden to look. Based on that they choose plants that match their taste and maintain the plants to the shape and form that fits their aesthetic ideas.
  • Formative pruning: Apart from pruning mature trees, pruning is also done in the early years of the trees to form a pleasing shape in its formative years.
  • General maintenance: Pruning is also done to preserve the health of the trees by removing dead, damaged, or infected branches.

When To Prune Acer trees in the UK

All cultivars of Acer palmatum trees in the UK should be pruned only during their dormant period which can be anytime between November and February, sometimes March depending on the intensity and length of the winter season. Pruning within this season after the leaves have fallen off makes it easier to see the structure of your tree to know where to prune and easily identify damaged or dead stems.

Pruning your Acer tree in its growing season will mean that the tree will bleed running sap from the pruning cuts. This can damage or weaken your tree and expose your tree to infections that can get in through these open pruning cuts. 

Note that while pruning during winter is ideal, avoid pruning when temperatures drop below zero degrees. 

Pick The Right Pruning Equipment for your Acer pruning

All you need for the healthy pruning of your Acer tree is a pair of secateurs. They are the best tool for young Acer trees. However, for mature Acer trees with thicker stems, you can consider using a saw.

So, we’ve discussed the best time to prune Acer trees in the UK and other details about pruning to take note of. However, the best advice for pruning is to leave your Acer tree unpruned for as long as possible and only prune when you have enough knowledge to prune without hurting your tree.

Further Reading

We have lots of other helpful content for Acers, such as common questions we have been asked such as:

Other Acer’s you might be interested in

Acer Brilliantissimum, Acer Feeds, Acer Jerre Schwartz, Acer Altropurprueum, Acer beni maiko, Acer Bi Hoo, Acer Bloodgood, Acer bonsai, Acer Butterfly, Acer Deshojo, Acer dissectum, Acer dissectum Firecracker, Acer emerald lace, Acer fireglow, Acer garnet, Acer katsura, Acer little princess, Acer orange dream, Acer Osakazuki, Acer Phoenix, Acer Sango kaku, Acer Seiryu, Acer Shaina, Acer Shindehojo, Acer Skeeters Broom, Acer Taylor, Acer Trompenburg, Acer Ukigumo.

FAQ Acers – Learn, Buy & Grow with us.


Last Modified: February 7, 2023